Surround Receivers

Soundbar and Home Theater Receiver – Are They Compatible?

We’ve seen it a thousand times before. Someone has a full surround sound system but they need to downgrade. They are moving or the room they used for their home theater needs to be repurposed. The list goes on. In the end, they only have room for their TV and maybe a soundbar. While we would always recommend a 2.1 system over a soundbar, that isn’t always possible. But they kept their old system for use when their situation changes. Smart! But what about that AV receiver? Can they use their home theater receiver with their new soundbar? Will it help in any way? Let’s discuss.

Author’s Note: There are passive soundbars that require an AV receiver for decoding and power. But these are the exception and not the rule. Most soundbars are active and those are the ones we are addressing here.

Intended Connection Path

If you look at any wiring diagram from any active soundbar manual, you’ll never find a home theater receiver in the mix. For example (from a Vizio Soundbar Quickstart Guide):

Not pictured – An AV Receiver

The simple explanation is that soundbars are self-powered. They have their own amplifiers. They also have their own DACs (or Digital to Analogue Converters). They are designed to take audio from your TV and play it. Unlike traditional passive speakers, they don’t need another device to decode the audio and provide amplification. They can do it all. But would an AV Reciever help?

Can Adding a Home Theater Receiver Make Your Soundbar Sound Better?

If there is an axiom every audiophile believes, it is that adding more boxes to their system can only make things sound better. Why buy an AV receiver when you can buy a pre-pro and an external amplifier? Surely two boxes are better than one! But there is some logic here. If you have a fairly powerful home theater receiver, couldn’t it somehow make your soundbar sound better?

In theory? Maybe. In practice almost certainly not.

We’ve talked about DACs before and the fact is that they are a very mature technology. The DACs in your home theater receiver may be slightly better than the ones in your soundbar, but the limitations of the soundbar isn’t the DACs. It’s the soundbar! Improving the DACs is akin to upgrading the hubcaps on your car. You may think it makes the car faster, but that is doubtful.

But I Want To! Can I Use My Receiver and Soundbar Together?

Technically…maybe. There are a couple of ways we can think of to do it. First, you’d need (or want) to connect all your sources to your AV receiver. While you could connect everything to your TV and then use ARC/eARC, that’s a level of complexity we wouldn’t recommend. While it might work, we would expect that it wouldn’t.

Now, you’d either need an AV receiver that has two HDMI outputs or one with pre-outs. If you have an AV receiver with pre-outs, you’d need to make sure to select “stereo” for all your sources. You’d then connect your left and right pre-outs to your soundbar via RCA. As we have mentioned before, this is the lowest quality connection you can make. It is unlikely to sound any better than using the same connection from the TV.

If you have a home theater receiver with dual HDMI outputs, you can connect the audio-only one to your soundbar. The video connection would then be sent up to the TV. The advantage of this connection scheme is that it eschews the problematic HDMI ARC/eARC connection. Sonically, however, it will sound just as good as an eARC connection. It would, in theory, be better than an ARC connection with sources that have lossless audio.

Have you used a home theater receiver with a soundbar successfully? Let us know how in the comments!

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