How to Hook Older Speakers to a TV

Connecting to a home theater system or a modern soundbar and subwoofer is the ideal solution, but any older speakers you happen to have around the house can provide an upgrade.
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Television screens have been getting better and cheaper for years, and the color and resolution of a modern TV is pretty remarkable. Unfortunately, the same technology that has made the screens thinner and lighter has made it ever more difficult to build in speakers that provide sound to match the picture quality. Connecting to a home theater system or a modern soundbar and subwoofer is the ideal solution, but any older speakers you happen to have around the house can provide an upgrade.

Hooking Up Speakers to a TV

Almost every television has some sort of audio output, so the only question is how to go about connecting that TV audio out to the speakers. There are a few different ways this can go, depending on your speakers. If they are old-school stereo speakers with no power of their own, they need some sort of amplification. A few — mostly older — TVs have a built-in amplifier and the speaker connections to go with it, but newer ones, as a rule, do not.

For those, you need to either have self-powered speakers or connect them to the TV using another device that provides the amplification.

Using Stereo Speakers for a TV

Take a look at the connections on your TV or in the manual that came with your set. If it has built-in amplification, you should see two or more sets of speaker connectors on the back or along the edges. They typically are spring terminals like you see on most stereo amplifiers and speakers and accept bare speaker wire.

There are a few possible variations you might see. Some speakers — typically low-end — used RCA plugs or might even have wires permanently attached. Some others — typically high-end — used brass terminals that could accept banana plugs or heavy-gauge speaker wire. Some TVs supported front and rear speakers and possibly a subwoofer instead of simple left/right outputs.

  • For connectors other than spring terminals, buy crimp-on or solder-type connectors from your favorite retailer or website and attach them to the speaker wire. In some cases, you might need different connectors at each end of the wire or an adapter from a plug to bare wire.
  • For TVs with front and back outputs, connect your speakers to the front terminals. If you have two pairs of speakers, connect the larger pair to the front and the smaller pair to the rear.

Using External Amplification

If your TV doesn't have its own amplifier, you have to provide amplification separately. This can sometimes cost more than buying a full surround-sound package, but older stereo speakers often provide better sound. It's a judgment call you have to make for yourself.

The easy option, if you have room for it, is to comb thrift stores for an old-school stereo receiver/amplifier. Connect it to the audio outputs on your TV and then attach your speakers to the amp. Some amps are capable of supporting a full surround-sound system, so there's room to upgrade if you want to.

You can also find wireless units that can drive your speakers and connect to your TV through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or a separate transmitter. You still need wires to connect the wireless unit to the speakers, but you won't have to run wire through your living room.

Using Powered Speakers

When you're hooking up speakers to a TV, the simplest option is to use powered speakers if you have them. Even the relatively small subwoofers and satellite speakers sold for computer use can often be better than the ones built into your TV.

If your speakers use a headphone plug or if a headphone jack is your TV's only audio output, the built-in speakers usually cut out when you connect the external speakers. To avoid this, use another audio output if there's one available. If your speakers have a permanent headphone-style plug, you need an adapter to connect them to the separate left/right audio outputs on the TV.

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