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What's The Difference Between a 2.1, 3.1 & 5.1 Sound Bar? Find Out Here!

Written By Nathan
Last Updated June 7, 2021

How Do 2.1, 3.1 & 5.1 Sound Bars Differ?

Looking for the right soundbar for your TV can be a little overwhelming if your new to these devices, especially with all the different looking numbers and channels.

To answer the question in simple terms, a 2.1 soundbar has two speakers and a subwoofer, a 3.1 soundbar has three speakers and a subwoofer, while a 5.1 soundbar includes three speakers, two surround sound speakers and a subwoofer, giving a more immersive sound experience.

You might be wondering if a 5.1 soundbar is better than a 3.1, which isn't always the case, we have put together a short guide that will explain the differences between these soundbars and what their numbers mean so as you can have an easy time picking the right power soundbar for you.

What Do The Numbers On a Sound Bar Mean?

So, before we get on to comparing 2.1, 3.1 and 5.1 soundbars, we need to understand what these numbers mean.

The first number in these decimals refers to the number of speakers or channels your soundbar has, for example, a 2.1 soundbar has two speakers. The second number determines whether there is a subwoofer included too.

If you ever see a third number for a soundbar this will mean that the device has upward-firing speakers included which support Dolby Atmos surround sound to give a greater depth to the audio.

Main Differences Between Sound Bar Numbers

Now we understand what the numbers on soundbars mean, we can get into comparing the 2.1, 3.1 and 5.1 models, how they differ and the pros/cons of each soundbar.

2.1 Soundbar

First of all, let's start with a 2.1 soundbar. A 2.1 model has two speaker channels, left and right, with a subwoofer. This kind of soundbar is normally the base for improving a TV's sound and comes at a pretty affordable price.

In comparison to other soundbars with a higher amount of speakers, these bars don't improve sound dramatically but aren't bad for a basic set-up.

For people who want an affordable way to improve there TV's sound, 2.1 soundbars are probably the way to go.

Pros

  • Enhanced sound.
  • Affordable.
  • Perfect for a basic set-up.

Cons

  • Not a dramatic difference in sound quality.

3.1 Soundbar

A 3.1 soundbar has three speakers; right, left and centre, with the addition of a single subwoofer.

This soundbar is a slight upgrade from a 2.1 model as it has a centre front-facing speaker which is better for clearer audio. It also has one standard subwoofer included.

We would say go for a 3.1 soundbar if your after a crisper dialogue from what you watch on TV, but do bear in mind you still won't have a full surround experience, these soundbars with a centre speaker included will also be more expensive.

Pros

  • Additional centre speaker.
  • Good for clearer dialogue.
  • Cheaper than a 5.1 soundbar.

Cons

  • Still no rear speakers for surround sound.
  • More expensive than a 2.1 set-up.

5.1 Soundbar

Now, 5.1 soundbars are one of the best options if you are after a surround sound experience, as their bar includes three speaker channels, two surround sound speakers and a subwoofer, giving a cinematic sound to your TV like a home theatre set-up.

These soundbars might be more expensive, but they are worth it for the full surround sound and can't be matched with lower end soundbars with front-facing speakers.

Pros

  • Surround sound experience.
  • Two surround speakers included.
  • Most high-quality option.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Not needed for everyone.

Conclusion

If your looking for high-quality surround sound style speakers, then your most obvious pick would be the 5.1 soundbar set-up.

When To Choose a 5.1 Sound Bar Set-Up?

If you are wondering whether a 5.1 channel soundbar is better for you than a 3.1 or a 2.1, you should first consider the size of your room. If the room your TV is in is large, then yes, a 5.1 soundbar will give you much better audio.

You should also go for this soundbar if you enjoy movies and gaming, and audio is very important to you.

When Should I Go For a 2.1/3.1 Sound Bar Set-Up?

On the other hand, if you have your TV in a small to medium-sized room, you might be fine with a 3.1 or 2.1 soundbar, these are also the better choice if you are on a budget and want simple installation without the faff of too many wires as a 5.1 would require.

If you appreciate good audio but you don't mind it not being surround sound style and you watch general programmes, these soundbars are most likely the better choice for you.

Are Dolby Atmos Sound Bars Worth It?

You might be wondering whether or not it is worth going for a 5.1.2 set-up instead of a 5.1 soundbar so as you can have Dolby Atmos sound coming from your TV.

This ultimately depends on your budget and requirements, one of the first advantages of Dolby Atmos soundbars is that they are compatible with Apple TVs and other devices which produce Dolby Atmos Content.

These devices are also great because of there upward-firing speakers which add more dynamic audio and give an extra cinematic experience in addition to the surround sound speakers.

What Other Sound Bars Are There?

As we only discussed 2.1, 3.1 and 5.1 soundbars, you might also come across 2.0 and 7.1 set-ups.

A 2.0 soundbar has two standard speakers without a subwoofer, these are the simplest soundbar set-ups you can get and also the cheapest, don't expect too much from these devices if you are looking for a surround sound experience.

On the flip side, 7.1 soundbars are the way to go if you want cinema audio and you have a high budget with a large room. These soundbars are made up of; three speakers, two surround sound speakers, another two speakers and a subwoofer that supports low-frequency response.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sound Bars & Channels

What is a passive soundbar and should I get one? 

A passive soundbar requires you to have an amplifier and receiver for the soundbar to work, an active soundbar has this inside already. Passive soundbars should be avoided if you don't want trouble with connecting lots of different speakers.

Is it possible to add speakers to a soundbar?

Yes, on some soundbars you can add speakers like a home theatre set-up, this allows you to create a surround sound-like feel with your soundbar.

What are the best brands of soundbars?

Some popular brands that sell reliable soundbars are; Samsung, Sony, Sonos, Bose and Yamaha.

Why do people use soundbars?

People are opting for soundbars due to their compact size and easy set-up which can help enhance your TV's audio. As TV's are getting thinner, this means that the speaker inside of them is to, making soundbars a popular affordable way to heighten the audio from your TV and hear dialogue better.

Final Words

To conclude, the main differences between soundbars with different numbers is the number of speaker channels they have and whether or not they have a subwoofer.

For better sound, you should opt for a soundbar that has a larger number of channels, but if you are looking for a more affordable option, go for a three-channel set-up rather than two.

Nathan

My name is Nathan Walters and I used to be a Mystery Shopper in my previous life. I love pizza, my 3 cats and fine wines! I also have a strange yet satisfying addiction to Netflix binges :) I am the Director of Best Reviews. I'm blessed to have a team of professionals in most fields who review and test products. Feel free to send me a message using the contact page!
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