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Having trouble getting sound from your sound bar? Try this.

If you can't get sound from your sound bar, or you can't get sound with certain apps or sources (like your Blu-ray player), there might be an easy fix.

There are few things more infuriating than getting your new gear all set up... and have it not work.

It's possibly even more infuriating to have it work sometimes, and not others. A common complaint is something like "I've connected my sound bar correctly, and when I play Pandora I get sound, but not with Netflix."

If your cables are correct, there's probably simple fix to get it working. But first...

Cables

Let's double check you do have your cables correct, since that really is the most likely place for there to be a problem (unless you get sound already with certain apps/sources and not others, in which case skip to the next section).

There are three main ways ways to connect a powered sound bar. Hopefully your owner's manual goes into decent detail, but the short version is this:

  1. Everything plugs into your TV, and from your TV a single HDMI cable connects to your sound bar
  2. Everything plugs into your TV, and from your TV a single optical cable connects to your sound bar
  3. Everything plugs into your sound bar, and from your sound bar a single HDMI cable connects to your TV
soundbar-how-to-02.jpg

Connecting your TV to your sound bar via an optical cable is the most common method.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are pros and cons to each method, but that's for a different article. If you've got the correct cables (HDMI or optical) running from your sources (cable/sat box, Blu-ray player, Roku, etc.) and at least one cable running between your sound bar and TV, you're probably in good shape. Double-check that everything is connected and especially when using HDMI check sources; go to Inputs and the TV connects to the Output of your sound bar.

If you're not getting sound specifically from any of your TV's apps, that's actually a different problem, one worthy of it's own article. Conveniently, I already wrote that one.

Check out the cleverly named "How do I get sound from my TV's apps?" to find out how to get sound from your TV's apps.

Let's assume all the above is correct, since if it wasn't and it's now working, you've probably stopped reading.

Audio settings

soundbar-how-to-08.jpg

Check that your source is set to PCM (Linear PCM) if your sound isn't working.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The short version is this: some sound bars can't decode certain audio types, for example 5.1 Dolby Digital, DTS, or Dolby Digital Plus signals. What you have to do to is switch the audio to something the sound bar can decode, usually either Stereo (also labeled "2.0"), or PCM.

Every source will give this option in the settings somewhere. Sure, in an ideal world this would happen automatically, but depending on a lot of factors, the source might not know what it's connected to. Everything can read PCM.

A few products, like the Amazon Fire TV, output Dolby Digital Plus, which older equipment often can't decode. The same process applies here. Go into the settings, and select one of the other options.

There's no one setting that will work for everyone here. Since I've gotten numerous emails from people where "change the audio output type" solved the problem, I figured it was worth pointing to just this setting, since it's not very intuitive.

Worth considering: TV 5.1 output is rare

It's worth considering that most TVs will not pass a 5.1 signal through their optical outputs, and often their HDMI ARC output either. Which is to say, if you're running a Blu-ray player via HDMI to your TV, and then a optical cable from the TV to your sound bar, you might not be able to get 5.1 depending on your TV.

It's part of the copy-protection rules. Going directly from the source to the sound bar is the only workaround that's likely to work. Though unless your sound bar specifically states it's 5.1 (either with physical or virtual surround speakers via beaming), this isn't that big of a deal.

Note this is only passing through a 5.1 signal. If your TV creates it on its own (via an app like Netflix), that can be sent out and usually is (again, check your settings).

Bottom line

You'd think this would be easy. Sound bars are supposed to simplify the home theater experience. And in fairness, they do, but in this case it's a matter where a manufacturer saves a bit of money using a certain chip, and that causes headaches for their customers.


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics such as why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. OLED vs. Plasma, why 4K TVs aren't worth it and more. Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram.

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