Last Updated on December 31, 2022 by Norvan Martin
If your TV doesn’t use RCA or optical output, you would typically connect it to a speaker system using the analog stereo headphone output (3.5 mm jacks). But, can you connect a 5.1 surround sound speaker system with a 3.5 mm jack to my TV?
Yes, you can connect a 5.1 surround sound speaker system with a 3.5 mm jack to your TV, but your audio will not separate sound into all five speakers, you will not get surround sound. Instead, you will get the stereo sound of two channels spread in all five speakers.
In this case, you will get 2 channels split into 5.1 and not 5 individual channels which do not use a 5.1 system to its full potential
This is because an analog stereo headphone output cannot support surround sound in a 5.1 speaker system. Connecting speakers using the analog headphone output (3.5 mm jacks) is ideal for basic multimedia speakers but you can’t get 5.1 surround sound using this type of connection.
What Is The Best Way To Connect Your 5.1 System To Your TV?
To get real 5.1 surround sound from your TV, you either can get a DAC with a proper audio decoder that outputs 5-channel audio. Otherwise, you will have to get an AV receiver that can decode the 5.1 audio and connect it to your TV with HDMI pass-through.
Read on for more details on the best ways to connect your speakers to your TV to a 5.1 speaker system.
What Is A 3.5 mm Jack (Analog Stereo Headphone Output)?
A 3.5 mm jack, also known as an analog stereo headphone output, is found in laptops, smartphones, and PCs. However, some TV sets also have it.
When we talk about 3.5 mm jacks, we refer to audio cables with connectors at the end.
With this type of connection, we have a 3.5mm audio jack on the TV end and an RCA jack on the speaker end.
3.5 jacks only carry only 2 channel stereo audio and so are only suitable for headphones and simple multimedia speakers.
They can not give a true 5.1 theater effect.
Now let’s look at the different types of 3.5mm audio jacks.
This will explain why we do not recommend them for connecting a 5.1 speaker system to TV sets.
Types of 3.5mm Jack
1. TS Type Male Audio Jack
“TS” stands for Tip and Sleeve, which means these audio jacks only have two applications. They lack the Right and Left. In other words, they do not support microphones and stereo sound.
If you are an audiophile, you can see that this audio jack gives the same sound from the two sides and cannot be used to connect your 5.1 speakers to your TV (More on this, a little later).
TS Type Male Audio Jack is typically used in electric guitars, aviation radios, and a few other musical equipment types.
2. TRS Type Male Audio Jack
The letters “TRS” stands for Tip, Ring, and Sleeve, which means these 3.5mm stereo jacks are designed to support stereo sound. You can use them to connect multimedia speakers to your TV. However, they lack the features you required to connect a 5.1 sound system to the television.
3. TRRS Type Male Audio Jack
These letters stand for Tip, Ring, Ring, and Sleeve. These jacks have four connectors, making them most popular with tablets and smartphones. Some people use it to connect multimedia speakers to their TVs.
Please note that in a typical 3.5mm stereo jack, the Ring supports the right channel, the Tip carries the left channel, and the Sleeve supports the two channels. It is known as the standard ground connection.
It is also essential to remember that while you can get TRRR jacks on the market, we can’t find TRRRRRS jacks, which we would need to connect a 5.1 surround system to the TV.
What is a 5.1 System and How Does it Work?
A 5.1 surround sound system refers to a setup of 5 speakers and one subwoofer. In short, if you want to connect it to your TV, you should be able to serve six different channels successfully. Otherwise, you will not get the desired experience.
Other than the dedicated subwoofer channel, you have a stereo pair at the rear, another pair at the front, and the front center speaker. If you add the center speaker to the rear and front speakers, you get 5 channels. Add this to the sub, and you get 6 channels.
What Happens if You Use a 3.5mm Stereo Jack to Connect 5.1 to a TV?
As we have said, you can use the analog stereo headphone output on your TV to connect a 5.1 system to the TV using a 3.5 mm jack.
However, it is very important that we understand that if you make this connection, you can’t separate the surround sound into all 5 speakers and certainly not the subwoofer either. This means this type of connection will be at the expense of sound quality.
In other words, you will end up with the sound of two channels spread in all 5 speakers. Instead of a 5.1 system, you will get a 2+2+1 (2 stereo at the front + 2 stereo at the back and maybe one mono since you have no subwoofer freq processing).
This will however affect sound quality because a 5.1 speaker system needs the center speaker for vocals, the left and the right speakers for sound panning, and the right and left surrounds are for effects. Moreover, you need the subwoofer for lower frequencies. This combination creates that awesome surround sound.
If you play stereo sound over this system, you will lose the surround sound effect which is the entire point of a 5.1 surround sound system.
What Happens If My TV Only Has Digital Audio Outputs?
The other alternative is RCA stereo jacks. They also have right and left stereo signal outputs. Today, you can find TVs without these audio outputs.
If your TV has Coaxial digital output, which is very common, you can connect your 5.1 speaker system and get surround sound. The same applies if it has other digital outputs like a fiber optic output jack. The optical jack is a popular way to connect your soundbar to your TV for example.
In this case, you need one of the following:
1. Make Use of the AC3 Format
AC3 or Audio Codec 3 is a Dolby Digital audio format that allows for up to 6 channels of audio output.
If your TV supports this format, you can connect your 5.1 speaker system and get surround-sound audio.
Some Samsung TVs and some other brands support AC3. Again, AC3 will allow you to have separate audio in all 5 speakers to get that surround-sound cinematic experience.
2. Use A Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC)
A DAC is a small box with an adapter and input and output jacks on the two ends. You can use it to connect your TV to any equipment.
They are cheap but can make your life easy. It is a little external box that takes the digital signal from your TV and outputs 5.1 channel sound to RCA analog jacks for the 5.1 surround system.
A good example is the Dioche DAC Audio Digital to Analog Converter which you can easily find on amazon.
You can choose to connect your 5.1 speakers to the TV via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI, optical cable, and other digital options when you need them. You can even use an HDMI distribution amplifier o connect additional devices. This depends on the type of output that the television has.
Other Options To Connect Your 5.1 Surround Speakers
1. Use A Receiver
Keep in mind that DACs do not offer any amplification, but your 5.1 speakers may already include amplification if they are computer speakers. A home theater 5.1 speaker system may not have amplification.
In this case, it is best to get an inexpensive receiver. There are many good inexpensive receivers on the market. The best home theater receivers will have coax or optical digital sound inputs that take the TV input and sends that to your 5.1 surround sound system.
2. Use A Preprocessor and Amp
If you don’t want to use an integrated AV receiver, one alternative is to use a preprocessor and power amp.
3. Use A Set-top Box
If your TV is connected through a set-top box, you can take advantage of that and get 5.1 surround sound. Set-top boxes normally have 5.1 surround output or HDMI to connect your 5.1 system. As we said before, you can then use an HDMI distribution amplifier to connect additional devices.
Finally, if you simply want to connect speakers with speaker wires, we have a guide on how to connect black and red speaker wires to a 3.5 mm audio jack.
What Happens If My TV Only RCA Outputs?
If your TV only has RCA outputs, then you need a 5.1 speaker system with RCA inputs. Two good choices are the Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System and the Sony HT-IV300.
Can You Connect a 5.1 Speaker with Multiple 3.5mm Cables?
If you want to connect your 5.1 speaker system and get surround sound, a single 3.5 mm cable cannot help you. You need more connections. You can successfully connect the system if you increase the number of connections.
How should you go about this? Split it out into the required number of connections. For example, you can use three TRS cables.
- Use one of the cables for the subwoofer/center and the other for the rear two speakers. Use the last cable for the front two speakers.
If you want to make the wiring more straightforward, you can use four 3.5mm cables.
- In this case, you use the same procedure but give the center speaker and the subwoofer their own connectors.
- If you choose, you can give each of the speakers, including the sub, their output connectors that carry single channels.
Can 3.5 mm Do Surround?
Yes, but not with typical TRS/TRRS jacks. Depending on how many rings there are between the Tip and the Sleeve, it might be accomplished using a 3.5mm jack. Standard TRS jacks will use T as left, R as right, and S as ground.
Can You Get 7.1 through a 3.5 mm Jack?
When connected to a computer, the USB sound card’s virtual 7.1 surround sound is only supported.
The PlayStation 4’s 3.5mm audio jack is compatible with the Cloud II, which is supported with the controller plugged into the 3.5mm audio jack.
When connected to an external speaker system via USB, the virtual 7.1 surround sound is only available on a computer.
Does Earphone Support 5.1 Audio?
You can enjoy stereo sound from your 5.1 sound card using standard stereo headphones, but you’ll only get two channels of audio.
When it comes to 5.1 headphones, they don’t use the same 3/4-inch headphone jack as your microphone and regular headphones.
While it is possible to connect a 5.1 speaker with a 3.5mm jack to your TV, you will not get surround sound with this connection. The best way to achieve surround sound from your Tv to your 5.1 speaker system is to use multiple 3.5mm jacks or a DAC.
Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics.