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How to connect and set up your sound bar

For better TV sound and music

In a nutshell: Connecting a basic sound bar to your TV is easy. But what if you want to connect your cable box, Blu-ray player, and game console to your sound bar? We'll answer the following questions:

  • What cables do you need?
  • Which jacks should you plug them into?
  • Which settings will you have to change in your TV's audio menu?
  • Which sound bar settings will help you make the most of your new purchase? 

The last time I hooked up a sound bar, about five years ago, there was practically nothing to it. I had it up and going in under five minutes.

When I went down to the Crutchfield Lab to set up one of the latest models, it was a different story. This thing worked like a home theater receiver, with connections for several A/V components and lots of different ways to play music. It took a bit longer to set up, but it was worth every minute.

You can still find a no-frills sound bar you can hook up and have working in no time flat—I'll cover those here, too—but having more options is a good thing.

Intro image

Now that I've gotten this sound bar hooked up, it's fun to see what it can do. Here I am taking advantage of the sound bar's Bluetooth connection to stream music from my phone.

The easy way: components connect to the TV

Are you connecting your cable box, Blu-ray player, game console, or other components to your TV? Then it’s a snap to connect and set up a sound bar. The sound bar's role in this scenario is simply to sound better than your TV speakers. An optical digital audio cable transfers the audio signal from your TV to the sound bar. You continue to use your TV remote to switch sources.

COMPONENTS AND SOUND BAR CONNECTED TO TV

In this example, your TV has control of your input selection, and passes the audio signal to your sound bar.

Setup tips for optical digital connections

  • Deactivate your TV's speakers. From the TV audio menu, you'll either turn off the built-in speakers, or select "external speaker."
  • If your TV can send digital surround sound formats through the optical output, but your sound bar doesn't decode them, set the TV's digital audio output to PCM.

Scenario 2: components connect to the sound bar

Wall mounted TV with sound bar on cabinet below

If your TV is wall-mounted and your sound bar sits on the furniture below, it makes sense to use your sound bar as the hub for your A/V components. You'll only have to run one cable to the TV.

If you choose to connect your components to your sound bar, installation will take a bit longer. The HDMI soundbar connections guarantee you the best sound quality from Blu-ray soundtracks and other multi-channel formats. (That's because many TVs can't send digital surround sound formats through the optical output.)

COMPONENTS CONNECTED TO SOUND BAR

Here, your HDMI sound bar keeps control of your system's inputs, and passes the video signal to your TV.

Sound bar menu

An HDMI connection carries both audio and video signals. It lets you view the sound bar's onscreen display

Setup tips for HDMI connections

HDMI/ARC

ARC (Audio Return Channel) lets you connect a sound bar to your TV with a single HDMI cable

If your TV and sound bar both have an HDMI jack marked ARC (for audio return channel), a single HDMI cable (version 1.4 or higher) is all you'll need. If your TV doesn't have an HDMI/ARC input, you'll need both optical and HDMI connections between the TV and the sound bar. You may have to activate ARC on your TV.

Setup menu

Some sound bars, like the Sony HT-ST9 I hooked up, offer an onscreen display to walk you through the setup process.

You're not quite done yet

Once you've connected the sound bar to your TV, it's time to complete the setup. Learn how to take advantage of all the features a sound bar offers. Let's start with the subwoofer.

Sound bar with subwoofer

If your room setup is flexible, try placing the subwoofer in different locations to find the sound that's right for you.

Many sound bars include a wireless subwoofer to round out the sound. You just need to make sure the subwoofer is plugged into the wall and switched on. In most cases, the sound bar and its subwoofer are preset at the factory to work together, so the connection is automatic. With higher-end sound bar models, you may need to activate the subwoofer through the onscreen setup menu.

Wireless subwoofers can be placed just about anywhere in the room, within about 30 feet of the sound bar. You'll get more bass if you place the subwoofer against a wall or in a corner.

Soundbar app

Some of today's sound bars offer a variety of useful listening modes and other settings to fine-tune the sound. You can use a remote control app on your mobile device to make the adjustments.

Cool tweaks for better sound

Sound bars don't just make your TV sound louder — they also add some adjustment options. These features help you get the most out of your sound bar.

  • You may find specialized processing modes for movies, music, games, and sports. These can really make the sound more engaging. Give them a try.
  • Do you have trouble hearing dialog over background sounds? Dialog enhancement makes spoken words easier to understand.
  • Sync settings remove any delay between the action onscreen and the accompanying sound.
  • Night mode keeps the volume from getting loud enough to disturb neighbors or family members when you're watching late night TV.
  • Compressed music enhancement makes MP3s and streaming music sound more full and natural.

Sound enhancements like these go by different names depending on the sound bar model. You can access them with the remote control that comes with the sound bar, or possibly from an onscreen menu or remote app.

Use Bluetooth for near-limitless listening options

Bluetooth® lets you stream any music you listen to on your phone or tablet to your sound bar. If you watch a video on your device, you can stream the audio to your sound bar.

Follow these steps to stream audio to your sound bar using Bluetooth:

  • Activate Bluetooth on your phone or tablet.
  • Select the sound bar as the device you want to stream to.
  • Select what you want to hear, and press play.

Some sound bars, like the Sony HT-Z9F, even let you transmit TV sound to a pair of Bluetooth headphones, or to a Bluetooth speaker in a nearby room.

Bluetooth transmitter screen

Screenshot of a sound bar's onscreen display showing Bluetooth transmitter option.

Follow these steps to transmit TV sound from a compatible sound bar to another Bluetooth device:

  • From the sound bar menu, designate the sound bar as a Bluetooth transmitter.
  • Select your Bluetooth headphones or Bluetooth speaker as the device to stream to.

Depending on the model, the sound bar may be muted when you transmit sound via Bluetooth to another device, or it may continue to play.

What does networking capability add?

With the sound bar connected to your network, you can stream from different online music services, and even your own PC. You'll also have access to quick firmware updates for your sound bar. Another cool aspect of networking capability is that some sound bars can work as part of a wireless multi-room music system.

Sound bars may offer both wired and wireless connections to your home network. The network connection setup will vary across models, but as long as the sound bar is connected to your router, the process is more or less automatic. Consult your sound bar's manual for specific setup information.

How do I control this thing?

For a basic sound bar without many advanced features, it makes sense to keep using your TV remote. With the sound bar connected via HDMI, you should automatically be able to use your TV remote to control volume. If you use the optical digital connection, just follow the instructions in the owner's manual to teach your TV remote to control your sound bar's volume.

3 DIFFERENT TYPES OF SOUND BAR REMOTES

Here are three different examples of sound bar remotes, to give you an idea of the wide variance between models.

Since some sound bars have more advanced features than others, the remote controls that come with them are all different. A sound bar's remote control might let you adjust subwoofer volume, for example, along with other available sound tweaks. It may be as advanced as a receiver remote, with controls for source-switching.

SB app

The menu screen on the Sony HT-ST9 remote app mirrors the options on the sound bar's onscreen display menu.

You may even be able to use an app on your phone or tablet to control your sound. Remote apps and sound bar remotes let you access settings you can't get to from your TV remote.

  • Chris from Welch

    Posted on 9/12/2021

    I have a 2016 Samsung TV which DOES have ARC HDMI. I'm planning to buy a Vizio 5.1 soundbar system which has ARC HDMI as well. I have a Roku Ultra for streaming and a Panasonic Blu-ray player which need to be included in the mix as well. Can you advise on the best method for connections? After connecting the Vizio soundbar to the Samsung via ARC HDMI, should I connect the Roku and Blu-ray directly to the Samsung TV or run them into the Vizio soundbar? Many thanks!

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 9/13/2021

    Hi Chris, From your description it will depend on what type of video passthrough your sound bar supports and what type of video signal you're passing. If, for example, you're looking to watch 4K, you'll want to make sure the sound bar can pass that. Beyond that, it's really just about which setup works the best for your space and needs. If in doubt, you can't go wrong connecting straight to the TV. I hope this helps!
  • Sonny from El Paso

    Posted on 8/6/2021

    I am planning to upgrade my soundbar to one that is DTS-X and Atmos capable, but I have a new Samsung TV which I heard doesn't support any DTS audio formats. If I were to connect my Blu-ray player through the HDMI IN on the soundbar and run the HDMI out to the TV would I would be able to get DTS audio or would it not make a difference?

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 8/16/2021

    Hi Sonny, Definitely - that workaround should work as long as a few details line up. The sound bar needs to support DTS, of course, and it will also need to support video passthrough so you can get the video chain from the Blu-ray to the TV. Basically, if you're connecting directly to the sound bar and your chain is passing all the info you need it to, you should be good to go.
  • Willie Johansen from BOYKINS

    Posted on 7/1/2021

    Hi, I have a Klipsch RP-450-C sound bar that has only 2 terminals marked + and -. How do I connect it to my Sharp TV? The TV seems to have all of the modern terminals. Thank you, Willie

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 7/2/2021

    As it turns out, the Klipsch RP-450-C is a center channel speaker. It's a passive unit and requires external amplification. Those + and - terminals are speaker wire connections. You would need to connect the Klipsch to a receiver for power, then plug in an A/V connection from the receiver to your TV. Sadly, your TV isn't going to be able to power a center channel speaker. If you're looking for a powered sound bar you can connect directly to your TV, don't hesitate to give our Advisors a call and they'll point you in the right direction.
  • Teresa from Gary

    Posted on 5/24/2021

    I HAVE A leg soundbar and woofer system I've used for 4 years on my ANDROID smartphones. Suddenly since I've needed to purchase another phone,same brand..Samsung A01 smartphone,my BLUETOOTH soundbar volume controller is turning my phones VALUME up,as well as the phone is turning my systems VALUME up etc. HELP PLEASE,NEVER HAS THIS BEEN AN ISSURE BEFORE

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 6/10/2021

    Lots of android smartphones have an option in their settings to separate your Bluetooth and phone volume levels. If the two volumes are synced, this feature is usually labeled as "absolute volume," and you can disable it to keep the volume levels separate. If you're having trouble getting that to work, your best bet will be to reach out to Samsung, your phone manufacturer. Hope this helps!
  • Mani from Krakow

    Posted on 3/16/2021

    Very informative content..

  • Gary L from Stockton

    Posted on 1/3/2021

    So I purchased a TCL 6 series sound bar and hooked it up, then I tried to pair it with my xfinity XR11 remote and guess what...TCL doesn't have a pairing code for xfinity remotes, so I'm stuck with having to use two remotes one strictly for sound and one for everything else...how is this possible??????????

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 1/4/2021

    Lots of sound bars can be controlled by a TV remote through HDMI-CEC, but cable remotes can present a hurdle in this regard. You may be in a situation where adding a universal remote is helpful. If you need help with a recommendation, just reach out to one of our Advisors. They should be able to find something that fits your application.
  • Ron Petrich from Sacramento CA

    Posted on 12/11/2020

    Regarding remotes... You mention nothing about cable remotes. Mine from Comcast is the XR15 with voice control. No reason to use anything else, especially since my 55" Samsung TV is 6 years old and I have no need to replace it. It seems these sound bars all have 5-digit codes (3XXXX) to enable the XR15 to control sound bar on/off, volume, mute, etc. I just took delivery of the Enchant 1300 to replace my Samsung HW-F551 bar. GUESS WHAT? Xfinity does NOT support the Enchant sound bar. No code. I was led down a path by Crutchfield "experts" that I would have no issues. No one at your end (I spoke with 4 of you) mentioned this, even though I said I had Comcast. So please update your instructions to warn customers about these pitfalls. It is not always as easy as you make it seem. Now I have to go through the hassle of returning the 1300 and subwoofer. I'll probably get stuck paying the freight.

  • George Mathews from Rockville, MD

    Posted on 12/10/2020

    I have Samsung HW-Q900T Soundbar and the Samsung QLED Q90T Television. When I connect the soundbar to the TV (both eARC compatible ports), the TV does not see the soundbar as eARC when I put my cable box and BluRay player to HDMI1 and 2 on the TV? If I disconnect HDMI 1 and 2 from the TV and have only the eARD(HDMI3) connected to the soundbar, it response perfectly to eARC. Then if I late connect the cable box and BluRay, everything operates as it should. Do I need to connect the cable box and BluRay player to the soundbar then keep the eARC connections to the TV to make this work right? The TV remote wants to try to work everything. Can it do that being connected in this manner? Also, do I leave the TV pointing at HDMI3 to get video ? Would have to? George

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 12/11/2020

    Hi George, There are a few movie pieces here. Any time you buy from us, it comes with tech support. Best bet would be to give our folks a ring so they can help troubleshoot through the problem.
  • John Evans from Wilsonville

    Posted on 12/10/2020

    My new Yamaha 209 only has one hdmi input. If I use that for the comcast feed and then run an hdmi to the tv's hdmi ARC input, how does connections to the tv's other hdmi inputs work? Will my firestick, for example, be able to produce sound? I'm thinking I will have to use an optical connection as I did with my old Yamaha soundbar.

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 12/11/2020

    Hi John, No problem, A/V sources plugged directly into the TV's HDMI will still operate normally. You can then pass the audio to your sound bar with an optical cable, like you described. Sounds like what you have in mind will work out just fine.
  • Joy from Enid

    Posted on 12/2/2020

    My sound bar has 1 hdmi port, my cable box is conected to hdmi port on TV how can I connect my sound bar use hdmi?

    Commenter image

    Colin M. from Crutchfield

    on 12/3/2020

    Hi Joy, It sounds like you might have 1 HDMI connection on both your TV and sound bar? That could limit your options a bit. Most sound bars and many TVs also have an optical digital connection though. If both of your devices have that, you could always bypass the problem and use an optical digital cable instead.