How To Connect An Old Receiver To A New TV

Got a vintage or old AV receiver but want to enjoy great sound? There’s a bit to know and I’d love to help!

In this article you’ll find some handy info:

  • How to connect a TV to an old receiver
  • Clear & helpful diagrams
  • What to do when your TV has only digital outputs an old receiver can’t use
  • How to connect a TV to a receiver with no AUX inputs

..and more!

Cable and connector types for new TVs to know

examples of TV audio cables

The cables you’ll need to connect your receiver to your TV will depend on the TV’s output jacks available. Generally speaking, you’ll need RCA cables at some point to get sound to the receiver’s inputs.

It’s important to be clear also that you need a home receiver with auxiliary (“AUX”) input jacks of some type. (I’ll cover that below)

There’s no standard set of audio output jacks for TVs.

Your TV will likely have one or more of the following connections:

  • 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. Some TVs provide a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) headphone jack connector. In that case you can use a 3.5mm to RCA adapter cable.
  • Optical digital output: Also called “TOSLINK”, this is a sound connection that must be converted back to an analog signal. These use an optical cable made of a fiber optic material inside and carry a digital signal using pulsed light signals.
  • Coaxial (RCA style) digital: these use a single jack that plugs into an RCA cable and carries a digital audio signal using electrical bits (unlike a TOSLINK cable that does the same using light).

These types of connectors apply to both a standard or a smart TV as well.

Note that TVs don’t normally include an HDMI connection for outputs – an HDMI input option is common. An HDMI cable shouldn’t be needed for getting sound to your audio system unless you’re connecting another type of device or a new receiver’s HDMI port.

Note: Be sure to not confuse the component video, composite video, or audio inputs and outputs. Ordinarily these are clearly labeled both by name and the color helps to identify them. (RCA audio outputs for example normally use white (left channel) and red (right channel by convention.)

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

Digital audio optical and coaxial output examples

Digital outputs carry sound (usually stereo audio) by transmitting digital signals made up of bits of information. Newer 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, an old receiver or a standard home stereo amplifier cannot and you’ll likely need a digital-to-analog (RCA) converter box to do get the signal you can use.

Whenever possible, connecting a TV using RCA cables or a 3.5mm output is much easier and cheaper, too.

I’ll cover both situations in the next section.

How to connect an older receiver to a new TV

old AV receiver AUX jack examples

The type of connection you’ll need will depend on your particular TV. Older receivers often have auxiliary (AUX) RCA input jacks with one or more labels:

  • AUX in
  • DVD in
  • CD in

Input jacks like these were used years ago to play audio from a separate audio source through the receiver and will work fine for TV sound with the right connection. (You can also connect sound from an external media player or BluRay player for example if you like.)

They’re the same thing as both accept a low-level signal (line level) signal to be amplified by the receiver in the right mode and sent to the speakers.

TV to receiver connection diagram

how to connect a TV to an old receiver diagram

As I mentioned earlier, there are two main types of TV sound connections you’ll use:

  1. Analog (non-digital) via RCA jack outputs or a 3.5mm (1/8″) headphone style output jack
  2. Digital signal outputs: an optical output or coaxial (RCA style) output

1. Connecting a TV to an older receiver using analog jacks

This is normally very easy to do, although you may need to turn on audio outputs in the menu in some TVs to get sound.

Simply connect whichever available outputs you have to the auxiliary, DVD, CD etc. inputs on your receiver. Don’t spend a ton of money on the RCA cables either as standard quality cables will work fine.

Some TVs only have a headphone size stereo output jack in which case you can use a 1/8″ (3.5mm) stereo plug to RCA jack adapter. You can then connect standard cables between the TV and the receiver.

2. Connecting to a TV’s digital output jacks

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 output. They provide an RCA connection and also a 3.5mm (1/8″ headphone) jack in some cases.

This is a bit trickier because you’ll have to convert the digital audio signal, not just connect it. You’ll need to pick up a digital to RCA converter. These cost about $18-$25 and usually include a small AC-DC power supply.

Some do or do not include the cables needed to connect to your television (many do include it) so you’ll simply use whichever option you have: the optical (TOSLINK, fiber optic) jack or the coaxial digital jack.

One thing to know is that fiber optic cables can be damaged if bent too much so you’ll need to be careful to avoid kinking them or crushing them in tight spaces. Doing so can permanently damage the optical cable material, causing them to fail to carry the signal properly.

If you have both options the coaxial digital cable is fine to use.

Note: When using your AV receiver to play the TV audio signal through your receiver’s speakers, be sure to disable or turn off the volume to the internal TV speakers if it has the option. Otherwise the TV speakers will conflict with your better speakers, resulting in poor & distracting sound. Use only the stereo speakers when possible.

Can I connect speakers directly to my TV instead?

Ordinarily no it’s not possible to connect non-powered speakers to a TV. Very few of them have built-in speaker terminals that can connect to speaker wire.

Signal outputs are low-level outputs and can’t produce the power required to drive speakers. It’s also possible to damage audio outputs by connecting a low impedance (low resistance) load such as 8 ohm or 4 ohm speakers directly to them. For that reason a stereo receiver, home theater system, or amp is needed.

However, you can connect an amplified external speaker pair if you like! For example, powered PC computer speakers or a powered bookshelf speaker set can be used.

In both cases, you can use similar connections to those I’ve listed above or find out more about connecting speakers to a TV.

Can I listen to my TV in surround sound on an older receiver?

can I get surround sound from an old receiver

Unfortunately no you can’t for two reasons:

  • In most cases you can’t get true surround sound from your TV’s audio jacks – only stereo.
  • An older receiver usually cannot decode a Dolby Digital or DTS surround signal into discrete outputs (separate channel signals each with its own sound source).

With a few exceptions, televisions usually “downmix” (convert) the 5.1 audio stream to a 2 channel output. It may be possible in some cases (you can check your menu settings to see if there’s an option) to use an optical or coax output. However, there’s no guarantee.

Older receivers are normally stereo only or quadraphonic 4-channel at best. However, you can simulate 5.1 sound if your receiver features Dolby Pro Logic I or II. While not quite the same, it’s a good way to get close to the experience to a degree.

Dolby Pro Logic derives a center output, left & right front outputs, and rear satellite speaker outputs from a 2-channel source for both music or movies.

How to connect a TV to an old receiver without AUX inputs

how to connect receiver with no AUX input jack RF modulator

What if your old receiver has no AUX, DVD, or CD audio input options? Are you out of luck? Not quite!

For a stereo receiver with a coaxial cable or 300 ohm (twin screw) antenna connection, you’ve got an option that can work.

You can pick up an RF modulator that will accept an RCA connection pair and convert it (modulate it) to a radio frequency (RF) signal the receiver can accept. This is what was done back in the day for video game systems or home computers.

For receivers with 300Ω antenna lead terminals, you’ll need a 75Ω to 300Ω adapter and a coaxial cable to connect them. Once connected and powered up, tune the receiver to the provided frequency and you should have TV sound through your speakers.

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 »

Your comments are welcome.
  1. I’ve hooked up our old stereo to a newerTV with a DAC. I’ve had my boyfriend double check it. We cannot get anything but static!

    Any ideas?

  2. Hello, thank you for your website it gives me hope! I have an old dvd surround sound system that I loved and there’s nothing really wrong with it, but it doesn’t seem to be compatible with newer style tvs. I was looking at sound bars and they seem ok, but nothing like what I used to use. I may look into trying to connect my old system to my tv, but we’ll see. This kind of seems like rocket science at first glance but maybe not.

    • Hi Joe, yes if it were me to I’d prefer a “real” speaker system or surround sound system as you mentioned as opposed to a soundbar.

      As long as there’s some type of auxiliary input to your receiver or surround sound device you likely can connect it to the TV. Best regards!

  3. I have an old Sony receiver STR-DE475 with pro logic I; dts and Dolby digital decoding on it. JVC tv (2019 or so) just RCA and Coaxial audio output and an Apple TV with only HDMI output connected to tv’s HDMI input 1. I used COAXIAL output from my tv to coaxial receiver digital input. JVC’s menu spdif output (coaxial) has 2 options: pcm and raw. With pcm I got pro logic decoding in the receiver (4 channels). Raw option from the tv got me the Dolby Digital decoding to have 5.1 mixes! It took me weeks to (kind of) understand all of this and have 5.1 sound from my Apple TV device and JVC crappy cheap tv to my old Sony receiver (2001 or so model!) I feel like a rockstar now having all this possibilities, from stereo to 5.1 with a very basic equipment. I took advantage of old and new technology to enjoy music and movies mixed in 5.1
    YouTube now supports 5.1 and almost all streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+, star+ and hbo max. There are lots of sound tests in YouTube for 5.1. I feel sooo happy. Thanks for sharing this information. Sorry, English not my native language. Peace

    • Hi Erick. Your English was very good, so don’t worry! :)

      It is excellent to hear you are enjoy 5.1 sound. I too did similar, including in my car and it really does make movies and music more exciting.

      Very happy to read your comment & you should be proud to have figured it out. Best regards!

  4. The excellent information on this website needs to be published and spread far and wide! I can’t imagine how many folks out there have thrown away their old audio or a/v equipment and opted for such things as sound bars, that are acoustically inferior to the older standbys.

    I have had several generations of tv’s hooked up to my old Sony “Dream Machine,” which I have been using in a sound bar configuration for years…too much hassle with wiring the speakers to the back of the living room. And I am also still utilizing my old KLH “quad sound” dvd player as the speaker system for my family room…and I mean, old! KLH didn’t make very good video equipment, but they definitely know how to make audio equipment that outlives generations of tv’s too!

    So, a big Thumbs Up to this Marty Guy, who has published this excellent information. But there is one place where I disagree…I would challenge all but the most acoustically sophisticated folks out there to tell me that my old stuff doesn’t stack up to the “surround sound” bars and other implements that are sold to boost the profits of the electronics manufacturers. Thanks for this website!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Bill. Actually, I agree with you that much of the older equipment out there can either at least match or outperform a lot of modern audio electronics.

      Using an external amp or receiver and decent stereo speakers can make a HUGE difference in sound. Best regards!

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