2.1 vs 3.1 soundbar: What’s the difference?

Choosing between 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars? Our article breaks down the features, setup, and top brands to help you find the perfect soundbar for your TV experience.

Updated on: December 29, 2023

Have you ever bought a fancy new TV, excited to watch great shows and movies, only to realize that the sound isn’t as good as the picture? I’ve been there, and it’s frustrating.

But here’s the good news: you don’t need to spend a fortune to fix this. You can get a special speaker called a soundbar to make your TV sound much better.

I did some research, and I found two good options: the 2.1 soundbar and the 3.1 soundbar. They’re not too expensive, and they work well. In this article, I’ll explain what they do and help you decide which one is right for your TV.

So, if you want to enjoy your TV shows and movies with great sound, let’s learn about the 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars together.

Difference Between 2.1 and 3.1 Soundbar


A 2.1 soundbar consists of two channels: a right channel and a left channel, as well as a subwoofer.

2.1 channel soundbar

A 3.1 soundbar consists of three channels: a left, a right, and a center channel, along with a subwoofer.

3.1 channel soundbar

Clearer Dialogue Audio:

Compared to the 2.1 soundbars, the 3.1 soundbar has clearer dialogue audio because the center channel of a 3.1 soundbar primarily focuses on dialogue audio.

Soundbar Setup:

When comparing the soundbar setup, the 2.1 soundbar has a very basic setup- its right and left channels are built into the soundbar, and it has an external subwoofer. However, it will not provide a dynamic sound effect like the advanced ones. For upgrading the TV’s built-in speakers at a cheaper cost, a 2.1 soundbar is a perfect option.
On the other hand, the 3.1 soundbar differs from the 2.1 soundbars and tends to be on the pricey side. As it consists of a center channel in the soundbar, it will have a dynamic and much better sound effect. So if you don’t want to buy a high-end and expensive one, then the 3.1 soundbar is the best option. It will give a good surround sound effect.
If you want to create a movie theatre sound effect in your home, then 3.1 is the best choice! (Check out our guide to 2.1 vs 5.1 soundbars as well)

Design and Size:

Soundbars are usually compact speakers with impressive features in a subtle and slim body. For example, a 2.1 soundbar has 2 channels while a 3.1 soundbar has 3; they are generally larger than a 2.1 soundbar.
Not everyone prefers a larger soundbar; some might not have enough room to accommodate it. So, for a smaller space, a 2.1 soundbar is a better option, while if you are looking for a more extensive soundbar system, then 3.1 is a good option.

Top Brands for 2.1 and 3.1 Soundbar

Some of the top brands for soundbars regarding price, features, and sound quality are:

2.1 Soundbar:

  • Polk Audio Signa S2 Ultra-Slim TV SoundBar: The Polk Signa 2.1 soundbar is a reasonable and great option. Even with no center channel, the added subwoofer balances the sound quality. In addition, this soundbar is designed to handle a 4k load of your HD TV.
  • Sony HT-X8500 2.1 SoundBar: The sleek and gorgeous Sony HT-X8500 soundbar is all you need to elevate your sound quality. These stylish and lightweight soundbars provide blockbuster audio and have an easy-to-set-up system. In addition, it has excellent audio performance at a reasonable price.
  • Vizio 2.1 Soundbar SB362An-F6: Vizio 2.1 Soundbar offers powerful, clear audio for a fantastic home theatre effect. It has 2 built-in subwoofers in a soundbar. The audio of these soundbars enhances the bass in your music. In addition, they look super aesthetic and sleek. Its best feature is its numerous connectivity options, from Bluetooth to DTD Virtual X format compatibility.
  • LG SKG 2.1 Soundbar: Excite your TV’s sound quality with these impeccable soundbars. It offers a detailed and precise sound quality. With Google Assistant quality, the user can control them using the command. Its features include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity for the convenience of users.

3.1 Soundbar:

  • JBL Bar 3.1: The JBL Bar 3.1 soundbar consists of many advanced features. It provides the power of 450W, which helps in delivering dynamic and booming audio. It consists of 3 HDMI inputs. It enables users to connect any device with Bluetooth 4.2. It is a great soundbar.
  • Samsung 3.1 Soundbar HW-R650 with Wireless Subwoofer: The Samsung 3.1 Soundbar HW-R650 has excellent and dynamic sound quality. It is significantly designed for larger TVs, and its center driver ensures that no sound is compromised due to placement. In addition, it is an affordable soundbar.
  • TCL Alto 9+ 3.1 Channel SoundBar: The TCL Alto 9+ soundbar is impressive, providing impeccable sound quality. They are equipped with TCL’s unique Ray Danz Technology, which offers an ultra-wide sound stage. This soundbar enables a wide variety of streaming options, making your TV experience tremendous and enjoyable. In addition, the Dolby Atmos surround sound offers extra depth in the sound quality.
  • Klipsch Bar 48 soundbar: The Klipsch Bar 48 soundbar delivers an outstanding audio performance with well-integrated bass. It has a gorgeous exterior with a top-notch wooden finish- extremely convenient to set. It consists of a dialogue enhancement feature that delivers excellent audio quality. It has a total power handle capacity of 440W and is a perfect choice for larger TVs.

In my opinion, the 3.1 soundbar is the best option. It provides dynamic and impressive sound effects and will be a fantastic addition to the TV. If you are a fan of watching TV with a higher and good quality sound system, it gives you a movie theater feel!
But to each their own. Some people may think that a 2.1 soundbar is better, while some would prefer a 3.1 soundbar for their TV. Now you have a clear idea by looking at the 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar features and specifications. Then, you can choose any of your choices!

Is it worth paying an extra $100 for a 3.1 soundbar over a 2.1 soundbar?

The decision depends on your specific needs and setup. If you watch a lot of movies and appreciate clear dialogue, a 3.1 soundbar with a dedicated center channel can provide clearer audio and better sound separation. However, if your budget is tight and your seating position is directly in front of the TV, a 2.1 soundbar might be sufficient.

Does the difference in sound quality justify the price difference?

Many users find that the addition of a center channel in 3.1 soundbars significantly improves dialogue clarity, especially in movies and streaming platforms that support 5.1ch surround sound. However, the perceived value of this improvement varies from person to person.

Will I notice a difference in audio quality if I sit directly in front of the TV?

If you are sitting directly in front of the TV, the difference in audio quality between 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars might not be as noticeable. However, for off-angle seating, a 3.1 soundbar can provide a clearer and more anchored soundstage.

Are there any budget-friendly 3.1 soundbar options available?

While 3.1 soundbars tend to be more expensive, there are budget-friendly options available, especially during sales events like Black Friday. It’s recommended to check for deals and discounts to find a soundbar that fits your budget.

Can I upgrade from a 2.1 to a 3.1 soundbar later on?

Yes, you can upgrade your soundbar system later on. However, it’s important to consider compatibility and ensure that the new soundbar integrates well with your existing setup.

How does the soundbar’s performance vary based on the content I’m watching?

The soundbar’s performance can vary based on the audio format of the content you’re watching. For example, content broadcasted in Stereo 2.0 might not benefit as much from a 3.1 soundbar, while content with 5.1 sound support will have clearer dialogue and better sound separation.

Are there any specific brands or models recommended for 3.1 soundbars?

Recommendations can vary based on budget and personal preference. Some users recommend checking out brands like Samsung, Vizio, and Klipsch for quality soundbars. It’s advisable to read reviews and possibly test the soundbar in-store before making a purchase.

What should I consider when deciding between a 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar?

Consider your budget, room setup, content viewing habits, and audio preferences. If clear dialogue and sound separation are top priorities, and your budget allows, a 3.1 soundbar might be the better choice. If you’re on a tight budget and primarily sit directly in front of the TV, a 2.1 soundbar could be sufficient.

Can I still get good deals on 3.1 soundbars?

Yes, keep an eye on sales events, check online deal forums, and consider open-box or refurbished options to find good deals on 3.1 soundbars.

Is it necessary to have a 3.1 soundbar for a good home theater experience?

While a 3.1 soundbar can enhance the home theater experience, especially for dialogue clarity, it’s not strictly necessary. The “best” setup depends on individual preferences, room acoustics, and budget. Some users are perfectly content with a 2.1 setup, while others prefer the upgrade to 3.1 or even higher.

I’m Shaun Conroy, an audiophile & founder of HiFi Audios. Holding a Bachelor’s in Sound Engineering, I bring deep expertise in audio devices and offer insights & recommendations to fellow enthusiasts.

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