3.1 Vs 5.1 Soundbar

Updated: Feb 15, 2024 7:52 AM


If you’re looking to understand the difference between a 3.1 vs a 5.1 soundbar, there are only a few things you need to know. A soundbar’s basic technology and software have seen a few changes over the years, with version 5.1 being the most recent. There are some differences in performance, use, and cost in even the best speakers of this type.

Key Takeaways_

  • 5.1 soundbars are designed for surround sound, which is the main reason for their higher price points.
  • 3.1 soundbars don’t necessarily offer inferior sound quality to comparable 5.1 models and excel at dialogue-heavy content.
  • It’s probably not worth the greater cost to get a 5.1 soundbar if you don’t plan on watching or listening to content designed for surround sound.

While you’re at it, you might want to look into the pros and cons of soundbars vs bookshelf speakers. You may also want to read about more options, like in-wall vs. bookshelf speakers.

Comparing a 5.1 vs a 3.1 Soundbar

3.1 soundbars were introduced several years ago as an upgrade to 2.0 and 2.1 soundbars, offering three channels of audio playback instead of stereo playback. More recently, 5.1 soundbars came on the market, offering five channels of high-quality audio and making them a good starting point for surround audio playback.

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Generally, 3.1 soundbars are great for dialogue-heavy content and are a good choice if that’s the kind of media you watch or listen to the most.

Currently, both 3.1 and 5.1 models are widely available at various price points. However, there are differences in cost, performance quality, and usage between the two. These are important to consider since not all users will benefit from or even want five-channel audio.


The biggest difference between 3.1 and 5.1 is the number of channels (and speakers) a soundbar has. All 3.1 soundbars feature 3 channels of audio, nominally considered stereo (left and right) and center. They’re designed specifically for the clearest reproduction of dialogue, making them great for dialogue-heavy content.

STAT: 5.1 sound was introduced by Kodak in 1990, but only in more recent years has it become common in home audio. (source)

Conversely, 5.1 soundbars feature 5 separate channels of audio, which include right and left surround channels. This makes them an excellent option as the top surround sound systems (though there are soundbars on the market with even more surround channels).

Theoretically, this makes audio quality on 5.1 models “better” because it’s more immersive. However, the quality of each channel isn’t better than comparable 3.1 models. If you’re not watching or listening to content designed for surround playback, the extra cost of 5.1 soundbars will be wasted. Still, the edge goes slightly to 5.1 models here.


The difference here is fairly straightforward; a 5.1 channel soundbar will generally be pricier, sometimes significantly so, than a comparable 3.1 soundbar, simply because it offers the extra functionality of surround sound. The cost of a “budget” 5.1 model will start at around $150, whereas budget 3.1 models can be found for well under $100.


5.1 soundbars are designed for surround sound and aren’t worth the extra expense if you’re not planning on watching surround-capable content.

It’s well worth considering whether you’re going to use surround sound in the home before deciding between the two since those extra channels will significantly increase the price without upgrading the audio quality, per se.


Directly related to performance, the main difference between what you can use a 3.1 and 5.1 soundbar for is that a 5.1 can be set up for surround sound and a 3.1 can’t. Beyond that, 3.1 soundbars are explicitly designed for dialogue-heavy content, making them a little better for that purpose despite a 5.1’s larger number of channels.

It’s somewhat of a draw between the two here since it very much depends on your specific needs, but 3.1 probably has the edge since it’s the more general-purpose design.

3.1 Vs 5.1 Soundbar Questions (FAQ)

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