How To Connect Home Theater Speakers To Your TV

Want to enjoy great TV sound through your home theater speakers by themselves or using your home theater receiver? You’ve come to the right place!

In this helpful & detailed article I’ll show you:

  • How to connect home theater speakers to your TV without a receiver.
  • How to connect your TV to a home theater system or home audio system to play sound.
  • How to use a home theater subwoofer to your TV for bass + tips you need.
  • Clear, detailed diagrams anyone can understand.

It’s all inside so let’s get started!

What cables are needed to get TV sound to play on home theater speakers?

examples of TV audio cables

The type of cables you’ll need to connect home theater speakers to your TV will depend on your TV’s available jacks and your amp, home stereo, or home theater receiver’s inputs.

There’s no standard set of audio output jacks for TVs. Likewise, there are no standard minimum input jacks for home stereo audio/video (AV) receivers as well. Amplifiers, on the other hand, usually have RCA input jacks.

The connections you’ll need to use will be one of the following:

  • RCA cables: these are also called analog signal cables because the audio is non-digital and can be amplified directly. Using an RCA audio cable is easy and fairly cheap. Note that some TVs provide a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) headphone style jack so you may need a 3.5mm to RCA adapter cable.
  • Optical digital: Also called “TOSLINK”, this is a sound connection that must be converted back to an audio signal. These use an optical cable made of a fiber optic material inside.
  • Coaxial (RCA style) digital: these are essentially the same as a regular single RCA cable and carry an electrical digital signal. 

As you don’t normally find a television with an HDMI output (only inputs), an HDMI cable is not needed unless you’re connecting another type of device to your home receiver.

What’s the difference between digital and analog audio jacks?

Digital audio optical and coaxial output examples

Digital outputs are those where an audio signal (usually stereo audio) is transmitted as digital signals made up of bits of information. Some home receivers with the same connections can connect to these directly and “decode” them (change them back to an audio waveform) to be amplified and drive speakers.

However, if you’re not using a receiver but instead an amplifier, you’ll likely need a digital to analog (RCA) converter box to do the same.

Whenever possible, connecting a TV to a surround sound receiver or home stereo is cheaper and easier using RCA or 3.5mm stereo outputs.

I’ll cover which connections to use and how to make the connections as we go along.

How to connect home theater speakers to TV (no receiver)

how to connect home theater speakers to a TV no receiver diagram

What if you only have speakers but no home stereo receiver? The good news is that it is possible to connect speakers to your TV although it’s slightly more complicated.

Can I connect speakers directly to my TV?

A TV cannot drive speakers directly so you’ll need (1) an amplifier to drive home theater speakers or (2) consider using powered speakers instead.

The problem with powered speakers like you’d use for a home personal computer (PC) is that many are not that great sounding. Small powered speakers are easy to connect but usually “thin” sounding and not great for music. On the other hand, decent home theater speakers can sound very nice!

What you’ll need

Stereo min amplifier example front back images

You can use a small &affordable amplifier like this one to power your home theater speakers without using a receiver.

You can connect a pair of speakers to a TV using a small mini amplifier or another external audio system to power them. Small amps have enough power (say 10 to 15W per channel, for example) to enjoy speakers with good sound at moderate volume. 

Connections to make

The cables & connections you need will depend on the options your TV has:

  • TVs with RCA output jacks or 3.5mm stereo out can use RCA cables to connect to a small amplifier (or a spare home stereo receiver) to get sound. You should be able to connect it directly to any amplifier of your choice.
  • TVs with only digital outputs will need a converter box to get an analog/RCA type audio output.
Note: when using external speakers with a TV you may have to enable the audio output function in your TV’s settings. You may also not have an adjustable volume with the remote control as some don’t offer that via the audio out jacks.

What is a digital to analog audio RCA converter?

Digital to analog audio converter box example labeled

Digital to analog converters accept a digital signal that can’t be used with powered speakers or an amplifier and convert the digital signal to a stereo audio signal. They provide standard RCA jack outputs and also a 3.5mm (1/8″ headphone) jack in some cases.

Digital to analog audio converters use a small AC/DC power supply and convert the digital signal to RCA outputs as needed. In other words,  a digital to analog audio RCA converter changes a digital audio format to stereo audio that you can connect to an amplifier or AV receiver.

Digital (optical or coaxial) converter boxes aren’t expensive – about $20 to $25 these days. They’re really simple to use, too!

A note about using more speakers

Be aware that you won’t be able to power an entire set of home theater speakers without more speaker or amp channels (a bigger amplifier with support for more speakers). If you’re wanting to use a multi-speaker audio system you might want to consider getting a budget home theater unit that can power surround speakers as well.

Note: be aware that the rear speaker channels often must be set to the correct mode for sound when using standard stereo inputs.

How to use a TV with a home theater system

how to connect a TV to a home theater receiver diagram

How do you connect your television’s audio outputs to your home theater system?

To connect a TV to a home stereo receiver or surround sound system, you’ll do so using one of a few ways:

Receivers with RCA aux input jacks:

  1. Using stereo audio output jacks on the TV to connect to auxiliary (“AUX”) RCA inputs on the receiver.
  2. For TVs with a digital optical output, connect to the receiver’s RCA inputs via an optical digital to RCA converter box.
  3. For TVs with a coaxial digital output, connect to the receiver’s RCA inputs via a coaxial digital to RCA converter box.

Receivers with digital audio inputs:

  1. Connect your TV’s optical audio output jack with a fiber optic cable (sometimes called “TOSLINK” style) to the receiver’s optical input.
  2. Connect your TV’s coaxial audio output to the receiver’s coaxial digital input. This is an RCA-style cable and in fact, a single RCA cable will work.

In either case, the RCA stereo input option is the easiest and least expensive. In both cases you’ll have to set your receiver to the AUX (auxiliary), “digital in”, or a similar input mode to get sound. That’s because home stereo receivers with inputs must be switched over to take the signal from those inputs and amplify it to power your speakers.

TVs with a cable box, media streaming box, or satellite receiver

If you’re  using one of the following:

  • A media streaming device (Amazon Firestick, Roku, etc.)
  • Cable box
  • Satellite receiver

You most likely can connect the audio from the box or device itself instead of your TV. There’s an advantage to that in some cases in that sometimes it’s possible to enjoy movies in true surround sound. I’ll cover that in the next section.

While optical and coax digital connections can carry up to 5.1 channels, an HDMI cable can carry up to 7.1 surround sound these days.

Can I listen to my TV in surround sound?

can I get surround sound from a TV

Unfortunately, the short answer is no, in most cases you cannot get true surround sound from your TV’s audio jacks – only stereo.

That’s because, with a few exceptions, televisions usually “downmix” (convert) the audio stream to a 2 channel stereo output from a multi-channel format. It may be possible in some cases (you can check your menu settings to see if there’s an option) using an optical or coax output. However, there’s no guarantee.

How you can get surround sound for TV audio?

You have a few options depending on your particular stereo receiver and what you’re using for your video source:

  • Many home theater units offer a Dolby Pro Logic II feature which emulates surround sound from analog (RCA) 2 channel inputs and can use all 5.1 system speakers. It does a decent job but isn’t a substitute for the real thing.
  • If you have a cable device, satellite receiver, or streaming device you may be able to get a surround sound audio signal from those. To do so you’ll need to connect the digital or HDMI audio outputs to your receiver’s input as needed using an HDMI cable.

Note that it’s kind of a headache sometimes as manufacturers often aren’t clear about whether or not a device outputs a surround sound signal. Sometimes you’ll have to try trial and error or search online to find out.

Other options to consider

wireless TV speaker examples image

There are a few other ways to get the sound you’ll enjoy without needing to deal with home theater connections. Sometimes it’s simpler to use an audio system that’s a bit smaller & simpler.

Some other options to consider are:

  • Using a TV speaker (these can be connected via Bluetooth or standard audio cables).
  • Using a sound bar which is a type of speaker system that can be connected in one of several ways like a home stereo in addition to a wireless connection.

In both cases, they’re essentially a Bluetooth speaker system that’s designed to be fairly simple to connect. They’re usually a stereo speaker pair but some also include additional speakers for good bass sound, too.


About the author

Marty is an experienced electrical, electronics, and embedded firmware design engineer passionate about audio and DIY. He worked professionally as an MECP-certified mobile installer for years before moving into the engineering field. Read more »

Leave a Comment