By David Ludlow
The slimming down of HD TVs has generally been a good thing, with them taking up less space, the downside is that there’s also less space for speakers. As a result, sound quality has taken a hit in many cases (not helped by the mumbly soundtracks on many TV dramas).
If you’re struggling to hear what’s going on and your TV’s not delivering the audio power you want, we’re here to help. We’ll show you both how to improve and control your TV’s sound settings to maximize audio quality. If you want to go one step further, we’ll show you how to hook up a set of external speakers or soundbar, too.
Adjust your TV’s sound settings
We’ll start with the controls on your TV. By tweaking these, you can make a big difference to audio quality. It’s important to note that you’re still limited by the quality of the speakers in your TV set, so even after changing these settings, you may still want to go with a set of external speakers.
Dive into your TV’s settings menus and you’ll find a host of settings outside of the standard volume control. The exact options differ between manufacturers and TV models, with more expensive, higher-end tellies typically having more parameters. You may need to refer to your TV’s manual for the exact options, but this will serve as a good general guide.
Change sound mode
Just as with picture modes, most TVs will have a range of sound modes that adjust the audio profile. They’re typically designed to match certain types of content, such as Cinema or Sports, although you’ll often find a mode designed for improving speech, such as Clear Voice III on recent LG OLED TVs.
Start playing the type of content that you watch the most often, perhaps from a recording, and then cycle through the sound profiles until you find the one that gives you the best quality sound.
Please note that some other sound options selected on your TV may prevent you from changing the sound profile.
If you select the standard or user sound profiles, most TVs will also let you adjust the equaliser. Similar to the controls on your Hi-Fi, equaliser settings let you adjust specific parts of the sound range. There’ll usually be a set of controls listed by sound frequency, 100Hz, 1kHz and so on. The lower numbers (in Hz) adjust bass, the higher numbers (in KHz) the treble.
If you find that your TV sounds a bit muffled and speech is hard to hear, then you can try dialling down the bass settings and upping the treble. You can tweak the sound the way that you want it using the equaliser, but you’re still limited by the overall quality of your TV’s speakers.
Adjust advanced processing
Some TVs will have advanced sound processing options, such as virtual surround or Dolby Atmos processing. It’s worth trying the options to see if you get better quality sound out of your TV, but some options can degrade audio.
Try auto volume
Have you noticed how adverts are a lot louder than the TV programme that you were watching, or that a show will suddenly have a loud bit in? Some TVs have an auto volume setting designed to even-out that issue, reducing sudden bursts of loud sounds. It’s a feature that’s worth turning on to see if it can help prevent loud volume issue.
Add external speakers or a sound bar
Often, the best way to improve your TV’s sound is to bypass its internal speakers completely and opt for an external set. There are two ways to connect external speakers depending on your TV’s capability: using a cable (3.5mm audio or digital) or, if you have support for it, using the HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC).
Using a cable is generally easier as you can use practically any pair of speakers or existing Hi-Fi, but you end up with an extra cable. Using HDMI ARC requires your TV and sound device to support the standard but means that audio is sent via a single HDMI cable, which is often far neater. We’ll show you how to set up both.
How to set up an external speaker
Using a cable
If your external speakers or soundbar doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port, you can use a cable to plug it in instead. Most TVs will have the sound outputs on the rear, with 3.5mm headphone outputs and, usually, a digital optical S/PDIF output.
The headphone output is often the easiest to use, as you can even plug in a pair of cheaper PC speakers to get a sound boost. If you’ve got a dedicated soundbar or other speakers with an optical input, then using your TV’s optical output will give you better quality sound. Plus, optical outputs support surround-sound formats, such as Dolby Digital, which is great if you’ve got such a setup.
Connect the cable that you want to use into the back of your TV and then into your external speakers. On your external speakers, you’ll need to select the correct sound input.
From your TV’s sound menus you need to select the sound option that you want. Choose line out, rather than headphones, for the 3.5mm connection if you can. This sets the output at a constant volume; without this, you can end up with distorted sound. Choose the optical or digital option if you’re using that type of connection.
Most TVs will let you select to use just the external sound that you’ve connected, or this plus your TV’s internal speakers; select the option that best suits you. If you select a single sound output then your TV’s volume controls will most likely be disabled and you’ll have to adjust volume through your external speakers only.
If you have a TV and external speakers or soundbar that use HDMI ARC, you can use this to send audio over a single cable. This can make a lot of sense. For example, if you have a soundbar with a Blu-ray player and games console connected to its inputs, then the soundbar connected to your TV via HDMI, you can reduce cable clutter. Without HDMI ARC, if you wanted to send the audio from your TV when watching Freeview, Netflix or another smart TV app, you’d need an extra cable, as the steps above; with HDMI ARC, the sound from your TV can be sent over the HDMI cable that’s already connected to your speakers.
To get HDMI ARC working you need to plug the HDMI output from your compatible speakers or soundbar into an HDMI ARC port on your TV, which will be clearly labelled. From your TV, choose HDMI ARC as the sound output.
For ARC to work, you need to have HDMI-CEC turned on, too. This is a control protocol that, among other things, can turn your TV on automatically when you turn on a compatible device. This should be on by default (and is often turned on when you use the HDMI ARC option), but it’s worth checking. On your TV find the HDMI-CEC setting, which is usually under the General or Advanced settings. Most manufacturers have their own name for this, such as LG Simplink, but they tend to write HDMI-CEC in brackets for clarification, or just call the option HDMI Control.
You also need to turn on HDMI-CEC on your external device, too. Now, when you turn your TV on and put it on a TV channel or smart app, your speakers should play the audio automatically, although you may need to select the TV input.
Be aware that HDMI-CEC isn’t always that reliable and you may find that you can’t get any sound out of your speakers. There are a few things to check. First, you’ll need to have HDMI-CEC enabled on all devices connected directly to your speakers.
Secondly, if you still have problems, then try turning the power off to all of your devices. Then, turn on your TV, speakers/soundbar and, finally, other devices. Finally, try using a different HDMI cable to connect your speakers and TV.
If you still can’t get it to work, then using an external cable option, as suggested above, is the easiest way to go.
Tweaking your TV’s sound settings can go a long way to making programmes easier to understand and hear, without necessarily having to whack the volume up. When you want the best quality sound, outstripping what even the most expensive TVs can deliver, an external set of speakers is a great way to go.