Connecting your television to an external speaker such as a soundbar, AV receiver or ceiling speaker system will seriously enhance your TV & movie watching experience but may leave you wondering how to connect it all up.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds though, making a connection from your television to an amplifier or soundbar is an easy task...
Firstly you need to determine what you are connecting to your TV and what you’re trying to achieve as there are various ways of improving your televisions sound output and they may require a different method.
- Ceiling Speaker System
- Active Bookshelf Speakers
- Home Cinema (AV Receiver)
The easiest way of improving your TV sound is usually with a soundbar or active bookshelf speakers as you’ll be installing the soundbar underneath your TV and simply connecting it via HDMI or optical cable.
Connecting your TV to an AV Receiver with surround sound speakers will give you the full-on home cinema experience however it’ll need a bit more thought and wiring, but don’t worry, the physical cable connection is just as easy as a soundbar.
So let’s move onto what connections you’ll find on your television…
First we need to understand what audio output your television (or other audio device) has as this will determine the cabling required to make the connection to your amplifier.
We’ll cover cables a bit later on in this guide, however we’ve made a note of the most appropriate cable next to each output for convenience.
Image Source: BOSE
RCA LINE OUT
Most modern TV’s no longer feature an RCA line output, but if your TV is a bit older then you’ll maybe notice a red and white output on the back with “AUDIO OUT” - this will let you send the sound output from your TV to another amplifier. Make sure you don’t get confused with a video or audio input though, it should be clearly marked if you have this output.
CABLE TO USE: RCA to RCA or RCA to 3.5mm Audio Jack Cable
Image Source: DENON
This is the most popular and easiest method for connecting Soundbars, AV Receivers and even some amplifiers such as the Sonos AMP. You can carry audio and video from one cable, return audio from the television so your Freeview TV sound comes through your connected speaker and you can even automatically control the soundbar / AV Receivers volume with your standard TV remote control.
CABLE TO USE: HDMI Cable
Image Source: BOSE
DIGITAL OPTICAL OUTPUT
This will be the most likely audio output on your TV. You’re looking for a small square output which should be marked “Digital Audio Output” or similar. If you’re connecting to an AV Receiver or Soundbar that also has an optical output then it’s a simple cable connection. If you’re connecting to an analogue audio device such as a ceiling speaker amplifier then you’ll need to use a Digital To Analogue Converter (DAC) to convert the digital audio output to an analogue RCA output to match your ceiling speaker amplifier.
CABLE TO USE: TOSLink Optical Audio Cable
Image Source: PHILIPS
3.5MM AUDIO JACK
Most commonly you’d use a 3.5mm audio cable when connecting to the headphone output of your TV or audio source. However since 2019 a lot of TV manufacturers are dropping the analogue audio outputs including the headphone port so you can’t simply plug into your TV anymore. Check first though, your TV or audio source may have one and allow you to connect to your amplifier whilst using the TV remote to control the volume.
CABLE TO USE: 3.5mm to 3.5mm Audio Jack or 3.5mm to RCA Cable
Yes your TV probably has Bluetooth and you can usually connect it to a Bluetooth speaker without wires, but if possible, we’d recommend that you don’t. It’s fine for a quick fix for occasional use but you must be aware that you can get latency issues whereby you’ll hear the sound a few milliseconds before so it’s not perfectly in sync with the image which can be really annoying. If you’re planning to use Bluetooth then make sure your speakers and your TV support Bluetooth 5.0 aptX lossless streaming which is designed to prevent this.
If your TV doesn't have Bluetooth but you want to connect some Bluetooth headphones or speakers then you can use a Bluetooth Audio Transmitter which plugs into your TV's audio output and converts it to wireless Bluetooth!
CABLE TO USE: None, it’s wireless!
AUDIO OUTPUT TYPES
Next we need to check how your TV outputs audio, for most applications this won’t be a problem, however there are certain times where you need to be careful.
For instance the Lithe Audio Bluetooth Ceiling Speakers do not have their own volume control so if you connect a television with a fixed audio output then the speakers will play at full volume!
You can check and adjust this setting in your TV’s sound settings menu, it’ll likely be called “Sound Output” or “Audio Output”.
Image Source: LG
FIXED OUTPUT: Will output audio at full volume allowing the amplifier to control the overall volume to your speakers.
VARIABLE OUTPUT: The volume will vary depending on the televisions standard volume allowing you to control volume with the standard TV remote and will work fine with ceiling speakers with no volume controls.
HEADPHONE OUTPUT: This is usually a 3.5mm audio jack and the volume is controlled via your standard TV remote. This is the easiest way of connecting up sometimes, but often the TV will limit the volume output so you might not get the most out of your system.
Note that most TV’s from 2019 onwards tend to be dropping the 3.5mm headphone output so bear that in mind when planning your connection if you’ve not bought your TV yet. It’s not a problem, you just need to ensure you know how you’re connecting it.
The next step is to decide whether your TV speakers will be disabled or not. 90% of the time you’ll want to turn the TV speakers off and let your new soundbar or speakers do the work, but if you’re connecting to a ceiling speaker system for background television in your kitchen then you may want to leave the TV speakers on… if this is the case then you need to check that your TV sound settings allow you to output audio from both the TV speakers & the output at the same time. Most do, but not all so please check first.
Now that we’ve learnt about the audio settings and understand what audio outputs we have available, let’s move onto cables and making the connection!
CABLES & MAKING THE CONNECTION
Making the connection is the easy part. Once you know what your television has and what your amplifier has it’s simply a case of choosing the right cable.
The main types of cables you’d be considering are;
- HDMI Cable (Digital)
- Digital Optical Cable (Analogue)
- 3.5mm Audio Cable (Analogue)
- RCA Audio Cable (Analogue)
Generally speaking the digital outputs are the best way of connecting your TV so we’d recommend HDMI or Optical where possible.
It’s worth noting that with analogue connections (RCA and 3.5mm Jack) you can connect a 3.5mm output to an RCA input and vice versa simply by using an adapter or the right cable, for instance you can buy 3.5mm - 3.5mm and 3.5mm to RCA cables to make this really easy.
We’d suggest keeping all cables within 10 metres as using longer cables can affect performance or simply not work. If you need to go further than 10 metres then use an active HDMI cable or an audio over Cat5 cable extender.
CONVERTERS / ADAPTERS
You can convert and adapt audio inputs/outputs if necessary using an audio converter.
Let’s say you’ve run an analogue cable but your TV only has an optical output… in this instance you’d simply use a Digital To Analogue Converter (DAC) to change your digital optical output into an analogue RCA output.
You’ll also find various gender changers such as 3.5mm to RCA cable adaptor and RCA to 3.5mm cable adapter when you simply need to change the input type.
If your speakers produce a humming sound when connected to your TV then you may have a group loop issue which affects audio equipment, using high quality shielded cables and keeping them away from power cables will prevent this, but if the issue persists then you can use a ground loop isolator to hopefully remove the issue.
THINGS TO KNOW / AVOID
Hopefully this guide has answered most of your questions, and don’t forget that you can contact our audio experts on 02393 190955 or by email / live chat for more advice on enhancing your TV sound.
There’s a few common mistakes and issues you’ll want to avoid though, we’ve summed it up into a handy list for you....
DON’T DO THESE THINGS
- Don’t run audio cables with power cables, you’ll risk getting an interference that will induce a buzzing or humming sound which you won’t be able to resolve!
- Don’t use cheap cables… they may be cheaper but might not be adequately shielded and may be of general poor quality. You don’t need to spend ridiculous money, but stick to a decent brand such as the ones you’ll find on our website here.
- Don’t buy a cheap DAC, they often don’t work or don’t last. Spend a bit more on a CYP or Pulse Eight one.
- Don’t run an optical audio cable over 10m, you’ll risk sound issues. We generally don’t ever suggest running an analogue or digital cable over 10m. For lengths over 10m there are some audio over CAT5E extender sets that allow you to run up to 100m. For HDMI over 10m we recommend using active HDMI cables only.
- Don’t use speaker cable / twin & earth or similar cable. Buy the right cable.
For many more free home audio, cinema and outdoor speaker guides, tips & advice visit the Sound Advice Support Centre.