Do Optical, Digital Coaxial and HDMI inputs provide much better sound?

We had this as a follow up from our long time reader Scott. It’s an interesting one as there are so many things to consider with cabling – not least of all exactly how many devices you have and how you are planning to connect them all.

So let’s cover the basics first – what type of connectors are available?

3.5mm jack – cheap common at the low end. Can handle stereo. An example of a soundbar in this category would be the Dell AY511. Normally retailing at under $50 is produces 20Watts and gets good reviews. This sort of bar is realy suitable for beefing up your home PC or possibly a TV in a caravan.

RCA – robust, ubiquitous but for true surround sound you need several of them (one for each channel) unless there is some funky emulation going on. Very few soundbars would have the number of RCA inputs required for true 7.1 surround sound. I’m not aware of many current soundbars that just have RCA. One great unit that has both RCA and a 3.5mm jack is the Coby Multimedia 3D Soundbar. Retailing at just $99 it gets enthusiastic reviews and produces about 80Watts.

Both these analogue connectors (RCA and 3.5mm jack) were the de facto standard for a long time. They are appearing  less now but are still very prevalent.

Optical (Tosslink)  is a digital connector . It will handle 7.1, but it will NOT cope with the higher bit rate codecs such as DTS Master and TrueHD. Additionally if used as the output from a TV to a soundbar it has a significant ‘gotcha’. Many (most?) TV optical outputs will not cope with anything more than stereo sound. Optical is found on most soundbars but one that uses it  as its primary connection is the  a powerfull Samsung HD-D450 a 280Watt system that retails around $300.

HDMI Arc is the single cable type approach now typically favoured. HDMI 1.4 or above has much greater bandwidth than any of the previous technologies and can support an audio return channel. So HDMI from TV to soundbar gives you the best possible sound experience – this is likely to be key if you are keen on BluRay or even 3D tv. If you take things a step further then you can get soundbars with HDMI inputs and outputs. Now you can start considering attaching devices like BluRay straight to the soundbar and letting it pass the video to the TV.

Some setups still require HDMI and optical.

So if your budget will allow it we suggest HDMI is the way forward.

Long term readers know that this is the time where i normally start waxing lyrical about Yamaha. Well this time I did want to talk about the KEF HTF8003 but eventually gave up as I couldn’t get the specs from the website. So yes, an example of an HDMI equiped Soundbar would be the Yamaha YSP-2200 which has three HDMI in and one out. (not to mention RCA, optical connectors and USB). It also packs a punch at 132Watts.

Now with all those cables you just need to consider your wiring scheme……

Happy soundbaring!


1 Comment

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