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Sound bar connection and setup guide

For better TV sound and music

Deia began her Crutchfield career in 2010, as a sales advisor in the Spanish/International department. Crutchfield's hands-on sales training quickly converted her interest in photography into a full-fledged hobby. After five years in sales advising customers on choosing the best A/V and camera gear for their needs, she is happy to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for top-notch gear as an A/V writer.

More from Deia Z.

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 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 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, 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-ST9, 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.

  • Donald Robertson from Albuquerque

    Posted on 11/14/2015

    Remember the 'good old days' when all we worried about was WHO would GET OUT OF THE CHAIR and go change channels and/or fiddle with the TV volume? Those WERE the days!

  • Carole from Queens , NY

    Posted on 1/6/2016

    YOU WERE VERY HELPFUL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. . CAROLE

  • Don Hanson

    Posted on 1/12/2016

    You provided some useful comments regarding locating the subwoofer to get good acoustic performance. Any comments on the effect of location on the acoustic performance of a sound bar? How about on a shelf in front of the TV? Is it better on the wall? If I put a 36" bar in a shelf unit (say 42" wide x 12 " high x 15" deep and open in front), will there be any resonance or interaction problems with the enclosure?

  • Carole from New Windsor

    Posted on 5/9/2016

    Can I connect Bluetooth headset to a Bluetooth sound bar to a TV that's not Bluetooth compatible and hear the sound from the Sound bar to the headset

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/12/2016

    Carole, I've forwarded your comment to an Advisor to look for a solution. They'll contact you soon.

  • Gerry from Redding, CA

    Posted on 8/5/2016

    Awesome step by step instructions. Thank you for taking the time to explain things.

  • Carol Fehring from Green Lake

    Posted on 10/29/2016

    Any ideas as to where to hide the power brick DC adaptor that goes with the sound bar power cord? It is quite large.

  • Lynda from Tenby

    Posted on 11/26/2016

    Sadly, this does not help me to connect my sound bar to my TV. Sound bar has an optical socket only. TV has no optical arrangement. Help please from anyone? I also have a TalkTalk YouView box in the equation.

  • Jonathan Hiott

    Posted on 11/28/2016

    How would I connect a soundbar to my TV with this setup: TV only has one HDMI input, which has the Roku going into it. TV does not have ARC. TV has optical out and coax out. Soundbar has optical in and coax in. My question is how will the TV output sound on the optical or coax if the TV input is selected for HDMI in for the Roku?

  • Cecile from Orting

    Posted on 12/2/2016

    I have a TV with HDMI Arc, HDMI AV In, and another HDMI. I connected a soundbar with HDMI Arc to the TV HDMI Arc. I connected my Panasonic bluray w/ HDMI Arc to TV via HDMI AV In, and cable box to the third HDMI on the TV. All is good except I don't have any sound from my bluray? What did I do wrong?

  • jules from oceansiden ny

    Posted on 12/10/2016

    Thank you You've answered some key questions for me.

  • Dan from Illinois

    Posted on 12/21/2016

    If you hook up a sound bar through the ARC HDMI on the TV and sound bar do you need to run your cable box, blu-ray, etc back through the sound bar? Or can you leave it connect to the TV? The ARC connection still plays the sound through the sound bar regardless if the accessories are ran through sound bar. If both options work, which is the best?

  • lorraine from forster Australia

    Posted on 1/1/2017

    Hi , I have just purchased a LG SOUNDBAR that has all the connection options on it . I have a 3 year old LG TV that has only one HDMI connection and no optical cable connection ans no headphone jack . I want to connect to connect a new Sony Blu-ray player as well ..So I connected all everything with HDMI and nothing worked so I connected the optical cord from the soundbar to the Blu-ray and I have great sound from a CD and DVD but no picture and the TV just sounds the same . Can someone help me, What can I do to get a picture from a DVD and better sound from the TV.

  • Jason from Kenosha Wisconsin

    Posted on 2/20/2017

    I'm looking for all soundbars that can transmit to Bluetooth headphones. My assumption would be the sound would be muted on sound bar then I can listen in the headphones. I know I can do this with a cheap Bluetooth receiver plugged in to the TV, but I really want to do this via the sound bar to reduce complexity. Thanks!

  • Rosemary Miner from Colfax

    Posted on 3/9/2017

    When using my Sony HT-St9 with my smart lg tv, the voices and their mouths do not sync together. Using the TVs sound, it resolves the problem. Why does the mouths not sync with the sound bar.

  • kw from Salem, OR

    Posted on 7/10/2017

    Wow, shouldn't be this friggen complicated.

  • Dean & Melissa Gegwetch

    Posted on 9/30/2017

    Thank you so very much. We can now here our TV in the 18 wheeler.

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