What’s the difference between a 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar?

If you want a full-blast cinematic experience in your home theater, you must invest in a proper soundbox. However, you will have to figure out the difference between a 2.1 vs. a 3.1 soundbar before getting one. To top it all, the technical jargon in the various YouTube videos might have got you confused. However, don’t you worry, we have a detailed comparison figured out just for you!

The major difference between the two is the number of channels. The 2.2 soundbar has two channels, one on the left and the other on the right of the subwoofer in-built in the system. A 3.1 soundbar features three channels, one on each side of the subwoofer and the third one in the center. 

However, this is just the basic difference between the two types of soundbars; there are a few more which we will get into soon, but before that, let’s quickly go through the benefits of both 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars. 

Advantages of 2.1 soundbar:

  • These are cheaper compared to 3.2 soundbars
  • 1 channel soundbars mostly have in-built external soundbars
  • Such soundbars feature Bluetooth connectivity
  • These have an HDMI connectivity option for enhanced listening
  • 2.1 soundbars are compact size-wise and can be easily moved from one place to another

Advantage of 3.1 soundbar:

  • Owing to its central channel, these soundbars have enhanced dialogue clarity
  • Some of these offer Bluetooth connectivity
  • 3.1 soundbars have an in-built or external subwoofer for enhanced bass response
  • The audio performance of 3.1 soundbars are better than 2.1 soundbars
  • These support HDMI connectivity for enhanced sound performance and Bluetooth connectivity

2.1 vs. 3.1 soundbar comparison:

Now that you know the basic advantages of both these two soundbars, let’s go into a detailed analysis, so you can pick one that works for your needs. 


Now when we say design, it just does not apply to the external appearance of the soundbar; it also applies to its build quality, weight, and dimensions. These factors are essential to compare, primarily if you aim to set up a premium quality home theater. 

Fortunately, both 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars are slim and light, but since the 3.1 soundbar has an extra speaker, it is a bit heavier than the 2.1 option. However, both the options feature a large external subwoofer which does take some place. 

Keeping that in mind, if you are setting up your home theater in a spacious room, the 3.1 option is good; the 2.1 soundbar is ideal for those who have a smaller room.


Besides the difference in the number of channels between the two soundbars, both have the same connectivity option. Furthermore, some soundbars include an optical or HDMI cable option and thus allow high-quality inputs. 

The best part is both 2.1, and 3.1 speakers feature Bluetooth connectivity. This option allows one to connect to other devices wirelessly, thereby stream content from other devices. These also feature Wi-Fi connectivity. 


Since the 3.1 soundbar has an extra speaker added, it’s natural that its audio quality and performance will be better than a 2.1 soundbar. After using it myself, I have learned that 3.1 soundbars have a more dynamic sound than 2.1 soundbars. This is perhaps due to the positioning of the third speaker in the center of the 3.1 soundbar, which enhances the clarity of dialogue of the soundbar, an element absent in 2.1 soundbars. 

The third speaker placed at the center of the 3.1 soundbar takes the maximum effort relieving the pressure from the other two speakers. Additionally, the number of channels is also a great determining factor. 


While comparing the 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars, you will come across “1” a lot. This is the subwoofer. 

Both the systems come with one subwoofer, be it external or internal. An external subwoofer has an additional punch compared to an in-built one for its size alone. In addition, if there is a wireless option, it’s easily portable, which allows users to find the optimal placement location of the subwoofer. 

Pro tip: If the subwoofer is built inside the soundbar itself, there is less chance for it to provide multi-layered sound than an external subwoofer. 


This is one feature that is supported by both 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars. However, WiFi connectivity is only available with high-end models. Using the Bluetooth option, users can stream content directly from their mobile devices to the soundbars effortlessly as it fully decodes the audio format. So, if you want to avoid cable clutters, it’s advisable to get a Bluetooth-enabled device. 

In fact, an external subwoofer that features 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars can also function on Bluetooth. 

Voice control:

This is a fancy feature and can be present in any soundbar, irrespective of its many channels. Though this feature does not impact the design in any way, it dramatically affects the convenience factor. 

If you are opting for a soundbar with voice control, you can run it using Amazon Alexa or Google Voice assistant. It will basically turn your soundbar into a smart device, and you can then quickly check weather updates and news on it. 


The difference in the number of channels does not make it any hard to set up the system. Both 2.1 and 3.1 soundbars are easy to use depending on the type of connectivity you are using. 


The method of control is never affected by the number of channels. Most soundbars come with a remote or have a compatible app on the device panel. Some are also configured using a TV remote. The volume connectivity and everything else can be adjusted using the controls. 


Of course, there is a difference in the price range of the 2.1 and 3.1 sound bars due to the number of channels they have. Both soundbars have a left and right channel, but the 3.1 soundbar has an additional channel mentioned earlier. Owing to this channel which has a dialogue enhancing element, the price of 3.1 soundbars is more. 

Top picks: 2.1 vs. 3.1 soundbars:

2.1 soundbars:

If you are only looking forward to taking your TV experience up by a notch, a 2.1 soundbar is a good option. 

Following are a few options to consider:

Vizio: The Vizio SB3821 has a 100 dB sound to take your entertainment experience to the next level with its 1% harmonic distribution. Moreover, the wireless subwoofer of this unit starts working within a range of 60 ft, and the Bluetooth technology can be handled easily. Besides, the unit also features Dolby Digital decoding, DTS true volume, and more cool features. 

BYL 2.1 Channel Soundbar: This soundbar brings in 140W and 110 dB sound to fill your home entertainment room. It also features a 6.5″ subwoofer with a range of 60 feet. Additionally, it has Bluetooth and DSP technology to support three modes, i.e., movie, music, and dialogues. 

3.1 soundbars:

If you have a slightly higher budget and want your dialogues to be clear and premium quality, you can look into the following 3.1 soundbar options:

Samsung MM55: This soundbar features three in-built speakers plus an active wireless subwoofer, so you can use this tech to connect wirelessly to any Bluetooth device and play music and movies of your choice. It also connects to the media through an HDMI cord and enhances your surround experience. 

JBL Bar 3.1: This is a high-end option in the 3.1 soundbar range and features 450W of power along with high-quality bass emitting from an 11′ wireless subwoofer. Plus, there are three additional in-built front speakers. In addition, you can use Bluetooth to stream wirelessly. You can also use its 3 HDMI ARC out for an authentic 4K experience. 

Which is the best? 

This is a question that rests entirely on your budget and preferences. If you want a budget option and only looking to enhance your entertainment experience by a bit, a 2.1 option is good. However, if you want a professional setup and have enough space for your home theater, the 3.1 option is good. Since these are a tad higher in the budget range, it’s ideal to go through some reviews before you make a call. 

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Yo, I'm Sreekanth Devireddy, a technologist, designer and a passionate writer. Previously worked under tech giants as a Head Of Product Reviews. I love to review products and write buyers guide, that helps people to make the right decision at the right time.

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