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What’s The Difference Between A 2.1 And 3.1 Soundbar?

Big-time movie buffs know that there’s nothing quite like the intensive surround sound that accompanies a new movie release in the theater. While the images on the screen are clear and captivating, they don’t mean much without some killer audio quality.

The same goes for in-home video entertainment. A new high-quality television is certainly something to get excited about, but even some of the best brands out there can’t compare to the exhilarating sounds that the movie theaters bring.

That being said, you can achieve some advanced and impressive in-home audio with the help of a soundbar. However, type “soundbar” into your search engine and a whole lot of options pop up.

If you’re not a tech-freak like some of us, this purchase might be a bit overwhelming. While the decision to buy a soundbar is easy, choosing the right kind can be confusing.

Today we’re going to give you a quick lowdown on the difference between a 2.1 channel vs 3.1 channel soundbar and which might be best for you.

Key Difference

Technically speaking, there are a few different components that make up both the 2.1 channel soundbar and the 3.1 channel soundbar. But right off the bat, the main difference is pretty clear and concise.

A 2.1 channel soundbar has two channels or two locations where the sound is amplified: one on the left and one on the right of the bar. This feature is indicated by the “2” in “2.1” It also has one subwoofer, hence the number 1 after the period.

Likewise, the 3.1 channel soundbar has three sound channels: one on the left, one on the right, and one right in the middle. It also has one subwoofer.

Both the 2.1 and the 3.1 channel soundbars can be equally high-quality products, but they often serve best in varying situations. To determine which might be the best option for you, we’ll dive into the specifics from here.

JBL soundbar

2.1 Channel Soundbar Features

As we mentioned above, a 2.1 channel soundbar hosts two channels and one subwoofer. The two channels are located on either end of the speaker. The purpose of this is not only to amplify the sound of your TV, giving your louder volume and higher quality but also to create a more surround sound experience.

Additionally, your 2.1 channel soundbar will include an external subwoofer. The subwoofer focuses on deeper audio, such as explosions during fight scenes or the low rumble of an approaching stampede. It adds another level to your audio experience that your TV simply can’t.

Depending on what brand and model you purchase, your 2.1 channel soundbar will connect to your TV via a wired system, such as HDMI or Optical, or through Bluetooth connection.

These days, it seems like Bluetooth is the way to go because it doesn’t involve toying with any wires and minimizes the risk of messing anything up technically. It also looks cleaner, since there are no tails coming off of your TV and linking to the soundbar.

However, HDMI and Optical connections usually work just as well, and some people might feel the cables are a more reliable connection as Bluetooth can sometimes get a little wonky.

Overall, 2.1 channel soundbars can be a phenomenal upgrade to your TV’s existing sound system. They also tend to be the cheaper option between the 2.1 and the 3.1, so if you’re not looking to seriously amp up your family’s viewing room, then the 2.1 is a solid choice.

3.1 Channel Soundbar Features

Like we explained earlier, the first number for a speaker’s description represents how many channels are present, while the second number tells us how many subwoofers are involved. Therefore, a 3.1 channel soundbar boasts three audio channels with one external subwoofer.

Unlike the 2.1 soundbars, the 3.1 has an extra speaker located in the middle of the bar. So, while it still has two on either end for extended surround sound, it also has a third in the middle that actually focuses on the dialogue in your movie or TV show.

This third speaker is an exciting extra for those of us who spend a lot of time binging our favorite show or keeping up with all the latest blockbusters.

Like the 2.1 soundbars, the 3.1 soundbar also has the external subwoofer that connects to the bar to enhance deeper, lower sounds for a fuller audio experience.

Because there are three speakers on the 3.1 soundbars rather than two, it’s not uncommon for it to be bigger than the 2.1 channel soundbar. This one is simple: more speakers need more space.

Since the 3.1 channel soundbar is likely bigger and longer than the 2.1, your surround sound experience will be higher quality. Your right and left channels will be further left and further right for sound from all angles, while the dialogue-focused center channel will head straight towards you.

Also similar to the 2.1 soundbars, you can connect a 3.1 soundbar to your TV through HDMI cables, Optical cables, or Bluetooth, depending on the model of both the soundbar and your television. We’ll talk a little more later about these different kinds of connections.

Other Details to Consider

When you’re checking out 2.1 channel vs. 3.1 channel soundbars, it’s easy to compare their main difference (the number of channels), pick the one with the highest ratings, and call it a day. However, there are some other details you should take into consideration beyond this point. A little more research may change your mind on which speaker model to buy.

Bluetooth vs. Wired

In today’s world of technology, wireless is usually the way to go. Many products, from phones to speakers to headphones, possess Bluetooth capabilities, allowing you to make connections without having to plug things into each other.

A wireless connection definitely has its pros. For one, if your soundbar is wireless, you can put it wherever you want. Without the restriction of the length of a cord, you’re free to move your speaker as you please – with no disappointment when the cable stops you in your tracks.

Likewise, setup is typically super easy and fast. In most cases, you can turn on your devices and press a few buttons. Once your connection is established, you can start using your speaker.

Of course, there are some of us out there who prefer the traditional cable connection. Call it old-fashioned, but it’s really reliable. We’ve all experienced a time or two when our Bluetooth refuses to cooperate, whether the device won’t show up, the Wi-Fi is misbehaving, or your TV simply doesn’t have Bluetooth capability.

In any of those cases, you can easily find a speaker that uses an HDMI or an Optical connection. Both of these outputs are highly popular and usually available on most TVs, though HDMI tends to be the more popular of the two. On the flip side, Optical connections are considered more secure because they are less likely to be corrupted by electromagnetic fields, which can cause lag and interference.


Every brand and model will differ slightly, but generally speaking, the 2.1 channel soundbar will be smaller than the 3.1 channel speaker. Size is an essential factor to consider when purchasing any soundbar in relation to the amount of space you have in your home.

For instance, if your television is set up on a TV stand, you need to make sure there’s enough space to place your soundbar somewhere. If it’s mounted on the wall, you also have to check for available mounting space below or above the screen.

If you are low on space, that doesn’t mean you can’t get yourself a nice 3.1 channel soundbar. Just keep the size in mind and check out dimensions of every product you look at before clicking the “Buy it Now” button.


If you just want your soundbar for one source and one source only, then you don’t have to worry about this consideration too much. However, if you often switch sources on your TV, you might have to reconsider the type of connection you have and how many inputs are available on the soundbar.

An excellent wired soundbar should have at least two HDMI inputs and one Optical input. That way, you can connect your soundbar to different components such as your TV along with a gaming device or another set of speakers.

If your soundbar is wireless Bluetooth compatible, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as you can simply connect it to another external device if needed, such as your phone or a stereo.


When it comes to purchasing a 2.1 channel vs 3.1 channel soundbar, the considerations between the two are relatively minor. If you consider yourself a serious movie watcher, TV binger, or video gamer, then perhaps the more advanced 3.1 channel soundbar is for you.

However, if you’re simply looking to upgrade your TV’s sound and improve the audio quality a little bit, you can certainly do so with a less expensive 2.1 channel soundbar as well.

image: Aaron Yoo, Flickr, CC 2.0

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