Tips to Set Up and Get the Most From a Sound Bar

Sound bar connection and setup made easy

When it comes to getting better sound for TV viewing, the soundbar option is a favorite. Soundbars save space, reduce speaker and wire clutter, and are less hassle to set up than a full-on home theater audio system.

However, soundbars aren't only for TV viewing. Depending on brand and model, you can connect additional devices and tap into features that expand your entertainment experience.

Two people setting up a soundbar in their home

Lifewire / Emily Mendoza

If you're considering a soundbar, the following tips will guide you through installation, setup, and use.

Soundbars can be used with televisions from a variety of manufacturers including, but not limited to, those made by LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio.

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Sound Bar Placement

Wall Mounted vs Shelf Placed Sound Bar - ZVOX SB400

ZVOX Audio

If your TV is on a stand, table, shelf, or cabinet, place the soundbar just below the TV, which is ideal since the sound will come from where you're looking. Measure the soundbar's height versus the vertical space between the stand and the bottom of the TV to make sure the soundbar doesn't block the screen.

When putting a soundbar on a shelf inside a cabinet, place it as forward as possible so that sound directed to the sides is not obstructed. If the soundbar features Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, or DTS Virtual:X audio capability, placing it within a cabinet shelf is not desirable as the soundbar needs to project sound vertically for overhead surround sound effects.

Most soundbars can be wall-mounted. You can place a soundbar under or above a wall-mounted TV. It is best to mount it under the TV as the sound is better directed to the listener.

Many soundbars come with hardware or a paper wall template. Use the template to find the best spot and mark the screw point for provided wall mounts. If the soundbar does not come with wall mounting hardware or a template, check the user guide for more on what you need and if the manufacturer offers the items as optional purchases.

Unlike the photo examples above, it's best not to obstruct the soundbar's front or sides with decorative items.

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Basic Sound Bar Connections

Basic Sound Bar Connections: Yamaha YAS-203 Used As Example

Yamaha Electronics Corp

After placing the soundbar, connect your TV and other components. In the case of wall mounting, make the connections before permanently mounting the soundbar.

Shown above are connections found on a basic soundbar. The position and labeling may vary.

Digital Optical, Digital Coaxial, and Analog Stereo connections are from left to right with their corresponding cable types.

The digital optical connection is best for sending audio from the TV to the soundbar. If the TV does not have this connection, use the analog stereo connections if the TV provides that option. If the TV has both, it is your choice.

After connecting your TV, make sure it can send audio signals to the soundbar. You can do this via the TV's audio or speaker settings menu and turning off the TV's internal speakers (don't get this confused with the MUTE function, which would also affect your soundbar) or turning on the TV's external speaker or audio output option. You may also be able to choose digital optical or analog (it may detect this automatically depending on which is connected).

Ordinarily, you only need to make the external speaker setting once. If you decide not to use the soundbar for watching certain content, turn the TV's internal speakers on, and then off when using the soundbar again.

You can use the digital coaxial connection for a Blu-ray Disc, DVD player, or another audio source that has this option available. If your source devices do not have this option, they may have a digital optical or analog one.

One other connection that you may find on a basic soundbar not shown in the photo is a 3.5mm (1/8-inch) mini-jack analog stereo input, either in addition to or as a replacement for the analog stereo jacks shown.

A 3.5mm input jack is convenient for connecting portable music players or similar audio sources. However, you can still connect standard audio sources via an RCA-to-mini-jack adapter that you can make.

When using a digital optical or digital coaxial connection, and the soundbar does not support Dolby Digital or DTS audio decoding, set the TV or another source device (DVD, Blu-ray, cable or satellite, or media streamer) to PCM, or use the analog audio connection option.

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Advanced Sound Bar Connections

Hi-End Sound Bar Connections: Yamaha YAS-706 Used As Example

Yamaha Electronics Corp

In addition to the digital optical, digital coaxial, and analog stereo audio connections, a higher-end soundbar may provide the following options.


HDMI connections allow you to route your DVD, Blu-ray, HD-cable/satellite box, or media streamer through the soundbar to the TV. The video signals pass-through untouched, while audio can be extracted and decoded or processed by the soundbar.

HDMI reduces clutter between the soundbar and the TV because you do not connect separate cables to the TV for video and the soundbar for audio from external source devices.

Your TV might also support HDMI-ARC (Audio Return Channel), which allows it to send audio to the soundbar using the same HDMI cable that the soundbar uses to pass video through to the TV. It means that you don't have to connect a separate audio cable from the TV to the soundbar.

To take advantage of this feature, go into the TV's HDMI setup menu and activate it. Consult your TV and soundbar user guides if required, as accessing the setup menus for this feature may vary from brand to brand.

Subwoofer Output

Many soundbars include a subwoofer output. If your soundbar has one, physically connect an external subwoofer to the soundbar to produce the added bass for a movie listening experience.

Although many soundbars come with a subwoofer, some don't but may have the option of adding one later. Even if a soundbar offers a physical subwoofer output connection, it may come with a wireless subwoofer, which reduces cable clutter further.

Ethernet Port

Another connection included on some soundbars is an Ethernet (Network) port. This port supports connection to a home network that may allow access to internet music streaming services and, in some cases, integrate the soundbar into a multi-room music system.

Soundbars that include an Ethernet port may also provide built-in Wi-Fi, which also reduces cable clutter. Use the option that works best for you.

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Sound Bars with Subwoofer Setup

Sound Bar With Subwoofer - Klipsch RSB-14

Klipsch Group

If your soundbar comes with a subwoofer, or you add one, find a place to put it. Make sure the sub is placed where it is both convenient (near an AC power outlet) and sounds best.

After you place the subwoofer and are satisfied with its bass response, balance it with your soundbar so that it is not too loud or too soft. Check your remote control for separate volume level controls for the soundbar and the subwoofer. If so, it makes it easier to get the right balance.

Also, check to see if the soundbar has a primary volume control. It can raise and lower the volume of both simultaneously, with the same ratio, so you don't have to re-balance the soundbar and subwoofer every time you adjust the volume.

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Sound Bars with Surround Speakers Setup

Vizio Sound Bar System with Surround Speakers


Some soundbars (mostly Vizio and Nakamichi) include a subwoofer and surround speakers. In these systems, the subwoofer is wireless, and the surround speakers connect to the subwoofer via speaker cables.

The soundbar produces the sound for the front left, center, and right channels. It sends bass and surround signals wirelessly to the subwoofer. The subwoofer routes the surround signals to the connected speakers. This setup eliminates wire running from the front to the back of the room but restricts subwoofer placement, as it needs to be near the surround speakers.

On the other hand, select soundbars from Sonos (Playbar, Playbase, and Beam) and Polk Audio (SB1 Plus) allow you to add up to two wireless surround speakers. These soundbars don't have to be physically connected to a subwoofer. However, they still need to plug into AC power.

If the soundbar provides surround speakers, place the speakers to the sides about 10 to 20 degrees behind the listening position for best results. The speaker should be a few inches away from side walls or room corners. If the surround speakers connect to a subwoofer, place the subwoofer near the back wall in the best spot for the deepest, clearest bass output.

When connected, balance the subwoofer with your soundbar. Then, balance the surround speakers so that they don't overwhelm the soundbar and yet are not too soft.

Check the remote control for separate surround speaker level controls. Once set, if there is a primary volume control, you can raise and lower the entire system's volume without losing the balance between the soundbar, surround speakers, and subwoofer.

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Sound Bars With Digital Sound Projection Setup

Yamaha Digital Sound Projector Tech - Intellibeam

Yamaha Electronics Corp

Another type of soundbar you might encounter is a Digital Sound Projector. Yamaha makes this type of soundbar, with model numbers starting with the letters "YSP" (Yamaha Sound Projector).

What makes this type of soundbar different is that instead of traditional speakers, there is a continuous layout of "beam drivers" across the front surface.

Due to added complexity, extra setup is necessary:

  1. Assign the beam drivers into specific groups to enable the number of channels you desire (2,3,5 or 7).
  2. Plug the provided microphone into the soundbar to aid the soundbar setup.
  3. The soundbar generates test tones that project into the room.
  4. The microphone picks up the tones and transfers the tones to the soundbar.
  5. The soundbar's software analyzes the tones and adjusts beam driver performance to best match your room's dimensions and acoustics.

Digital Sound Projection requires a room where the beam drivers can reflect sound off walls. If you have a room with one, or more, open ends, a digital sound projector may not be your best soundbar choice.

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Sound Bar vs. Sound Base Setup

Yamaha SRT-1500 Sound Base

Yamaha Electronics Corporation

Another variation on the soundbar is a Sound Base. A sound base takes a soundbar's speakers and connectivity and places it in a cabinet that can double as a platform for a TV.

Placement with TVs is limited as sound bases work best with TVs that come with center stands. If you have a TV with end-feet, the feet may be too far apart to place on top of a sound base as the sound base may be narrower than the distance between the TV's end-feet.

The sound base may also be higher than the vertical height of the TV frame's lower bezel. If you prefer a sound base over a soundbar, consider these factors.

Depending on the brand, a sound base may be labeled as an "audio console," "sound platform," "sound pedestal," "sound plate," or "TV speaker base."

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Sound Bars with Bluetooth and Wireless Multi-Room Audio

Yamaha MusicCast - Lifestyle and Diagram


One common feature in many soundbars is Bluetooth. This technology can stream music from your smartphone and other compatible devices. Some soundbars enable you to send audio from the soundbar to Bluetooth headsets or speakers.

Wireless Multi-room Audio

Another feature included in some soundbars is wireless multi-room audio, which allows you to use the soundbar, in conjunction with a smartphone app, to send music from connected sources or streamed from the internet to compatible wireless speakers located in other rooms in the house.

The soundbar brand determines with which wireless speakers it's compatible.

For example, Yamaha MusicCast-equipped soundbars only work with Yamaha-branded wireless speakers, Denon soundbars with Denon HEOS-branded wireless speakers, and Vizio soundbars with SmartCast with SmartCast-branded speakers. Soundbar brands that incorporate DTS Play-Fi work across several wireless speaker brands as long as the speaker supports the DTS Play-Fi platform.

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The Bottom Line

Vizio Sound Bar Lifestyle Image - Living Room


Despite not being equivalent to a complete home theater setup with a receiver and multiple speakers, for many, a soundbar can provide a satisfying TV or music listening experience—with the bonus of easy setup. For those with a large home theater setup, soundbars are an excellent solution for second-room TV viewing.

When considering a soundbar, don't only look at the price. Look also at the installation, setup, and use options it may provide to deliver the best possible entertainment experience for the money.

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