EDITOR NOTE: this is an older post but since many people found it to be very useful we have not changed the content. The original product links are no longer valid because those products are not available any more. I have added some links to the best soundbars available this year to help people see what is available now.
This question was asked by one of our readers, because they were going to buy the Samsung 120W Sound Bar (HW-355)and wanted to hook it up to their receiver but weren’t sure if that was possible. Sound bars are extremely popular because they are a simple way to take your TV sound to a new level. They are easy to set up, don’t take up much space, and generally not pricey. Most are designed to connect directly to your TV so what about connecting to your receiver instead?
The answer to that question is not totally straight-forward, so I will try to simplify it since it doesn’t have to be complicated. The thing to understand about Soundbars is that most of them have a built-in amplifier to independently power their speakers. That is what keeps them simple to set up. They are essentially self-contained units that just need a sound input from the TV.
The main problem with hooking a Soundbar to a receiver is that the receiver also has an amplifier. Since both the Soundbar and the receiver have amps, they will tend to interfere with each other. If you already have a good amplifier in your receiver, why buy a Soundbar with yet another amplifier? This is somewhat redundant and you would be better off spending your money on getting some better speakers for your receiver.
This is a better solution for a few reasons. First, typically the amplifier in your receiver is better than what you will find in a Soundbar. This is not always the case but probably true 90% of the time or more. Secondly, connecting your TV to the receiver and getting a pair of great speakers will typically give you better sound because you can get true separation between the speakers; whereas Soundbar speakers are closer together and rely on electronics to create a separation effect. If you are looking at a Soundbar because you are tight on space, you can get awesome sounding smaller bookshelf speakers that won’t take up any more space than a Soundbar. For instance, Polk makes great speakers and will have excellent options that can meet whatever your space and budget requirements are.
If you insist on using a Soundbar with your receiver one option would be to use a “passive” Soundbar. Passive Soundbars don’t have an amplifier so they need to be connected to one – alas, a receiver. Interestingly, passive Soundbars, even though they don’t have an amplifier, tend to be at the higher end of the price range for Soundbars. The reason is they tend to focus on the quality of the speakers and other electronics. Even though they are positioned as the higher-fidelity side of Soundbars, I still think for the same money you can get high quality speakers and are better off because of the sound separation can engulf the room better.
Connecting Amplified Soundbars
If you have an amplified Soundbar and still want to connect it to your receiver, that can be done a couple of ways. You could simply connect the receiver to the Soundbar with an optical cable and set the amplifier to send the sound that way. Another option is to connect the two together using an HDMI cable and then and HDMI-ARC connection to the TV. Basically an HDMI ARC cable has an Audio Return Channel (aka ARC) and the video will pass to the TV and the sound remains in the Soundbar. One of the issues with ARC is that all pieces of equipment need to have ARC capability for this to work.
I think my solution is pretty simple. If you have a good receiver, and it is part of your entertainment system then for the same price as a Soundbar, get some great sounding speakers. You will get better separation of sound than what you can get with a Soundbar. Buying a Soundbar instead will result in redundant amplifiers unless you get a passive soundbar. But getting a good set of speakers is a better option than a passive Soundbar because you can get great sounding smaller speakers with better sound separation.
If you have reasons to go with a different solution, I would love to hear from you to see what that might be.
Here are some of the top soundbars available at Best Buy in 2017: