2.1 vs 3.1 Soundbars

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Updated September 12, 2022

Those on the journey for the best speakers for their home theatre setup have, at some point, very likely considered purchasing a sound bar. But when you look into the best soundbars on the market, consumers are often thrown off by the numbers associated with the various models. To help make heads and tails of this, we’ll compare 2.1 vs 3.1 soundbars and outline their major differences.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Soundbars are given number labels based on the number of separate speaker channels.
  • 2.1 soundbars have two main stereo speaker channels, one left and one right, and an additional channel for a subwoofer.
  • 3.1 soundbars are the same as 2.1’s but have an extra speaker in the center. This center channel boosts sound for clearer dialogue.

By the end of this article, you might be interested in some of the other options on the market. If that’s you, great! You can find our article comparing 2.0 vs 2.1 soundbars.

Insider Tip

For the fullest audio experience, get a sound bar with a third number, such as 7.1.2. The third number means the soundbar has additional channels for ceiling and rear speakers.

2.1 vs 3.1 Channel Soundbar

To understand what separates a 2.1 from a 3.1, you need to know that the numbers represent how many speaker channels the system supports. The first number signifies the number of main speaker drivers in the soundbar. The second number indicates if the soundbar supports a subwoofer; if the second number is 0, for example, “2.0,” it doesn’t have a subwoofer channel. If it’s a 1, it means it does.

As you can logically conclude, a 2.1 soundbar has two main speakers and a subwoofer. A 3.1 soundbar, on the other hand, has three main speakers and a subwoofer.

Lastly, suppose you want to look into larger soundbar systems with more immersive sound. In that case, we have another guide comparing the 2.1 vs 5.1 soundbar audio formats.

Sound Quality

More often than not, the more speakers, the better the audio. The 3.1 soundbar has a dedicated center channel, whereas the 2.1 only has main speakers on the left and the right. The 3.1’s center speaker usually focuses on dialogue, which can be great for specific music genres and movie choices.

But other factors, like speaker quality, must be considered as well. So it’s not true that 3.1 soundbars will always give off a more dynamic sound and cinematic experience.

Warning

Not all soundbars come with an internal or external subwoofer, so you may have to purchase one separately.

Finally, it’s also important to remember that each system will have an equally immersive sound from a bass standpoint.

Affordability

Unfortunately, the rule applies to sound quality and price: more is more. 3.1 sound bars have a general price range of around $150-$500. On the other hand, you can find 2.1 soundbars that start at around $100, with higher-end models reaching upwards of $300-$400.

STAT: The ideal number of speakers for Dolby Atmos surround sound is between 5-8. (source)

2.1 vs 3.1 Soundbar FAQs

How do I determine how big of a soundbar to buy?

The general rule is to purchase a soundbar roughly the length of your television. For example, if you have a 55-inch TV, you should look for something no less than 40 inches. However, it's always better to put personal preference above conventional wisdom.

What is the number one thing to consider when buying a soundbar?

The best thing to do is to consider the area of the room you'll be listening in and the size of your TV. From there, determine the type of sound experience you're looking for.

Is a wireless subwoofer better than a wired subwoofer?

In terms of movability and convenience, yes. However, all things being equal, wireless subwoofers often operate on battery power, usually meaning lower-quality sound.
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