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How to fix your sound bar: common problems explained

By Haddi Browne

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Sound bars are the simplest way to add quality sound to your home cinema setup, but there are a few common niggles that can ruin the experience.

We’ve quizzed our home cinema experts to get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions so you can get back up and running.

Jump straight to the problem you're having:

If you need help setting up your new sound bar, read our guide: how do I set up a sound bar with my TV?

Sound bar turns off or goes to sleep while sound is playing 

If you have an issue with your sound bar going to sleep after a set amount of time, it’s likely due to its energy-saving settings. In order to prevent them from consuming unnecessary power when they’re not being used, most sound bars power down if they don’t detect an audio signal. However, some sound bars are more sensitive than others and some will power down even when there’s audio being played at a quiet volume.

Some cheaper sound bars may only offer a 3.5mm audio input. We’d only ever recommend using this connection if your TV or sound bar has no digital alternatives such as digital optical (Toslink), coaxial or HDMI.

Our sound bars jargon buster reveals all the tech terms you need to know.

It’s important that when you have a sound bar plugged in over a 3.5mm cable, the volume from your TV is turned up as high as it can go. This means you only ever need to adjust the volume using your sound bar’s remote control and also means your TV is delivering a powerful enough signal to ensure your sound bar never goes to sleep when sound is playing.

Connecting to a set-top box or disc player

This can also happen when your sound bar is connected to a set-top box such as Freeview, Sky or a Blu-ray or DVD player that has its own volume control. Like the above tips, you should ensure the set-top box has its own volume set as high as it can go. This should prevent your sound bar from going to sleep.

Sound bar sounds no better than my TV 

One complaint you might see frequently, even on top-end sound bars, is that they don’t sound any better than the TV they’re supposed to be connected to. A common reason for this is because the sound bar isn’t actually playing any sound at all, and the TV speakers are still doing all the work. This can happen when you’re watching TV using a set-top box such as a Sky or Freeview box.

Even if your set-top box is connected to your TV, and your TV is connected to your sound bar, sometimes this won’t be enough and you’ll need a direct connection instead.

This can happen when you’re using a set-top box that isn’t directly connected to your sound bar. Depending on the age of your box, you might need to either connect RCA cables directly to your sound bar (these are the red and white connectors on older models) or use digital optical (newer models) and, again, connect these directly to your sound bar. You’ll still need to use the Scart or HDMI cable to connect to your TV, as these will provide the pictures.

In addition, you will need to go into your set-top box’s audio settings to ensure that sound is routed through your sound bar, instead of to your TV. Change the settings to the audio connector you have chosen to connect to the sound bar, for instance optical or 3.5mm aux.

Ideally, your TV and sound bar will support HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel). This allows you to connect your kit directly to your TV, and your TV will handle sending the audio back to your sound bar via HDMI. You can check to see whether your TV and sound bar have ARC by checking to see whether the ports are labelled as such or by checking the manual. As a rule, cheap TVs and cheap sound bars don’t support this.

Things get more complicated if you have multiple devices connected to your TV. 

See our guide to setting up a sound bar for more information. 

I get no sound from my sound bar at all 

There are a few simple solutions to this problem. If your sound bar has multiple input plugs on the back, make sure your sound bar is set to that input. For example, if your sound bar has multiple optical inputs, ensure you have selected the correct input on your remote control.

If you’re sure your sound bar is set to the correct source, check that your TV or set-top box’s settings are compatible with your sound bar. This is particularly important with digital connections such as HDMI and optical because not all sound bars can process some newer types of audio – for example, you might have a Blu-ray player that’s set to produce audio in the DTS:X format, but if your sound bar doesn’t support it you might not get any sound at all.

Check your sound bar manual for supported audio formats and then find the audio outputs settings menu (this will vary by device) and find a format that matches those supported by your sound bar. The mode called ‘PCM’ is generally a good starting point.

If you don’t have that information to hand, use trial and error to find an output format that works.

My picture and sound are out of sync 

If your Sky box/disc player/TV box is plugged directly into your sound bar, it’s possible for your sound to get ahead of the image on your TV. Many modern boxes have a feature to prevent this, and you’ll find this in your audio settings menu.

Look for a setting called ‘Audio Delay’ or similar on the box that’s causing the problem, and adjust it notch by notch until you’re happy that your audio and video are perfectly in-sync again.

My sound bar is quiet or sounds unnatural 

Some sound bars have audio enhancement modes that change the balance of the sound. Many newer models have a Night Mode that turns down certain noises that are more likely to disturb somebody sleeping in the next room. Check you haven’t turned that mode on by using your sound bar’s remote control.

Similarly, most sound bars have a dialogue-enhancement mode that boosts higher-pitched sounds such as speech. It can work well, but our expert audio panel has found on some models it can make everything sound awful. As above, check using your remote control that you haven’t accidentally enabled this mode.

Alternatively, it’s also possible that your TV, set-top box, or disc player is outputting audio that your sound bar can’t use properly. Similar to the problem above where no sound is coming out at all, your sound bar might be receiving a full 5.1 surround sound mix but may only support 2.1 or 2.0. This means you might be missing out on a huge amount of the sound that’s supposed to be in the movie you’re watching. Ensure that your TV and other boxes aren’t outputting in surround sound, again by finding the audio settings menus and ensuring they’re set to either 2.0 or 2.1.

I get a static noise or hum from my sound bar 

If you’re using a 3.5mm aux cable to connect to your sound bar, this is likely the culprit. First of all, ensure both ends of the cable are fully and securely inserted into your TV and sound bar.

Try and keep the cable clear of other connectors, especially power, in the tangle of wires behind your TV. Simply moving the 3.5mm cable can sometimes solve this issue.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, make sure your TV volume is turned all the way up so you can adjust the sound bar’s volume directly. This might help since interference is introduced when the source (TV) volume is low and the output (sound bar) volume is high.

If neither of the above work, buy a ground loop isolator. This is an extra adapter that sits between your TV and your sound bar, and should eliminate noise. They cost between £5 and £7 if you buy online. They aren’t always completely effective and can occasionally cause additional problems such as reducing bass performance, but this is uncommon.

If your sound bar supports it, use an alternative connection such as HDMI or digital optical. These are generally much less susceptible to noise.

My subwoofer isn’t working 

It may sound obvious, but it’s often best to eliminate the obvious: check that it’s plugged in. If your sound bar is advertised as having a ‘wireless’ subwoofer, you still need to connect the woofer to a plug socket.

If your subwoofer is ‘passive’, this means it needs to be connected directly to the sound bar using a cable. It doesn’t require external power but, again, ensure the connection is secure.

If there are any buttons or menus that alter the settings of your subwoofer, including a button for increasing the bass of your sound bar, use these to check it hasn’t been turned down or turned off. If all else fails, contact the manufacturer as failed subwoofers are not uncommon.

If none of these things are working, it might be time to consider a new sound bar. Check out our sound bar reviews to ensure you buy the best one.

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