How do I connect my TV to my stereo hi-fi?
Many of us have our hi-fi in the lounge that we share with our family. Typically the lounge is also the place where we watch TV. So doesn’t it make sense to use your hi-fi for the TV’s sound? Absolutely – especially with modern TVs which have such poor built in speakers.
This article assumes you don’t have a home cinema receiver – if you do then you should have everything connected up using HDMI already: this article is not for you.
Assuming your hi-fi is stereo (i.e. two speakers and no surround sound), there are two main ways in which to achieve this and it all depends on the connections you have available on the back of your TV and on the back of your hi-fi. The two methods broadly fall into two categories: digital connection and analogue connection.
Most modern TVs have a digital audio output on the back. This is usually labelled “digital audio output”, “digital audio out” or “digital out”. Typically this uses an Optical (also known as TOSLink) connection which uses a fibre optic cable to connect two audio devices together.
If your TV has this – great! Now you need to know if you have a matching connection somewhere on your hi-fi. This will be labelled “digital audio in” or “optical in”. These type of connections are usually found on DACs (Digital to Analogue Converter), network streamers or on many modern integrated amplifiers. If your hi-fi does have one of these then all you need is a digital audio optical toslink cable like this one.
These cables come in various lengths – you don’t want the cable to be too tight so give yourself some extra length. Its usually not worth spending too much on these types of cables; you’re paying for build quality and a brand name. Digital cables either work or they don’t; if they don’t work then you either won’t hear anything or you’ll get get dropouts.
This type of connection is the best as it provides the highest audio quality. Your TV will pass a digital audio signal to your hi-fi which will then convert the signal into audio. It is always best to let your hi-fi do the conversion process to maintain the best sound quality. Your hi-fi will control the volume.
If you don’t have a digital audio input on your hi-fi, then you may want consider purchasing an inexpensive DAC. Don’t spend too much here; you don’t need a fancy DAC just for TV.
If either your TV or hi-fi do not have a digital audio connection, then you must use analogue instead. On the TV side, this is actually less common. You will always find analogue Audio In (this is an RCA phono connector, one coloured white and one coloured red) but Audio Out is much rarer. If you do have one of these then you need a regular stereo interconnect cable with red/white phono sockets on either end. In this setup, your TV volume and your hi-fi volume controls are active – so be careful.
Failing that, your TV might have a headphone out socket. This is my least favourable option: sound quality is the worst and it usually disables the TVs own speakers completely. Why is this bad? Well sometimes the other members of my household struggle with the idea of turning on the TV, turning on the hi-fi then selecting the right inputs. So I like to have the fallback option of using the TVs internal speakers. If you do plan to use the headphone socket, you will likely need a cable that has a headphone jack at one end and a pair of red/white phono sockets at the other end.
So check your connections first to see what you have. If you have the option go digital otherwise “make do” with whatever analogue option is there. Switching from crappy internal TV speakers to a proper hi-fi will greatly improve your enjoyment of TV programmes and movies. This is an easy tweak that is highly rewarding.