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What’s the Difference Between a 2.1 and 3.1 Soundbar?

There’s almost nothing better than purchasing a new TV. You get so excited to set it up and start enjoying it, but then you realize that its built-in sound system is low-grade and subpar. Even the best TVs on the market can have terrible sound.

One of the most popular ways to fix this problem is by purchasing a soundbar because they are budget-friendly and effective. When you’re looking into soundbars, you may be thinking that either a 2.1 or 3.1 soundbar is a good starter system for you.

So what’s the difference between a 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar (or 2.0 and 2.1 – our answer)?

A 2.1 soundbar includes a left and right channel, as well as a subwoofer. A 3.1 soundbar includes three channels: left, right and center, as well as a subwoofer. The main difference is that a 3.1 soundbar will have clearer dialogue because the center channel primarily focuses on dialogue audio.

A 3.1 soundbar isn’t necessarily the better choice for everyone, and there are benefits to both soundbar setups. Let’s dive into the differences between the two and how each of them can be beneficial to you.

Below is a quick video that explains everything you need to know about soundbar channel configurations!

Differences Between 2.1 and 3.1 Soundbars

2.1 vs 3.1 Soundbar

2.1 Soundbar Setup

When it comes to soundbar setups, a 2.1 setup is a basic setup. You have a left and a right channel that are built into the soundbar, with an additional external subwoofer. A soundbar with a 2.1 setup will definitely be a step up from your TV’s built-in audio.

You’ll have a clear left and right speaker sound, although it won’t provide a highly dynamic surround sound experience that a more advanced setup would. If you’re looking for the lowest cost upgrade to TV’s built-in speakers, a 2.1 soundbar is a great choice for you.

3.1 Soundbar Setup

A 3.1 soundbar sounds a little bit different than a 2.1 soundbar, and are typically a little more expensive. Since you’re adding the center channel speaker(s) within the soundbar, it will add a more dynamic sound.

You won’t be adding any rear speakers to get a true surround sound experience, like in a 5.1 channel or above sound system, but you are adding more room-filling sound and dimension with the extra channel. It definitely gets you closer to a surround sound feel.

As mentioned, a 3.1 channel soundbar will give you better sound clarity with dialogue (as explained in our other article), since dialogue primarily comes out of the center channel speaker. Dialogue, on a 2.1 channel system, will be mixed with sound effects and music, which ends up being a little less crisp and clear than on a 3.1 system.

Soundbar Channels Explained: 2.1, 3.1, 5.1, etc.

  • 2.1 Soundbar – left and right channel in the soundbar with an external subwoofer. 2.1 channel soundbars are the baseline and often lower-end units on the market.
  • 3.1 Soundbar – left, right, and center channels in the soundbar with an external subwoofer. 3.1 channel soundbars are a single step up from 2.1 soundbars. They include the center channel for enhanced dialogue, as well as, better background audio effects.
  • 5.1 Soundbar – left, right, center, surround left, and surround right channels with an external subwoofer. These have become a game-changer in the market because they can completely replace a traditional surround sound system. The two surround channels give the system a traditional surround sound experience. These are often much more expensive than 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars because they include an additional 2 speakers that should be placed behind the seating area. 5.1 soundbars are usually very different from both 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars, check out our article comparing 2.1 and 5.1 soundbars.

Benefits of Soundbar Systems

Soundbar systems are a great choice to amp up the sound coming from your TV. They have gotten really popular in recent years because they sound great. They are simple to use and set up. They are compact and stylish and are budget-friendly.

High-Quality Sound

When you purchase speakers for any use, you want to know that they are made well. You probably look for speakers from top manufacturers, because they are trusted by industry experts.

Soundbars are the same way, and the industry-leading brands are making some truly amazing soundbars that give a great sound experience, in addition to lesser-known brands making a name for themselves in the market.

While it can be difficult to achieve the multi-dimensional, room-filling sound that traditional surround sound systems provide, soundbars are getting close and very comparable.

They’re making it hard for people to go through the trouble of custom building a surround sound system that will be costly and complicated. Why pay more and buy a complex system when you don’t have to?

Simple and Easy to Use for Almost Anyone

One of the best benefits of purchasing a soundbar over other sound systems is that it’s simple. It’s simple to set up, and it’s simple to use. Soundbars don’t complicate things – they are just solid sound systems that help you get a better sound for your TV.

They easily integrate with your TV and other devices, and a lot of them automatically update to ensure that you are up-to-date with the latest technology.

Even though they are simple, they are technologically advanced enough to stay with you for a long time. You won’t wish you had something more complicated.

They Are Extremely Compact

Traditionally, sound systems are thought of as bulky. They require lots of components to achieve a proper surround sound feel, and often, those components can create a big mess. They can be large and have unruly wiring that you have to jump through hoops to hide.

Cue the soundbar, where you can get a great sound system without the big mess. Soundbars are the answer to keeping your room neat and tidy since they house many of the sound system’s speakers in their slim bar.

Additionally, the soundbar’s external components are often compact and/or wireless, so you can continue to keep your room tidy even when you add on components.

Stylish and Modern Designs

If you have a soundbar in one of your main rooms, like your living room, you’re going to want to keep a certain look and feel to the room. Soundbars are designed to be nice to look at, in addition to providing a solid sound system.

You can feel confident about mounting your soundbar next to your TV or lying it on your entertainment center, and people won’t be thrown off by the look of it, especially if you’ve mounted it properly using our guide. In fact, they are very pleasant to look at, and you’ll feel great about having it in any room. You will probably even get compliments.

Soundbars Are Typically Budget-Friendly

When it comes to staying within a reasonable budget to get a great sound, a soundbar is going to give you the best bang for your buck.

There are soundbars and packages of all shapes and sizes to fit every need and budget, and even though the price is affordable, they won’t let you down on quality.

You can easily start with a very affordable 2.1 or 3.1 soundbar and add on components later on if the soundbar is capable of doing so. Be careful with making your initial purchase.

Some soundbars allow you to add on wireless surround speakers, but most will not. You don’t have to make a big investment upfront to start creating your epic sound system with a soundbar.

Choosing the Right Soundbar for You

When you’re trying to decide on which soundbar is right for you, a 2.1 or 3.1 soundbar is a good place to start. Whether you choose a 2.1 or 3.1 soundbar to start with depends on your budget and your personal preferences.

Recommended 2.1 Soundbars

If you’re wanting to simply take your TV’s sound up a notch and not spend a lot of money, a 2.1 soundbar is a great choice for you. You can easily find a solid 2.1 soundbar for around $100 or up to $200. Check out these options:

  • VIZIO SB3821 (on Amazon) – The VIZIO SB3821 comes with 100 dB of sound to fill your home entertainment room with less than 1% total harmonic distortion. Its wireless subwoofer comes with a range of 60 feet, and it has Bluetooth technology integrated for easy controls. It also has Dolby Digital decoding, DTS TruVolume, and DTS audio post-processing.
  • Wohome 2.1 Channel Soundbar S28 (on Amazon) – The Wohome 2.1 Channel Soundbar S28 has impressive features. It comes with six drivers, including built-in dual subwoofers, two full-range speakers, two tweeter speakers, and 105 dB of sound to fill the room. It also has a built-in DSP chip, supports wireless Bluetooth, and is compatible with all of your favorite devices.
  • BYL 2.1 Channel Soundbar (on Amazon) – The BYL 2.1 Channel Soundbar brings 140W and 110 dB of sound to fill your home entertainment room. It comes with a wireless 6.5″ subwoofer with a range of up to 60 feet. It also comes with Bluetooth technology and DSP technology to support three modes: music, movies, and dialogue.

Recommended 3.1 Soundbars

You’re going to spend somewhere around $200 to $500 for a 3.1 channel soundbar that includes a center channel and sets you up for a clearer and higher quality sound from the beginning.

If that hits the nail on the head for you, be sure to check out these top-rated 3.1 soundbar systems:

  • LG SL6Y 3.1 (on Amazon) – The LG SL6Y 3.1 soundbar system comes with a wireless subwoofer and three channels (the left, center, and right channels). It has DTS Virtual:X which helps create three-dimensional surround sound without any extra speakers. You can actually add wireless rear speakers using the SPK8-S wireless speaker kit. The external subwoofer provides great bass, and it is a highly rated soundbar.
  • SAMSUNG HW-Q60B 3.1 (on Amazon) – The SAMSUNG HW-Q60B 3.1 comes with built-in speaker, as well as a wireless active subwoofer. You can connect wirelessly to your soundbar with Bluetooth technology to play all music, movies, and other home entertainment.
  • JBL Bar 3.1 (on Amazon) – The JBL Bar 3.1 is the higher end option for a 3.1 soundbar, which comes with 450W of power and exploding bass from an 11″ wireless subwoofer, in addition to the three built-in front speakers. You can stream wirelessly with Bluetooth technology and get a true connection to 4KTVs with 3 HDMI in/1 HDMI ARC out.

For our full list of recommended soundbars, check out our recommended soundbars page!