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2.1 VS 3.1 Soundbar

Many people might not understand the variance between a 2.1 and a 3.1 soundbar, which could be the difference between dull audio and realistic and encompassing sound. What should make you go for a 3.1 VS 2.1 soundbar, or vice-versa?  Let’s find out.

  • Are generally cheaper
  • Smaller and more compact size
  • Have either built-in or external subwoofers
  • Capable of HDMI connectivity
  • Can support Bluetooth
  • Features dedicated center channels for enhanced dialogue
  • Have built-in or external subwoofers
  • Can support HDMI
  • Bluetooth capabilities are common
  • Offers a more dynamic sound
  • The larger size optimizes sound coming from larger TVs
  • Placement won’t impact the sound as much

Features Comparison - 2.1 VS 3.1 Soundbars

Let’s look at the features a 2.1 VS 3.1 soundbar can have and what differences there are between them to help you make an informed decision.

Design

Soundbars are extremely compact speaker systems that pack impressive features into a slim and subtle body. This may not leave much room for a subwoofer to do heavy bass notes justice, which is why 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars come with a larger external subwoofer.

Due to the additional center channel, 3.1 soundbars are often bigger than the 2.1. Not everyone will have the room to accommodate a larger soundbar, so if you have a smaller space, a 2.1 may be enough to reach the standards a 3.1 soundbar is capable of.

However, soundbars all conform to a basic slim design with the purpose of sitting flush on a flat surface or to be easily mounted on the wall. Therefore, both 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars offer flexibility in placement.

Price

Both soundbars feature left and right channels, but the addition of the dialogue enhancing center speakers to 3.1 soundbars drives up its prices. You can expect to pay 1 to 1.5 times more for a 3.1 compared to a 2.1 soundbar.

Additional capabilities such as voice control, audio technology, and sound modes can also contribute to the price difference.

Many models come with affordable price tags, though, such as soundbars listed here that are 500 dollars and below.

Sound Quality

After conducting our comparison tests, we came to the conclusion that 3.1 soundbars deliver significantly enhanced vocals than 2.1 soundbars. The presence of a center channel made a substantial difference in the overall sound effects of the 3.1.

The main goal of the center channel is to enhance dialogue. Since the center channel is absent in a 2.1 soundbar, you would need to rely on the left and the right speakers to drive out the speech and sound effects from either side.

With a dedicated center channel, the 3.1 soundbar will no longer need to put extra strain on the side channels to propel the vocals, which allows audiences to separate individual tones for clearer audio.

A 2.1 channel soundbar will generally have a harder time simulating surround sound than a 3.1. However, with the help of advanced technology such as Dolby Digital and DTS, it could even be at par with a 5.1 soundbar that doesn’t have the same technology. LG LAS551H, for instance, has both mentioned technologies.

It is also important to remember that the embedded audio decoder matters when it comes to sound quality. Moreover, the number of channels alone cannot dictate performance.

Connectivity

Both soundbars can offer the same forms of connectivity regardless of the number of channels and subwoofers. 

Optical and HDMI inputs are recommended because of the high quality audio formats they can support. These two wired connection options are also simple one-cable plug-ins that facilitate easy setup of your new soundbar.

Wi-Fi/Bluetooth

Both 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars can come with Bluetooth built-in. Wi-Fi is another wireless connection that can be found in soundbars, albeit pricier ones.

Bluetooth allows users to stream content from their mobile devices to the soundbar seamlessly to fully decode audio formats. Getting a Bluetooth-enabled device will do wonders in cleaning up the cable clutter.

External subwoofers that come with 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars can operate on Bluetooth as well. Due to this, soundbars with external subs will most likely be Bluetooth capable.

Unfortunately, Wi-Fi cannot be used for setup and is more applicable for voice control and an entire home theater system setup. Wireless connections are necessary for integrating smart soundbars with voice control into your smart home systems, though.

Voice Control

Voice control is a fancy feature that can be present in soundbars irrespective of how many channels they have. It does not affect the design of the soundbar but contributes greatly to the convenience factor.

A soundbar with voice control, usually Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant [1], can supply users with a great deal of ease to input settings without having to physically handle the device. You can check the news, weather, and control your soundbar completely hands-free.

Subwoofer

The 1 in 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars refers to the subwoofer. Both systems come with one sub, whether it’s built-in or external.

An external subwoofer packs more of a punch than an internal one due to the size alone. A wireless option is easily portable, giving users the freedom to find the optimal placement for a subwoofer.

If a subwoofer is built into the soundbar itself, there is less ability to provide multi-layered sound compared to what an external sub can deliver.

Control

The number of channels a soundbar has will not affect the method of control. Most soundbars will come with a remote, or at the very least a compatible app or control panel on the device itself. Some can also be configured to be compatible with a TV remote.

You can adjust the volume, connection, and even audio equalizers with the abovementioned avenues.

Setup

The number of channels does not make setting up any harder. Both the 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars can be very easy to use depending on the connection you choose.

Most soundbars on the market now will include everything you need in the box to get your device set up within minutes.

Our Top Picks For 2.1 & 3.1 Soundbars

Polk Audio Signa S2 Ultra-Slim TV Sound Bar (2.1)

The Polk Signa 2.1 soundbar is a budget-friendly option for those that are also tight on space. Even with the lack of the center channel, the added subwoofer can balance out the sound. The soundbar is specially designed to handle a 4K load to go with your HD TV.

Samsung 3.1 Soundbar HW-R650 with Wireless Subwoofer (3.1)

The Samsung 3.1 HW-R650 offers dynamic sound. It is suitable for larger TVs, and the dedicated center driver will make sure the sound isn’t compromised due to the placement. You can take advantage of its features, all at a very affordable price.

Want to know your options beyond the more popular brands? Check out our review of the best Insignia soundbars.

Willie Greer

Willie Greer is the founder of The Product Analyst. A cinephile, he has made it a personal quest to achieve the awesomest home theater possible. He now shares what he has learned through the years on the site, and has enlisted the help of tech-savvy colleagues in providing more insight about today’s most sought-after gadgets.
Willie Greer

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