When connecting your sound system to your TV, there are several options to connect a soundbar to your TV. The main options are HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, and WiFi connections. But which is best?
HDMI ARC has the highest sound quality but requires a cable and cannot transmit HD sound standards. Both Bluetooth and WiFi eliminate wires but have lower audio quality and are less stable as a result. HDMI ARC is the best option for your soundbar if you care about sound quality.
In this article, I’ll give a breakdown of some advantages and disadvantages of each of these three connection methods so you can compare which is the best choice for your TV and soundbar.
- How to Connect a Soundbar to Your TV with HDMI (in 5 Steps)
- How to Connect a Soundbar to TV Without Audio Output
- Can You Connect a Soundbar to a TV Wirelessly?
Each of the three options (HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, and WiFi) have pros and cons that you should address.
HDMI ARC’s primary advantages are its strong audio quality, lack of optic cables, and stable signal. The advantages of Bluetooth and WiFi include their reduction of cables, wide availability, and ease of setup.
Let’s dig a little deeper into specific pros and cons for HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, and WiFi.
- As Tom’s Guide explains, ARC uses a single HDMI cable for input and output
- Standard TV and soundbar support
- Improved sound quality (according to CNET)
- Sound quality degradation with the 5.1 audio standard
- Often a complicated setup
- No cables or wires are necessary
- Supported by most TVs and soundbars
- Easy to use and set up (as described by DriverSupport)
- Usually lower quality than a wired connection
- Lack of stability/can lose a signal
- Devices might have to be kept up to date to prevent compatibility problems
- A wide range of distance the signal can travel
- Ability to connect multiple soundbars (according to Samsung)
- More expensive than Bluetooth due to the required WiFi router
- More difficult to set up than Bluetooth
Overall, there are costs and benefits to all three options. Bluetooth is ideal if cost and an easy setup are significant factors, while WiFi is best for its wide-reaching range, and HDMI ARC provides a higher sound quality than both.
Moving forward, I’ll go more in-depth, explaining the differences in quality and setup with wireless vs wired soundbar connections.
Since connecting a soundbar to your TV is the most common application for HDMI ARC, it will be helpful to explain whether ARC is of a higher quality and value than Bluetooth and WiFi (and, if so, why!)
HDMI ARC has the highest sound quality of the three options. However, its complex setup and required HDMI cable is not necessarily better than Bluetooth or WiFi. In those cases, a more straightforward design can be a significant advantage.
Let me break down the sound quality superiority of HDMI ARC and the difference between wired and wireless soundbar connections in general.
Now that you’ve become informed of the main pros and cons of HDMI ARC vs Bluetooth vs WiFi, you’re probably wondering what the overall best option is before you connect your TV to your soundbar.
HDMI ARC is the best connection for a soundbar in terms of audio quality. However, its relatively complicated setup and maintenance requirements make it, in some respects, less easy and convenient to use than a wireless connection like Bluetooth or WiFi.
These differences primarily result from the more general pros and cons of wireless and wired soundbar connections.
I’ll now explain the differences to see which option makes more sense for your planned audio layout. It’s important to note that the factors ahead are broad, so they won’t be true for every device and product, whether wired or wireless.
Connecting your soundbar to your TV will involve choosing between a wired connection, like HDMI ARC, or a wireless connection, like Bluetooth and WiFi.
According to Audio Reputation, the generally better sound quality of wired sound connections is because of a more reliable data stream from input to output. This unbroken connection requires no data compression, meaning no quality gets lost in the transmission.
On the other hand, wires can make for a cluttered and inflexible layout. This disadvantage is among the most significant reasons wireless setups remain popular, despite their lower sound quality.
If you’re still narrowing down which method of connection you want to use to set up your soundbar, a question might pop up: What’s the difference between HDMI and HDMI ARC? Is one better than the other?
Neither HDMI nor HDMI ARC is better than the other. HDMI ARC uses HDMI for both input and output, eliminating an additional optical cable. You use the same cable type for HDMI and HDMI audio output (ARC).
Let me explain in more detail what makes HDMI ARC different from other connections and when you might need it for your soundbar.
After this, the most important question is whether ARC is ever necessary over other connection methods.
So, when do you need to use HDMI ARC? Is it ever a requirement when connecting your TV and soundbar?
You don’t need HDMI ARC to set up your soundbar. However, if you want to use a wired soundbar connection without also using an optical output cable for audio, then HDMI ARC will be necessary.
This situation is likely to happen if you want the audio quality benefits of a wired soundbar connection and want to minimize the number of cables used in your audio layout.
For this reason, most people who prefer a wired connection will likely want to look at HDMI ARC.
Even though HDMI ARC isn’t required, it might be more appealing than using both an HDMI input cable and an optical output cable. But is that the better way to set up your soundbar?
Popular Science says yes. HDMI ARC has a higher maximum bandwidth for its connection, which means there’s likely to be less audio degradation than when using an optical cable for your soundbar.
However, there’s a catch: Older TVs are less likely to have ARC capability, which will make an additional optical output cable a necessity if you plan on your soundbar using a wired connection.
It’s better to connect a soundbar with HDMI ARC instead of optical as a rule. However, depending on the manufacture dates of your TV and soundbar, this isn’t always an option, and an optical cable may be your only choice.
If you’re having trouble with the volume or tone of the audio coming from your soundbar, there are a few substantial adjustments you can make to correct the sound.
First, as Samsung suggests, you can change your TV settings to better sound. While their suggestion refers specifically to Samsung TVs, most models of any brand will have settings you can tweak like balance, equalization, and amplification.
Changing one setting might not correct every issue you’re having with your sound, so it’s worth experimenting with different combinations by, for example, changing the balance and then using an equalizer setting.
If that still doesn’t do the trick, The Guardian recommends purchasing a different soundbar.
There’s a range of quality in different models, and one soundbar may have a more desirable sound for your audio layout than another.
You can make your soundbar sound better by adjusting your TV settings to correct any balance or volume issues. If that doesn’t work, a different model may better your audio system’s overall sound if that doesn’t work.
What if you can’t use HDMI ARC? For example, you may have an older TV that doesn’t support an ARC port. Is there another option that will work the same?
You should connect your TV to a soundbar without HDMI ARC by using an alternative connection method such as an optical cable, Bluetooth, or WiFi. However, none of these alternatives have the same audio quality as ARC.
Since wired connections typically sound better than wireless ones, the next best choice after ARC may be to use an optical audio output cable. An optical cable features a minor drop in sound quality.
On the other hand, an additional cable’s clutter and space concerns may be too much. In that case, WiFi or Bluetooth is likely your next best bet.
Between the three HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, and WiFi choices, each will have its advantages and disadvantages in connecting your soundbar to your TV.
A wired connection like ARC will produce a higher sound quality than wireless connection methods, but at the cost of limited range, a more complicated setup, and possible data compression for HD audio standards.
In contrast to these factors, Bluetooth and WiFi have a similar benefit of an easy and convenient setup. However, using Bluetooth is cheaper than a WiFi router while also having a much more limited range.
- Tom’s Guide: What Is HDMI ARC?
- CNET: HDMI ARC and eARC: Audio Return Channel for beginners
- DriverSupport One: How to Setup a Bluetooth Soundbar
- Samsung: How to connect a soundbar to the tv via a wi-fi network
- Audio Reputation: Home Audio Speaker Systems – Wired vs Wireless
- Popular Science: How to connect a soundbar to a TV: Optical vs HDMI cables
- Samsung: Adjust your sound settings for the best sound on your Samsung TV
- The Guardian: My TV’s audio isn’t great – will a soundbar help?
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.