Soundbar 2.1 vs 3.1 vs 5.1 (Differences & Which To Buy)

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  • Learn the difference between 2.1, 3.1 & 5.1 soundbars
  • Find out the best placement for your soundbar
  • Also, check out our post on 5.1 vs 7.1 surround sound

Soundbars are designed to produce high-quality, crisp sounds that make our listening experience more pleasurable. Yet, with so many models on the market, you might wonder which is right for you.

That’s why we decided to round up as much data as possible on three popular models on the market. So, let’s get started with our comparison rundown of soundbars 2.1 vs. 3.1 vs. 5.1  to help you decide the best fit for your home theater.

What Is the Difference Between Soundbars 2.1 vs. 3.1 vs. 5.1

Before we get started, let’s briefly discuss what the numbers (X.X) refer to. Basically, the first number refers to the number of channels or inner speakers the soundbar has. The second number refers to the number of external subwoofers that come with the bar.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each soundbar separately.

2.1 Soundbar Setup

The setup for a 2.1 soundbar is pretty standard. This all-in-one audio system consists of two built-in channels within the soundbar and a separate subwoofer.

Together, they produce a pretty good listening experience for the average listener. However, there’s not enough dynamic or depth to equal or outdo more advanced soundbars.

Plus, sound clarity tends to be a bit compromised when you only have two channels.

The 2.1 is an excellent option if you want to add dynamic audio quality to your TV without spending a lot of money.

It’s also easy to set up and doesn’t take up a lot of space.

3.1 Soundbar Setup

On the 3.1 soundbars, you’ll find three channels: left, right, and center. The center channel acts like a passageway that transfers the audio back and forth between the other two channels. This boosts the sound, giving it more vigor and power.

As a result, you experience more surround sound with clear, crisp audio quality.

The 3.1 also has one external subwoofer. Working in tandem with the three channels, it works to produce a perfect balance of music and sound effects.

Plus, since most dialogue comes from the central channel, you’re sure to pick up on certain frequency ranges, allowing you to hear clear, crisp dialogue without any interference.

So, they’re a good choice if you listen to dialogue-heavy media rather than music or gaming.

5.1 Soundbar Setup

The 5.1 soundbars have become game-changers when it comes to home theater sound systems. Like the previous two, they feature a left and a right channel, as well as an external subwoofer.

However, what makes these bad boys so dynamic is they also come with two extra ‘surround’ channels: one of the left and one of the right. In addition, they also come with two additional speakers that are meant to be set up behind the seating area to provide a more immersive listening experience.

They work by reflecting soundwaves off the walls behind you in such a way that you’ll swear you heard that explosion happening right behind you. Or, if you’re gaming and there are footsteps or whispering, you’ll feel it’s happening right over your shoulder.

Because of these additional features that boost the overall audio quality, 5.1 soundbars are typically more expensive than their 2.1 and 3.1 counterparts.

Another drawback is that 5.1 soundbars aren’t as easy or convenient to set up as the 2.1

Distinguishing Features

Here are a few other features that set these three soundbars apart.

Audio Quality

We mentioned above that 3.1 soundbars have a more powerful audio reproduction than the 2.1. Plus, that extra channel in the center helps enrich the dialogue, making it sound more precise and sharper. It also adds to the whole listening experience.

Alternatively, 5.1 soundbars replace traditional sound systems because of their integrated audio reproduction and high quality of hi-fi audio.


With additional components come additional size specifications. Thus, the 5.1 is the largest of all three, while the 3.1 soundbar is slightly bigger than the 2.1.

So, measure carefully before buying to get an idea of how much space you have available. If your TV is mounted on the wall, look at the area above or below it to confirm there’s enough space to accommodate the soundbar.

Likewise, if your TV is propped up on a stand, check to see if it has ample space for a soundbar.

That available space can help you determine which soundbar best fits the room. It also ensures that you pick a soundbar that matches the size of your TV.


Soundbars come in all sizes and shapes to match the sound they’re meant to produce.

Both the 2.1 and 3.1 are sleek and lightweight. Yet, the latter is slightly larger and heavier, thanks to that extra center channel.

So, for best results, experts usually recommend the 3.1 soundbars for large to medium-sized home theaters. On the other hand, if you have a small room, you should definitely go with the 2.1 soundbar.

As for the 5.1, you may be surprised to know that they don’t work that well in open areas. In fact, the more closed off the room, the better. Having those walls allows for the soundwaves to reverberate and bounce off, creating that ultimate surround sound experience.

Yet, keep in mind that the room shouldn’t be small either. Otherwise, the whole experience will be uncomfortable rather than entertaining.


Most soundbars come with an external wireless subwoofer. Being wireless makes them more convenient and efficient. You can place them almost anywhere in your room without restrictions.

They’re designed to automatically connect to the soundbar once they’re plugged in and powered on.

Yet, the best place is up against a wall in the corner. This will get the sounds bouncing off the wall, which increases output and gives more bass.

Just make sure to keep it within a distance of 10–30 feet from the soundbar. Any farther, and it won’t be able to pick up any sounds coming from the sound system.

Another factor to consider is that the more extensive the soundbar, the bigger the subwoofer. So, even if you’re just placing it in the corner, it can take up considerable space in your home.

Related: Down-Firing vs Front-Firing vs Side-Firing Subwoofers


It’s common knowledge that extra channels automatically mean you’ll see a nice bump in the price.

So, one of the determining factors when buying a soundbar is to figure out a budget. First, decide how much you’re willing to spend, then choose accordingly.


Does The Number Of Channels Affect The Placement Of The Soundbar?

How many channels a soundbar contains does not affect where or how you place it. The only factor that determines the installation method is the weight of the soundbar.

So, before installing your soundbar, read the owner’s manual carefully and adhere to the instructions given by the manufacturers.

What Is The Best Place To Set Up A Soundbar?

Soundbars are designed to put out sound outward and upward. That’s why the best place for your soundbar would be in the front, underneath the TV.

Once you’ve chosen the perfect place in the front, you can place it on a TV stand for added stability. Also, if the weight of the soundbar permits, you can mount it on the wall.

What Is Meant By ‘Surround Sound’?

The term ‘surround sound’ refers to how audio fills a room. It creates the illusion that the audio comes from multiple directions rather than just from the front.

This provides the listener with a more realistic effect by enriching the depth of fidelity of the audio reproduction. It also makes you feel like you’re right there in the action.

Wrapping Up

Choosing the best soundbar comes down to the size of the room, your budget, and what you want out of your listening experience.

So, the next time you’re in the market for a sound system, use our comparison guide on soundbars 2.1 vs. 3.1 vs. 5.1 to find the perfect setup for all your listening needs.

Before you go, check out our guide to the 5 Best 7.1 Surround Sound Headphones For Immersion!