Surround sound can make it feel like you’re part of what’s happening on the screen, making watching movies and videos a more immersive experience.
You can have the traditional surround sound system with its numerous speakers, or you can buy a soundbar that allows you to get the same immersive audio without having to deal with a lot of devices. But can you use a soundbar with your existing surround sound system?
You can connect a soundbar to a surround sound system and you can treat it as a regular speaker. But just because you can doesn’t mean that you should do it, as using a soundbar may degrade the audio quality and muddy up some aspects of the sound.
Read on as we explain how you can connect a soundbar to your AV receiver and why it’s not a good idea to hook up some soundbars to your surround system.
Also read: Can You Use a Soundbar as a Center Speaker?
How to Connect a Soundbar to a Surround Sound System
According to Sound Guys, with a surround sound system, you will need to connect the surround sound components and the soundbar to the receiver. If you are setting up stereo speakers, you can get away using a stereo receiver that can only handle two channels.
However, a surround sound system has more than two channels, which allows a surround sound set up to reproduce more realistic audio compared to stereo systems. The more channels that you connect to a surround sound system, the better it sounds.
When it comes to surround sound speakers, you will notice that numbers refer to the number of channels that your configuration uses.
Seeing a surround sound system designated as 5.1, where the first number refers to the number of standard speakers, while the second number refers to the subwoofer.
Most of the time, you are more likely to come across these configurations:
- 5.1, five speakers and one subwoofer
- 7.1, seven speakers and one subwoofer
- 9.1, nine speakers and one subwoofer
Only a receiver can accommodate these speakers.
Connecting an Active Soundbar to Your Receiver
An active soundbar contains several speakers and an amplifier. If you want an easy way to have surround sound, you can use an active soundbar such as the Sonos Beam (Amazon link) by itself.
Check out my top picks for soundbars.
This type of soundbar can mimic surround sound systems without you having to deal with several speakers and subwoofers. You also don’t have to worry about connecting these speakers and fretting about their placement.
You can connect an active soundbar to your receiver to take the place of the front left, front center, and front right channels. To complete the surround sound effect, you only have to add the surround speakers.
This will help you reduce the number of speakers you’re working with. For instance, in a 5.1 system, you contend with five speakers and one subwoofer.
In this case, you can replace the three front speakers with a soundbar, reducing the number of speakers you use from five to three.
To do this, you will need a 3.0-channel soundbar and connect the center, front left, and front right channels from your receiver to your soundbar.
Using Your Soundbar in a Single Channel Connection
You can also use your soundbar to replace any one of the channels in the surround sound system. Most people use a soundbar for the front center channel.
To do this, connect your AV receiver’s center-channel output to your soundbar. All the channels in your soundbar will produce the same sound, even the angled ones.
Why Both of These Setups Are Not a Good Idea
Using an active soundbar in a surround sound system will not make it sound better than using standard speakers. This is because of the way active soundbars work.
Soundbars have tilted or angled left and right speakers. When it fires off a sound, the left and right speakers will not send it towards the listener standing in front of it. Instead, it will send the sound to bounce off the walls, which creates the surround sound effect.
Connecting an active soundbar to your receiver, whether it’s a single-channel or three-channel setup, will make the dialogue and speech a lot less clear and harder to hear while also degrading the audio quality.
Another reason why using a soundbar with your surround sound system is not a great idea is because your soundbar will sound different from the other speakers you’re using. Your soundbar might come from a different manufacturer, with different technologies and audio characteristics.
Using them all together will not make an immersive experience because when the sound pans from your soundbar to either your left or right speakers and vice versa, it’s going to sound different.
Still Want to Connect an Active Soundbar to Your AV Receiver?
If your receiver has a pre-out, you can connect your soundbar to the pre-outs using an RCA cable. Your receiver will have an RCA port, while your soundbar will either have an AUX jack or an RCA port, depending on the model you have.
If your receiver doesn’t have pre-outs, you can buy something like the PAC LP3-2 L.O.C. PRO Series 2-Channel Line Output Converter (Amazon) so that you can use the speaker connectors to hook up your soundbar.
You can also connect an active soundbar using an optical cable. You can do this if you want to use the soundbar as your entertainment system’s main speaker.
Here’s a video on how to do that:
Power off your receiver before you plug in any device to prevent short-circuiting and other potential damages. Connect the optical cable to the receiver’s out port and then insert the other end to the soundbar optical in.
After connecting your television to the receiver, turn the switch on. Change the receiver’s settings to set the audio to the soundbar and make sure your TV is the audio source for your receiver.
You can also use an HDMI cable if your AV receiver doesn’t include an optical out. This is possible if the television, soundbar, and receiver support audio return channel protocol or ARC.
Connecting a Passive Soundbar to Your Receiver
Unlike active soundbars, a passive soundbar doesn’t have an amplifier or receiver. Passive soundbars need to be plugged into your receiver to get the power it needs to process the sound signals and amplify it.
Passive soundbars can house several speakers, but you usually have a three-channel passive soundbar for the left, center, and right. But you can find soundbars with more than speakers.
When you deal with a passive soundbar like the Mythos XTR-SSA5 (see it on Amazon), the left, center, and right channels are independent of each other. You can think of it as having three different speakers in one cabinet.
You can connect the leads of your soundbar to your receiver using the speaker cables provided. In this case, you will be connecting three pairs of cables that will correspond to the left, right, and center channels.
There are also passive soundbars that have a single channel. You can connect these soundbars to your receiver using the center channel speaker connector.
Why Passive Soundbars Make Sense
Passive soundbars are designed to connect to your AV receiver, making the entire process a lot simpler than the one you go through connecting an active soundbar to your surround sound system.
What’s more, you don’t suffer from the weird sound quality that active soundbars give you when you add it to your surround sound system. Passive soundbars only simplify your set up by reducing the number of devices you hook up to your receiver.
The Final Word
While you technically can connect any soundbar to your receiver and make it part of your surround sound system, it makes very little sense to do so unless you’re using a passive soundbar.
For active soundbars, not only are these very complicated to set up, you are bound to have sound quality issues with it. It’s much better to invest in a good soundbar such as the Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar (Amazon) with its Dolby Atmos compatibility, attractive price tag, and excellent sound quality.
What’s more, you’re probably better off getting standard speakers for your surround sound system. They are easier to set up and are more affordable than soundbars.
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.