What is a 2.1 VS 5.1 Soundbar?

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The main difference between a 2.1 and a 5.1 soundbar is the amount of speakers. A 5.1 soundbar will usually have 5 physical speakers, while a 2.1 soundbar will only have 2 (both of which will include a subwoofer as well). However in some cases, a 5.1 soundbar might have “virtual” speakers meaning that they bounce sound of the walls to create a virtual surround simulation.

Today deep diving into main differences between a 2.1 soundbar and a 5.1 soundbar. We’ll also be going over why you would want a soundbar over a traditional home theater surround sound system. Additionally, discussing what the pros and cons of soundbars are.

What is a Soundbar?


A soundbar is a type of loudspeaker that is typically packed into a relatively compact enclosure (source). Often soundbars are capable of being mounted either above or below an entertainment setup. These setups are sought after because they have a very clean or modern aesthetic. Many soundbars will attempt to provide the most aesthetically pleasing look while still being capable of home theater powerhouses.

What is a 2.1 Soundbar?


A 2.1 Soundbar is a soundbar that utilizes 2.1-channel audio. So, what does that mean? Well, 2-channels are dedicated towards right and left speakers, then the “.1” speaker is a dedicated subwoofer (for low-end frequencies). Occasionally, 2.1 soundbars will have 4 dedicated speakers (instead of just 2) that provide a center channel. While it’s not a true center channel, which would be consider 3.1, it does offer a significant improvement in audio quality.

JBL Bar 2.1


What is a 5.1 Soundbar?

When it comes to 5.1 Soundbars, they are a bit different then 2.1. Why? Well, because there is a few different setups you can have to achieve a 5.1 setup. You might have a “true” setup, you might also have a “simulated” setup.

In a true 5.1 surround sound setup, you’ll get at least 3 speakers in the main soundbar, then 2 individual side/rear speakers and a dedicated subwoofer. Typically these soundbars are favored because of their more realistic nature, but are often more expensive.

VIZIO 5.1 Home Theater Surround Sound Bar


With a simulated or virtual 5.1 setup, there is several speakers in the main soundbar that attempt to recreate or simulate surround sound. The speakers work together along with advanced algorithms to bounce sound off walls to create a virtual surround experience. In some cases, these soundbars can sound incredible.

Samsung 5.1-Channel Soundbar with 3D Sound


2.1 vs 5.1 Soundbar: What’s the Main Difference?


What’s the difference between a 2.1 vs 5.1 soundbar? In a 2.1-channel soundbar, there is only 2 channels (left/right front) along with the subwoofer. But, in a 5.1-channel soundbar, there are 5 channels (left/right front, left/right rear). With a front only setup (2.1), you’ll receive all audio from a front-facing perspective. However, with a surround setup (5.1), you’ll receive audio from all around!

Other than where the sound comes from, everything else about a 2.1 vs 5.1 soundbar can be identical. All of the speakers can be the same and have the same output, it just is relative to where the sound is coming at you from.

Should You Get a 2.1 or 5.1 Soundbar?

What is better 2.1 or 5.1 soundbars? Which one you get is totally up to you; how much money you want to spend, what your room setup looks like, and what kind of sound you’re looking to achieve.

If the room your setup is in has an odd shape, then 2.1 or true 5.1 might be better because virtual 5.1 needs a very box-shaped room. The more sound you want, the more expensive you have to go with your setup. So, typically more expensive soundbars will include some sort of higher-end home theater features (such as surround sound).

But, if you’re shopping around for soundbars, check out our Guide to the Best Samsung Soundbar for up-to-date listings on which way to go.

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