A soundbar is a simple solution to beef up your TV’s audio while creating a nice surround sound effect. For one reason or the other, you may want to connect your soundbar to a receiver. So how would you go about doing that?
To connect a soundbar to a receiver, one will first need to be clear on the end goal since this is not a common practice. Consider the type of soundbar in question, confirm the availability of necessary features and ports on your devices, and get the required cables for the connections.
This article explains in great detail the steps to connect a soundbar to a receiver. But what is more, we’ll also address other topics in relation to this question, including the types of soundbars and their functions, reasons for connecting a soundbar to a receiver, and tips to help you make the most of your soundbar. Let’s dive right in.
Types of Soundbars
To begin with, let’s get a clear understanding of what a soundbar is.
A soundbar is a type of loudspeaker in the shape of a long, thin “bar” enclosure housing multiple speakers. Soundbars are designed to fit under a television screen or any other display device easily. When connected to your television, these unique speakers boost the TV’s audio, generate a good bass response, and can help create a surround sound effect.
Soundbars have evolved from simple, basic rectangular-shaped units enclosing two speakers to high-tech, multi-channel, all-in-one surround soundbar systems. These modifications over time are what make up the different types of soundbars found in the market today.
Active soundbars are serious rivals of the full-featured surround sound systems. This soundbar is an all-encompassing sound unit. It includes multiple speakers, one or more amplifiers, processor, and connection ports all in one box.
Active soundbars are simple to set up and operate. Any complexities only come in with the more advanced gadgets that offer a number of additional features to enable users to tweak their sound even further.
Some active soundbars come with a separate wireless subwoofer like the Yamaha YAS-207BL Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer (check price on Amazon).
Others may also include a few rear speakers to create that full theater-quality immersive surround sound experience.
Because of all the built-in capabilities of this soundbar, it does not need a separate audio-video receiver (AVR) for amplification, signal processing, or connection ports. This means you get to have all the benefits of a multi-channel sound system without the hassle of setting up several speakers and dealing with too much wiring.
Even so, technically, you can still connect your active soundbar to a receiver (though this is not the best practice to adopt), and that’s what we’ll be addressing later on in this article.
The main difference between a passive and active soundbar is that a passive soundbar does not have a built-in amplifier, so it requires an external amp/receiver to process signals and amplify sound.
Passive soundbars have a number of speakers housed in the rectangular enclosure, just like active soundbars. They can also feature multiple channels, the most common being three channels: left, center, and right.
At the rear end of the passive soundbar are the connection ports for plugging in cables that connect it to a receiver. And since passive soundbars are built to connect to a receiver, the setup is usually quite straightforward (as we’ll see later on).
A passive soundbar can be set up together with other surround sound speakers connected to the same receiver and seamlessly produce great sound quality. The same cannot be said of active soundbars since you will end up with two amplifiers, and the overlap may result in poor sound quality.
Another difference between the two types of soundbars is that passive soundbars are less popular in the market but are actually more pricey than their active counterparts.
One great example of a passive soundbar is the Klipsch RP-440D-SB (Amazon link).
Active vs Passive Soundbars
Here’s a table summary comparing the two types of soundbars:
|Type of Soundbar||Active||Passive|
|Characteristics||Is an all-in-one unit (includes built-in speakers, amplifier, subwoofer, and connection ports)||Similar to a traditional speaker. Requires separate A/V receiver|
|Placement||• On the console|
• Wall mountable
|• On the console
• Wall mountable
|Advantages||• Takes up little space|
• Has few wirings
• Simple to set up
|• Can be customized
|Disadvantages||• Fixed system configuration|
• Not expandable
|• Bigger footprint
• Has more wirings
• Costly setup
• Home theater speaker knowledge required
For passive soundbars, plugging to a receiver is necessary since the speaker doesn’t have an in-built amplifier. Therefore, connecting a passive soundbar to a receiver is not a question of “if” but “when.” We’ll look at how to make this connection shortly.
Why Connect a Soundbar to a Receiver?
But what about active soundbars? Why would someone want to connect this all-in-one unit to a receiver?
Here are a few reasons users give:
- To capitalize on a receiver’s wide range of settings and control.
Some users wrongfully believe that since the receiver has so much control over balance and other settings, then it would help to connect the soundbar to it in order to take advantage of the receiver’s features.
This isn’t a recommended practice. If you are looking for more settings to work with and tweak your sound, there are highly advanced soundbars with a variety of features that you can utilize. Take, for example, the VIZIO SB46514-F6 46″ 5.1.4 with Dolby Atmos, Wireless Subwoofer, and Rear Surround Speakers (Amazon).
If you still feel limited and want to use the receiver’s settings, then the best way is to use a passive soundbar or get regular speakers to connect to the receiver.
- To use the soundbar as the front three-channel speakers, i.e., front right, left, and center.
This is still not an advisable connection simply because active soundbars are not designed to work this way. This setup will merge the front channels and interfere with sound quality.
Also, for those who may want to use active soundbars this way, there’s a high likelihood of adding other separate surround speakers to serve as the rear channels. The problem with mixing soundbars and other speakers is that they are often not compatible. The sound produced will be inconsistent across the drives.
- To utilize the soundbar as a center channel speaker.
This is one of the more understandable reasons for connecting the soundbar to a receiver. That said, it is still not the best way to go.
By placing the active soundbar as the center channel speaker, other speakers will be used for the other channels. These separate speakers are most probably of different brands, sizes, or shapes, and that presents a setback.
The varying shapes and sizes will result in the audio sounding different on all the speakers. This does not create a very pleasant sound overall.
- To use the soundbar as the main speaker.
This is another understandable way of setting up your sound. Let’s look at how you can achieve this.
How to Connect an Active Soundbar to a Receiver
So, you want to use your soundbar as the main speaker connected to a receiver? Though this is not the norm, there are a few ways to make this happen.
First, depending on the method you choose, confirm that you have the required connection ports, the correct cables and that the devices are compatible where necessary.
The following are the different ways to connect your active soundbar to a receiver.
1. Using an Optical Cable
You can only connect a soundbar to a receiver using this method if your receiver has a digital optical out port.
- First, it’s always recommended to keep the receiver powered off while plugging in your devices. This is to avoid short-circuiting or any other possible damages.
- Connect one end of the optical cable to the receiver out port.
- Take the opposite end of the cable and insert it into the soundbar optical in port.
- Remember to verify that the digital encoding standards for both the receiver and soundbar are matching. This will ensure there are no strange sound issues.
- Connect the receiver to your television or any other display device.
- Switch on the power.
- Adjust the receiver’s settings so that the audio is pointing towards the soundbar.
- Adjust the TV’s settings to enable audio to be output to the receiver.
2. Using an HDMI Cable
If your receiver doesn’t have a digital optical out port, you can use this method instead.
First, confirm that all your devices (receiver, soundbar, and television) support ARC (Audio Return Channel).
- Turn off the TV, receiver, and soundbar.
- Connect one end of the HDMI cable to the receiver’s HDMI ARC port.
- Plug in the other end to the soundbar.
- Connect the HDMI from the receiver to the television
- Turn on your devices
- Change the receiver’s setup to accept HDMI control
- Turn on HDMI control for the TV.
- For the TV, remember to also correct the settings to enable audio to be output to the receiver.
An Alternative Method Using HDMI Cable
For this method, the receiver does not play its usual audio functions.
Basically, you will have all the HDMI connections handled via the receiver. The difference comes in where you disable the receiver’s audio functions. But just note that not all receivers allow disabling of its audio functions.
So, instead of depending on the receiver for processing audio signals, connect the soundbar to the television directly using either aux, optical cable, or RCA cable. The sound will now play through the soundbar, and the receiver acts as an HDMI switcher.
How to Connect a Passive Soundbar to a Receiver
Passive soundbars are not as popular as active soundbars, but connecting a passive soundbar to a receiver is quite straightforward because this is how they were designed to function.
- Turn off all devices.
- Connect one end of the speaker wire to the soundbar and the other end to the center channel on the receiver. This is if the soundbar is a single channel.
- If the soundbar is multi-channeled (which is commonly three channels: front left, center, and right), use three separate speaker cables for the connection. Each of the cables connects the respective channels.
- Connect the receiver to your television.
- Turn on devices and play.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Soundbar
How can you now make the most of your soundbar? Here are a few tips to enable you to have the optimum home theatre experience using these compact speakers.
Choose a Soundbar Based on Your Needs
As sound technology develops, so does the versatility of sound systems, including soundbars. There are a variety of features made available with different soundbars. To get the most ideal one for your setting, consider your needs and preferences.
One person may be interested in having a family home theatre mainly for watching movies. Another person could be looking for surround sound just to enjoy digital music. A third scenario could be where one wants the soundbar for their video games to create new dimensions and an immersive effect.
With all these diverse needs, you’ll do yourself a great service by being clear on what you want and going for a soundbar model, design, and size that will best suit those needs.
Another important factor to keep in mind is the size of the room where you’ll place your home theatre. Even though soundbars are compact, there is still a wide variety of sizes to pick from.
Is a really compact but quality soundbar like Polk Audio MagniFi Mini Home Theater (Amazon) sufficient for your space? Or do you require a bigger device like the Yamaha YAS-207BL with Wireless Subwoofer (Amazon)?
For aesthetic purposes, the dimensions of your television can also advise the size of the soundbar you pick.
Have the Right Setup for Your Sound Unit
Now that you’ve acquired the ideal soundbar, you’ll need to install it in the proper way so that you can get the best quality sound.
Here are a few placement tips to help you with your setup:
- Place the soundbar in the middle of your TV set. This ensures a natural and balanced sound experience.
- Don’t block the television with the soundbar. Elevate the TV set or mount it on the wall.
- If your television is mounted on the wall, it would be a good idea to also mount your soundbar. Remember to leave some space between the two devices for easy access to the controls.
- If not wall-mounted, ensure the soundbar is placed at a good height from the floor. Never place it on the ground. With the speakers at the level of your ears when seated, you’ll be able to get a clearer sound.
- Under no circumstance should you place your compact speakers inside a cupboard or an enclosed space. Speakers produce better sound when out in the open.
- Optimize the room setting as well. Adding curtains and floor carpets help to reduce excess sound reflections and make the audio signals sound more authentic.
Add Wireless Speakers
So, we’ve established so far that soundbars (with multiple channels) function very much like a home theatre. But even so, you can still pump up the surround sound effect and create a more immersive experience by building a sound system around your soundbar. This will require adding wireless speakers.
Take, for instance, with your three-channel soundbar, you have a front left, center, and front right speakers. But with, say, two extra speakers, that creates a 5-channel sound system. This can be really amazing when watching action-packed films, for example.
There are soundbars that come combined with wireless speakers already, so consider getting those when making a purchase. One great option is Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1 4Ch DTS:X with Wireless Sub and 2 Rear Surround Speakers (Amazon).
A wireless subwoofer will also give you a boost with the base audios that add to a great listening experience. So look for that as well when selecting a soundbar.
Master the Settings
Go through your soundbar’s menu and familiarize yourself with the different settings and modes available on your gadget. Play around with different options to figure out the best ones for different situations.
It will be a pity if you underutilize the potential of your sound unit just because you don’t know there is a better mode than what you are already used to. So use a trial and error strategy to discover new sound levels for your home theatre.
Apart from tweaking the soundbar’s settings, it’s recommended to always turn off your television’s sound when using your soundbar. This is because the TV’s audio is most often of poorer quality compared to that of the compact speakers and will interfere with the overall sound quality produced.
Soundbars are indeed a great flexible sound solution for the current ultra-high-definition televisions. Due to their slim designs, modern televisions have little real estate to invest in proper speakers. And that is why soundbars have become quite popular.
With the two types of soundbars available (passive and active), you can go for your most ideal purchase depending on needs and preference but keeping in mind the pros and cons of each.
Passive soundbars are designed to be connected to a receiver for powering while active soundbars don’t require a receiver. There are, however, certain ways that you can connect an active soundbar to a receiver, though this is not the norm.
All in all, for a great home theatre experience, follow a few simple tips, including purchasing the right unit as per your need, adding wireless speakers and subwoofers, creating the right setup, and mastering the device settings.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.