Using a 2-channel stereo system for TV is a very popular alternative to Sound Bars and Surround Sound audio systems. Many newer stereo components incorporate digital inputs. Some even offer HDMI inputs. In this installment we explore options ranging from small desktop stereos to the most sophisticated high performance audio systems. Read on…
Sending TV Sound to Your Stereo
TVs have 4 possible ways that audio can be sent to a stereo system. These can include: analog output, a digital optical output, HDMI ARC (which can deliver higher quality audio signals via an HDMI cable), and wirelessly with Bluetooth.
A Few Golden Rules:
The default setting in TVs and video components is bitstream (multi-channel). Most digital inputs on stereo equipment can only accept a PCM (stereo) signal. The TV and every connected digital source (like Blu-ray players or Apple TVs) must be set to PCM in each of the component’s set-up menu!
When you need to install both an audio option and headphones, utilize multiple audio outputs. If the TV only has an optical output, optical splitters are available. Do not use “passive” types of optical splitters, as they divide the available light and neither attached device may work well, if at all. Choose a powered optical splitter instead.
Desktop All-In-One Stereos for TV
Some manufacturers now offer All-in-One stereo music systems that include digital optical and/or HDMI ARC inputs for use with TVs. They may also have an analog input and Bluetooth for receiving music from smartphones and tablets. Advanced units may integrate WiFi for higher quality streaming, and the ability to expand the system into other rooms.
All-in-Ones differ from Sound Bars in that they are not low profile designs and are designed first and foremost as compact music playback systems. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand for high performance models.
Powered Speakers for TV
The newest stereo category is powered speaker systems. These integrate the speaker, amplifiers, and inputs into one speaker, which supplies signal and power to the second matching speaker. Powered speakers offer much better stereo separation than an All-in-One. Their compact form factor is perfect when space is limited. They are also ideal for students and those who need portability.
Inputs include analog (often with a selectable phono input), digital optical, and Bluetooth for streaming music from smartphone or tablet. Most offer a sub output to add a subwoofer for increased performance.
Many smaller stereo systems are now designed for use with TVs. These consist of an amplifier with a number analog, digital, Bluetooth input. Some units offer WiFi streaming and multi-room expandability. Most also offer a subwoofer output to enhance the audio performance. The prices can range from entry-level to high-end.
Although usually bundled with matching speakers, sometimes you can purchase the amplifier separately, allowing you to choose different speakers. Mini systems combine true stereo performance in a compact form factor, with the ability to upgrade.
Component Stereo Systems
Many traditional stereo amplifiers, receivers, and audio separates have been modernized to include digital inputs for TVs and other devices. They may also offer WiFi, Bluetooth, and Apple Airplay.
Component stereo systems are available in the widest selection of models, performance levels, and price ranges. These also offer the greatest possibilities for upgradability.
Adding Digital inputs to Existing Analog Stereo Systems
It is possible to add digital capabilities to pure analog amplifiers, so you can use an existing stereo system with a TV that only has digital outputs.
Options range from entry level DAC modules (Digital-to-Analog Converters) to components that combine digital inputs and music streaming capabilities.
There is something for virtually every budget, from less than a hundred dollars to thousands for the very best models. No matter what level of existing analog stereo equipment you own, options exist to update it to accept a digital audio TV signal.
Headphones are an excellent choice for late night viewing or when you do not wish to disturb others. Headphones are also highly recommended for those with hearing issues, allowing the user sound isolation and independent volume control, while other viewers are able to use alternate audio options at more comfortable volume levels.
Headphones can be used stand alone or along side of another TV sound option. Few newer TVs offer a wired headphone specific output, so most options are wireless.
RF (radio frequency) models send TV audio from a wired transmitter to the headphones. RF models offer ranges up to 330 feet, which can work through walls and floors, allowing users to listen to the TV throughout the house. Special models are available with equalization geared to those with hearing loss. Select models offer additional headsets that can be paired with the same transmitter.
If the TV offers Bluetooth output, you can use Bluetooth wireless headphones. They do not have to be dedicated to the TV like RF models. It is worth noting some hearing aid models offer a Bluetooth transmitter option.
Bluetooth is limited in range and the signal can be affected by physical obstacles in the transmission path. This option is best when used in proximity to the TV.