Add Surround Sound Speakers to a Soundbar

Can You Add Surround Sound Speakers to a Soundbar?

In How-to-Guides, Soundbarby Jonah MatthesLeave a Comment

So you have a soundbar, but you want more sound in your room. You’re not trying to fork over for a proper surround sound system, but figure you can get away with a few speakers hooked up to the soundbar.

Few soundbars come with wireless or wired surround sound speakers. Soundbars rarely have the capability to connect external speakers that aren’t included in the system. However, there are ways to add surround sound speakers to any soundbar, but, it’s a complicated setup.

There are a few instances where hooking up a soundbar and surround speakers at the same time, but most solutions will require a jumble of wires. Here, we explain why using a soundbar with surround speakers might not be the best idea. For those who don’t care, we also provide instructions for integrating a soundbar into a surround sound system.

Why Shouldn’t You Add Surround Sound Speakers to Just Any Soundbar?

Don't Add Surround Sound Speakers to a Soundbar

Some soundbars are built to include additional surround sound speakers. However, you are limited to very specific additional speakers, there is usually only a single option available. Sonos, Bose, and Nakamichi all make surround sound ready soundbars.

Below is a list of soundbars that are capable of adding surround sound speakers. I would definitely suggest one of these units over trying to jerry-rig your own soundbar surround sound setup.

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

How Most Soundbars Work

If your soundbar doesn’t have specific instructions about hooking up surround sound speakers, you should never supplement your soundbar with external speakers. To understand why, you need to know a little about how soundbars work.

Soundbars are meant to simulate surround sound with some clever audio tricks. The speakers are sometimes angled toward the outside of the soundbar so that the sound bounces off the walls in the room and into your ears. Thus, instead of hearing the sound in front of you, you hear it coming from the sides of the room.

When you add surround sound speakers to a soundbar setup, you are adding speakers to amplify sound that’s kind of being amplified already. Because sound travels in waves, adding surround sound speakers that aren’t meant to be there will likely cause interference with a normal soundbar. This means that there will be patches in the room where the sound is quieter and other patches where it is louder.

For this reason, it is highly recommended that you do not attempt this setup unless the surround speakers are already included with the soundbar or it’s natively capable of surround sound. You’ll only ruin your sound with equipment that may not work well.

When Can You Add Surround Sound Speakers Directly to a Soundbar?

Still, some of you are stubborn and can’t be convinced that this is a bad idea. Fine. Just because you shouldn’t hook up surround sound speakers to a soundbar, doesn’t mean you can’t.

The main problem with this approach is that most soundbars, if not all soundbars, do not have a speaker out. This is because soundbars are meant to be all-inclusive, standalone units. If you were able to hook up surround sound speakers to a soundbar, it would have an audio out. Do not plug your speakers to the soundbar’s audio in channels because they will not deliver any sound.

Most soundbars do not come with this feature because they are not intended for this use. The closest most come is having an external subwoofer out. Using this channel will not suit your purposes both because it does not have a stereo signal and because it is only transmitting the bass frequencies.

In general, manufacturers make it as difficult as possible to use external speakers with a soundbar because, as stated above, it’s a terrible idea. Even so, there are still roundabout solutions to use surround sound speakers with a soundbar.

How to Add Surround Sound Speakers to almost any Soundbar

Warnings aside, we’ll now go over the steps to connect surround sound speakers to almost any soundbar. Keep in mind, you will need a pretty specific setup for this. Here are the things you will NEED to have in order to add surround sound speakers to a soundbar:

  • Soundbar with an AUX, RCA, or Digital Optical input.
  • A 5.1 channel audio/video receiver that has pre-outs for the front left, front right, and center channels.
  • A mini stereo mixer with at least 3 inputs and a single output. The Rolls MX42 4-Channel Passive Mini Stereo Mixer (on Amazon) will work for this setup.
  • Surround sound speakers that accept normal speaker cable inputs or a way to wirelessly connect them to the receiver.

1) Connect RCA Cables to the Pre-Outs on the Receiver

Receiver with Pre-Outs Outlined

First, connect RCA cables to the pre-out connections for the front left, front right, and center channels.

You’ll definitely need a receiver with pre-outs. Pre-outs are outputs from the receiver that only output the audio signal for each channel. Pre-outs don’t include the power for each channel like normal speaker outputs. If you tried to connect a soundbar to normal speaker outputs, it would send power directly into the soundbar and damage the internal components.

2) Connect the Other Ends of the RCA Cables to A Mini Stereo Mixer

Connect the other ends of the RCA cables to a mini stereo mixer. The Rolls MX42 4-Channel Passive Mini Stereo Mixer (on Amazon) will work perfectly for this setup.

3) Connect the Output from the Mini Stereo Mixer to the Soundbar

AUX and RCA Cables

You’ll need a soundbar with an RCA, AUX, or Digital Optical input.

  • Soundbar with RCA Input: Connect another set of RCA cables to the output of the mini stereo mixer, then connect the other ends to the soundbar’s RCA input.
  • Soundbar with AUX Input: If your soundbar only has an AUX input, simply buy an RCA to AUX cable, then connect the RCA ends to the mini stereo mixer and the AUX end to the soundbar.
  • Soundbar with Digital Optical Input: If your soundbar doesn’t have an RCA or AUX input, but does have a digital optical input, then you’ll need an analog to digital optical converter (on Amazon). Connect a set of RCA cables to the mini stereo mixer’s RCA output, then the other ends into the analog to digital optical converter. Then connect a digital optical cable from the converter to the soundbar itself.

4) Connect Your Surround Speakers to the Receiver

Lastly, connect your surround speakers to your receiver using normal speaker wires. You can use as many surround speakers as your receiver will allow. Using this method, you can make a 5.1, 7.1, 9.1, etc. sound system as long as your receiver will allow it. If you’d prefer to make the traditional speakers wireless, then check out our article on how to make regular speakers wireless.

Why You Shouldn’t Add Surround Sound Speakers to a Soundbar

Besides possibly ruining your sound with mismatching speakers and being incredibly difficult to set up, using a soundbar and surround sound speakers simultaneously cannot be done using high definition audio.

Depending on your soundbar, you can fake either 4.1 or 5.1 sound. Which one you get depends on your soundbar. Since you will be adding two surround speakers, a 2.1 soundbar will give you 4.1 sound, and a 3.1 soundbar will give you 5.1 sound.

Ultimately, hooking up a soundbar to surround sound speakers is a bad idea. It can ruin the sound, it’s a pain to set up, not as stable as a normal setup, and ultimately you won’t get true high-definition surround sound like you would with a true surround sound setup.

The best you can get, if the soundbar has the right audio jacks, is a poor quality 5.1 system with far more wires and converters than is necessary.

Your soundbar doesn’t need any help. It’s already broadcasting simulated surround sound and extra speakers only interfere with that. If you’re really itching to get true surround sound, better to ditch the soundbar for a surround sound system or for a soundbar that includes wireless surround sound speakers.

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