Optical audio is one of the most common interfaces to connect a soundbar to a TV. It transmits digital audio signals without any degradation and supports multi-channel audio, offering an immersive surround sound experience.
But for some reason, you have decided not to rely on the optical audio interface to connect your soundbar to your TV. Or, you simply can’t use a digital optical cable due to the connector’s absence on either your television set or your soundbar.
Whatever the case might be, there are plenty of alternatives, some of them being better than optical audio and easier to work with. In this guide, we will go through each of them to help you achieve connectivity between your soundbar and TV without optical.
How to Connect Soundbar to TV without Optical Cable
Before we start, bear in mind that the optical audio connector is also known as TOSLINK. They aren’t two different solutions. Furthermore, many people seem to mix up optical audio cables with coaxial cables, but they neither share the same connector nor the underlying technology.
Now that’s out of the way, let us discuss the different ways you can connect your soundbar to your TV unit without optical.
1. Connect with HDMI ARC
ARC or Audio Return Channel made its debut with HDMI 1.4 in 2009, pitched as a unified, consolidated solution to bidirectional audio stream transmission. Simply put, ARC allows audio signals to travel both ways along the HDMI cable.
It eliminates the need for separate optical cables for all the media devices you use with your TV. As long as both your soundbar and TV support HDMI ARC, you should be able to connect them with a single HDMI cable and get audio output from all your media devices plugged into your TV’s other HDMI ports.
Once you verify that both your soundbar and TV support HDMI ARC, all you have to do is plug one end of an HDMI 1.4 (or newer) cable into the soundbar’s HDMI-out and the other end to your TV’s HDMI-in (ARC) port. It should just work out of the box. In case you don’t get audio output, go to the OSD menu on your television and switch the audio source to HDMI or ARC.
One benefit of using HDMI ARC over optical is that it can transmit uncompressed multi-channel audio data. It even enables high-resolution audio codecs like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X on compatible devices.
Note that any of it won’t work unless your TV has an HDMI ARC port. The regular HDMI ports can only receive audiovisual data and not send them. Almost every TV manufactured after 2010 should have at least one HDMI port with the “ARC” or “eARC” label.
If your soundbar doesn’t have HDMI but has an optical-in port, while your TV has HDMI but no optical-out, consider buying an HDMI ARC to optical audio adapter (or extractor). What it does is add an ARC-enabled HDMI port for your TV and an optical-out for your soundbar, allowing you to plug the corresponding cables into the adapter and connect the incompatible devices. It even works the other way around!
Despite the functionality an HDMI audio extractor offers, it’s rather complicated to set up and may significantly impact the audio quality. You should check out the other solutions below before you make a purchase decision.
2. Connect with AUX
Suppose you can’t get HDMI ARC working with your setup, or you simply don’t have access to HDMI on one or both of your devices. In that case, you can rely on the auxiliary input on your TV to transmit audio signals to your soundbar. Since most soundbars come with a 3.5mm AUX out, you certainly don’t need to worry about compatibility.
You only need a single 3.5mm male-to-male AUX cable to connect your soundbar to your TV. Once you plug the cable into both ends, you may have to switch the source on either your TV or soundbar to AUX.
One con of using an auxiliary cable is that it doesn’t support multi-channel audio. Thus, you won’t get the most out of your high-end soundbar or get surround sound experience in this configuration.
3. Connect with RCA or Line-In
If you have an older TV or an entry-level soundbar that doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port, you can connect them with an RCA cable instead.
For those who don’t have a clue what we are talking about, it’s one of the older cables that usually comes with three individual color-coded connectors on each end. The yellow plug is for video, whereas the white and red plugs carry the left and right audio channel signals. You will only need the latter to connect a soundbar to your older television.
The process is straightforward. All you need to do is connect the RCA cable’s white and red ends to their corresponding ports on your TV and soundbar. It should work as you power on your devices, and you probably won’t even have to choose the audio output source manually from the TV’s on-screen display settings.
The disadvantage of using RCA over optical is that you are limited to stereo sound. It’s also more prone to external interference that results in degraded audio quality and buzzing noises. A damaged RCA cable can also cause the following problems.
If your soundbar doesn’t have RCA or Line-In connectivity but has a 3.5mm AUX port, we recommend using a 3.5mm to 2-male RCA adapter cable instead. Since both interfaces carry compressed analog signals, they are electrically compatible with each other.
4. Connect with Coaxial
Some older TVs don’t even have RCA connectivity. If you have one of them to connect to a soundbar, the only option you have is a coaxial cable. After all, television sets were only meant to output cable channels, and they didn’t use to have any other fancy connectors back then.
For obvious reasons, you will need a DVD player or a VCR to get your soundbar working with an older TV using a coaxial cable. Both are obsolete media devices at this point, as they can only play media from CD/DVD and video cassette tapes.
The configuration part is a bit tricky. You need to plug one end of the coaxial cable into the DVD player or VCR’s output port and the other end to the TV’s input port. After that, you need to use an RCA cable to connect the media device to the soundbar.
In the following setup, you will need to take the hassle of using your DVD player or VCR’s remote to cycle between the input sources instead of using the TV remote. The TV will only serve as a monitor as you won’t be able to use its features.
While you can achieve this using splitters and adapters, it only creates a mess of cables and makes troubleshooting a lot more complicated.
Connecting Soundbar to a TV via Bluetooth
Another better alternative to optical audio is to take advantage of your TV and soundbar’s Bluetooth connectivity. They deliver a high-definition, surround sound experience that you otherwise miss out on over RCA and AUX interfaces. Plus, you don’t need to worry about managing your cables anymore.
If your TV shares the same Bluetooth version as your soundbar, they should pair just fine and work without any additional configuration. However, your TV has to support wireless audio over Bluetooth for the setup to work. If you have a dumb television that doesn’t have wireless connectivity, consider purchasing a Bluetooth transmitter to get Bluetooth audio functionality on the TV.
The only drawback of using Bluetooth to connect a soundbar to a TV is the latency, resulting in lip-sync issues when watching a video. Nearby Wi-Fi bands and cellular signals may also cause Bluetooth audio to suffer from frequent dropouts and quality loss.
These are the five solutions to connecting a soundbar to your TV without an optical cable. HDMI ARC and Bluetooth seem to be the overall best alternatives to TOSLINK, but you may also get away with using either RCA, AUX, or coaxial cables for legacy AV equipment.
What did you use for your particular home entertainment setup? Let us know in the comments below. If you got any questions related to this topic, we are always here to answer them!