I love tech, and I love tech toys, but I don’t know a lot about sound bars. When researching sound bars, I began thinking ‘what does the 2.1 mean in a sound bar?’ Then I began searching.
To answer the question ‘What does the 2.1 mean in a sound bar?’ the 2.1 refers to the number of channels and subwoofers that are included in the sound bar. The number before the dot refers to the left and right speakers, and the number to the left refers to the number of subwoofers. In the case of 2.1, it means that the soundbar has one left, one right, and one subwoofer.
Continue reading as we learn more about the various channels, why the number is configured with a decimal, and when you should consider buying a system with more channels.
What does Channel Mean?
Before we can learn anything else about the sound bar, we must learn what a channel means. Simply, a channel refers to the audio signal sent from a speaker or subwoofer. This audio signal can be high or low, as long as it sends a signal. This signal usually converts to a sound that we understand and give meaning.
As I previously mentioned, the number, in this case, 2.1, refers to the number of speakers and subwoofers that are included in this system. The ‘2’ in 2.1 refers to 2 speakers, left and right. The ‘1’ in 2.1 refers to the 1 subwoofer.
In addition to 2.1, it is common to see 5.1, 5.1 ready, 7.1, and 8.1 systems. In the next section, I will discuss the difference between the two.
What’s the Difference Between 2.1 and 5.1 Systems?
Now that we know what a 2.1 speak means, let’s look at another common the 5.1 channel system. The 5.1 channel system us different than a 2.1 channel system because it has 3 additional speakers. In addition to the speakers on the left and right, 5.1 channel systems have a speaker in the middle, a speaker in the rear right and left. In addition to the five speakers, the 5.1 channel system includes one subwoofer.
The 5.1 channel system is designed to give listeners a surround sound experience. Surround sound simply means that all of the speakers in the system are projecting at you, the listener; the sound comes at you from 360 degrees.
For example, if the main character in a scary movie is walking in the woods, they may hear a sound behind them. With a 5.1 channel system, that sound will project through the rear speakers. Most 2.1 channel systems will not be able to produce that sound naturally.
Higher priced 2.1 channel systems can create the sense of surround sound, but can’t actually replicate a pure surround sound experience. 2.1 channel systems immolate 5.1 channel systems with a featured called Virtual Surround Sound (VSS). Basically, VSS generates a surround sound feel by combining 5.1 channel decoders and digital circuits.
When to Use a 2.1 Channel System?
There are a few good times to use a 2.1 channel system. Below are just a few examples of when you should consider using a 2.1 channel system:
- Small to medium sized room
- Less expensive
- Quick installation
- Audio is only kind of important
- Watching general programming
Let’s discuss these use cases in-depth
Small to Medium Sized Rooms
A 2.1 channel system is perfect from someone that intends on watching TV in a bedroom, apartment, dorm room, or anywhere that doesn’t have a lot of space. A 2.1 channel soundbar is compact enough that it can sit on a TV stand, or hung on a wall above or below the TV.
Sound bars, however, are still powerful enough to fill a medium-sized room without distorting the audio quality.
On average, 5.1 channel systems can cost a minimum of 1.5 times the amount of 2.1 channel sound bars. If you need better sound on a tight budget, a 2.1 channel sound bar provides the best value.
Most 2.1 channel sound bars do not require complex and time-consuming installations. To connect a sound bar to a TV, simply connect the HDMI, optical cable, or Bluetooth.
After you’ve connected the sound bar to the TV, connect the subwoofer to the sound bar. Once you connect the audio cable, plug in the sound bar to the wall outlet or surge protector, and installation is done!
5.1 systems are a little more complex as they require at least 6 wires/ connections. If your surround sound is wired, you have to plug in each speaker into the correct channel. If you do not connect the speakers correctly either the speaker will not work, or the audio will not work correctly.
For example, when I first installed my surround sound, I mixed up the two rare speakers. I didn’t know I mixed them up until I went to test the system. Because the two looked the same, it was easy to make the mistake.
While this may not seem like a huge deal, it is a slight annoyance when you have to get back on your hands and knees and wage through the sea of wires behind the TV stand.
Audio is Only Kind of Important
Someone will decide to buy a 2.1 sound bar over a 5.1 surround sound because their current audio option isn’t working for them. Either the audio is too low, or it has stopped working altogether, audio isn’t the top priority they just need something.
Watching General Programming
The final reason someone may choose a 2.1 sound bar of a 5.1 surround sound is that they do not intend to watch anything programming that requires a surround sound. You do not need surround sound if you aren’t watching movies, sports, or playing videos games.
A sound bar may be your best solution if you are watching the news, daytime talk shows, or evening sitcoms.
When to Use 5.1 Surround Sound (bar)?
I just highlighted a few reasons why you may consider a 2.1 sound bar over a 5.1 surround sound, there are many reasons why you would choose a 5.1 channel system over a 2.1 channel system. These reasons include:
- You are installing in a medium to large size room
- You enjoy watching movies
- You play video games
- Audio is just as (or more important than) video
How Many Channels Does a Sound Bar Have?
I assumed that a soundbar only came in 2 or 2.1 channels. I was surprised to learn that soundbars can have as many as 7.1.4 channels! While I discussed the first 2 numbers (X.X), the third number (X.X.?) references ‘the number of height or atmospheric channels designed to immerse the listener by producing overhear sound effects.’
This means 4 of the 7 speakers are elevated to emulate sounds like planes flying overhead. A 7.1.4 system is a premium system that includes meaning other features including a wireless subwoofer, HDMI input, and outputs. And high-resolution audio.
Why are Sound Bars so Popular?
I learned that soundbars have become popular as a result of flat screen TVs. In the past, CRT and project TVs we large enough to include high-quality speakers and the necessary drivers.
However, as TVs became flatter, design decisions required removing some components. Some of the components removed included bigger, higher quality speakers, and the necessary audio hardware. These speakers were replaced with the current below average speakers.
If you ever wondered why you have to turn the volume all the way up, you can thank flatter screens!
How do I Find Out the Number of Channels?
The best way to determine the number of channels is by looking at the display on the box or website. The number of speakers usually equals the number of channels. Also, most sound bars proudly display the number of channels.
If you are unable to find the number of channels from the box or display, check the product specifications. The product specifications, located on the back or side of the box, and online, will tell you the exact number of channels that are included in the system.
Can I Add More Channels?
The answer is maybe as it depends on a few factors. The ability to add channels depends on the maximum channels that the system is configured for and the number of speakers that are included with the system.
For example, if a soundbar says ‘5.1’ ready, it usually means that there aren’t 5 speakers included but you can add the difference. If the soundbar is a 2.1 system, and there are 2 speakers included, you are not able to add more speakers.
To conclude, the 2.1 refer to the number of speakers that are included in the system. In this case, 2.1 means left and right speaker, and 1 subwoofer. In addition, sound bar speakers range between 2 and 7.1.4 channels. The third number refers to the number of speakers that are ‘in the air.’
In addition, 2.1 channel sound bars are ideal for smaller locations (bedrooms, dorm rooms, apartments), when cost is a major determining factor, or if audio isn’t that important.
It may be possible to add speakers to your system, just check your sound bars’ specifications before attempting to add more speakers.
Finally, sound bars became popular as a result of screens becoming flatter and thinner. As the depth of the TV decreased, so do the components that were included. Some of the components that were removed included bigger speakers and audio hardware.