Can your old hi-fi sound better than your new TV?

There are only two things you expect from a TV set – a good picture and decent sound. You can get a reasonable idea of the screen quality before leaving the showroom, but judging the audio output is harder to do.

Loudspeakers no bigger than a pound coin and scarcely more expensive have become the norm in almost all TVs sold today – the expectation being that you will want to add home cinema components to your system. This is a recent development and as such, many buyers have rejected it as an unnecessary hard sell, reasoning that the built-in speaker can adequately fill any living room with sound.

This is true, but it is the quality and richness of the output, not the volume, that’s at issue. And at a time when many of us have been watching more TV than ever before, the deficiencies of inbuilt sound systems have started to become more noticeable.

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It was the change to flat panel screens that did away with the traditional TV loudspeaker. There simply isn’t room for one in the new design. Besides, the makers reasoned that by selling sound systems separately, they could ring up two sales instead of one.

But if you have a decent hi-fi in the same room as your TV, you might find that with a bit of judicious wiring, you can short-circuit the salesmen.

The first thing to do is check the sockets on the back of your TV and amplifier. If you’re in luck, you will find two that match. These could be old-fashioned analogue audio ports, also known as phono or RCA connectors, or in the case of newer equipment, optical outlets. There are several different types of analogue plugs that you can mix and match but analogue and optical are foreign to each other.

Cables are readily available online for just a few pounds, depending on the length you need for your hookup. In the case of optical leads, a longer run does not reduce the audio quality.

Once you’ve connected both ends, it’s just a matter of finding the right input on the amplifier; you should then hear your TV’s output from your hi-fi speakers. This is the simplest arrangement possible and it should work no matter if the pictures are coming from the TV itself or from a set-top box. Assuming your speakers have a decent range, you should hear a real difference, especially when watching movies.

If your equipment doesn’t have matching connectors, Bluetooth might be an option for you, but only if your TV supports it. You will then need a Bluetooth receiver which you can plug into any amplifier. However, the range and reliability is less solid than with wired connections.

Failing that, a sound bar is the next best option. These start at around £100 and have the advantage of needing little cabling, other than to the mains and your TV. They are inherently small, however, and suffer from some of the disadvantages of TV speakers, though not to the same extent. For a little under £200, you can find bars with separate bass speakers, which offer a compromise between size and sophistication.

Most give you the choice of HDMI or optical connectivity, and you can also plug in additional audio sources – MP3 players, your phone or an old CD deck, via cable or Bluetooth. But again, check the sockets match those on your TV before buying.

If you prefer the speakers you already have but discover your old amplifier is incompatible with your new TV, an AV Receiver might be your best bet. Although designed to accommodate five or more speakers, they can be configured to work with just a pair, and will also accommodate your other stereo components. They start at £150 but £250 is more common, and if you don’t need ultra high-definition picture quality, you can find plenty of second-hand bargains. Even a five-year-old receiver will sound better than a new TV by itself.

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