So you have decided to venture into the soundbar world and are unsure of which one to purchase. Rest assured that with a little research, you will find the perfect fit. But, before you do, you might have some basic questions such as those concerning soundbar channels.
Soundbars have channels to simulate the surround sound effect of regular speaker systems and refer to the number of individual speakers inside the device impacting the audio experience. The channels on a soundbar increase the number of angles that sound can be directed.
A 5.1.4 soundbar has 5 channels (left, right, center, front, rear), 1 subwoofer, and 4 drivers for surround sound.
To clarify, the second number indicates the presence of a subwoofer, and the third number refers to advanced surround sound capabilities. In essence, the more channels your soundbar has, the more closely your soundbar will resemble a surround sound system.
However, there are many benefits to soundbars regardless of the number of channels that they have. Continue reading to learn more about the various attributes of soundbars and how they work with your tv.
Should I Get a Soundbar with 2.1 or 5.1 Channels?
Determining the optimal number of channels to get on your new soundbar will largely be determined by your budget, the natural acoustics of your living space, and how you plan to use the device.
Additionally, the size of your tv might help you to determine how large of a soundbar you need. For example, it might be wise to invest in a larger tv before investing in a mega soundbar for aesthetic reasons.
The difference in a 2.1 and a 5.1 soundbar is the number of channels that the device has. If you want a simple sound upgrade, a 2.1 soundbar will suffice. But, if you plan to overhaul your sound system, then a 5.1 soundbar might be the right choice for you. Choosing to invest in a soundbar with more channels will enable your acoustic experience to widen.
Since the second number (.1) indicates that both come with a subwoofer, the real difference in these two soundbars is the quality of sound that will increase from an increased number of channels. Although, the sizing of these two will also vary and you will need to include this factor when making your decision on which one to purchase.
If you have enough room in your budget though, then you might find that it is worth investing in a soundbar with more than two channels.
When a soundbar has three (or more) channels, this includes a center channel. The center channel in a soundbar helps to differentiate between varying frequencies which can help with things like distinguishing voices in movie production.
Obviously, if you are using a soundbar to enhance your tv’s sound production, then you will want to ensure quality enhancement. Being unable to distinguish between the voices of characters in a movie (especially if they carry at similar frequencies) can be a frustrating scenario- and will definitely not seem like an improvement in your sound quality.
To avoid this frustration and to get the full effect of a quality soundbar, it is recommended to purchase one that has at least 3 channels, and more when possible.
The most advanced soundbars will have surround sound capabilities not only from the “copycat” of the various channels but through the presence of drivers that “point” the sound all throughout the room. This will be indicated by the presence of a third number in the description of a soundbar (ex. A 5.1.4 soundbar).
Are Soundbars as Good as Surround Sound?
Likely, you are looking into a soundbar to improve the quality of your audio experience in your home for tv movie or audio streaming purposes. Whether you are the one to host a movie night with family and friends, or you enjoy jamming out to your favorite tunes streaming through your smart tv, enhancing the included audio from your tv is a must.
Soundbars are a cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing sound enhancement tool that improve the quality of sound streaming from your tv. With various channel options, a soundbar attempts to replicate a surround sound system in a much more space-effective design.
While there are many advanced options, a surround sound system with multiple speakers has the physical capacity to outperform most soundbars.
Though, investing in a surround sound system for your home requires significantly more dedication of time, money, and energy for setup.
You will likely find that there are many advantages to purchasing a soundbar if you are looking for a quality sound enhancement without the dedication of purchasing, arranging, and setting up an entire surround sound system with various speakers.
The soundbar will work as the compact version of this system and will provide a sound performance that will shock you at how well it competes with “the real thing”. With that in mind, it is important to recognize that you will get out what you put into your investment in sound equipment.
If you jump on purchasing a soundbar that you find for a “good deal” but negate to review the specifications, then you may find that the cheap device lives up to its cheap price in terms of performance.
If you are looking to improve your overall quality of sound streaming from your tv, and you want this to replicate an entire sound system with various speakers and parts, then you will need to consider your advanced options. In this case, be sure to look for soundbars that have surround sound capabilities and include Dolby Atmos surround sound.
Do Soundbars Work on Any TV?
You might be wondering how you will connect your soundbar with your tv either because you have never done this before, or because you are concerned that a soundbar will not match your older (or new) tv. Fortunately for you, soundbars are a good investment regardless of your current tv setup.
Soundbars work on any tv- new or old- through four main connectivity possibilities: cables (HDMI or Optical), WiFi, and Bluetooth compatibility. This means that regardless of the age on your tv, a soundbar should have the capacity to perform as intended. Although, the sound quality may vary in these based on the audio transmission, and HDMI is often preferred.
So, if you are concerned that your “old” tv will not be able to host this “new” technology, do not worry. When connecting a soundbar to an older tv, you will likely use optical cables that plug directly into your device and the tv, respectively. In newer tv models, you will be more likely to use the HDMI cable feature, WiFi, or Bluetooth.
Before you purchase a soundbar, you will want to think about which way you intend to connect the device. Though most soundbars will come with the required equipment regardless of if you are connecting to an older or newer tv model, it is always best to check that you will have the appropriate cables or other capabilities. Then, you can jump right into enjoying the perks of your new soundbar.
Does a Soundbar Replace TV Speakers?
Maybe you are looking to purchase a soundbar because your tv’s speakers are busted, or perhaps you are hesitant about “losing out” on the audio produced by the tv in the first place.
Soundbars can be connected to the tv while still allowing the tv speakers to produce sound. However, this is not an ideal use of the soundbar as the simultaneous use of this device and the tv for audio purposes can create an echoing effect. This disrupts the sound experience that would otherwise be heightened by the use of the soundbar.
If you really want to use your tv speakers and your soundbar at the same time, you certainly can. Keep in mind that this is not what the device was intended to be used for, nor is this how the design was intended to function.
Soundbars are meant to “replace” the tv speakers in how they produce a higher quality sound. Contrarily, when you keep your tv speakers at a high enough volume to hear the streaming audio, you will be able to hear the feedback between the two speakers and could experience an echoing effect, too.
More likely than not, you are buying a soundbar to improve the overall quality of sound for the movies and music you stream through your tv. When you leave the tv speakers on, you are in essence saying that you would prefer the basic technology to the upgrade that you just purchased.
Using the tv speakers and the soundbar at the same time will not enhance the volume in an effective way. Instead, it will cause a distorted sound that is both unpleasant to listen to and can cause feedback to instill between the two devices. Rather than trying to use the two speaker systems simultaneously, choose one and go with it.
If you have chosen to purchase a soundbar, then the best bet for a higher quality sound experience is to deactivate the use of your tv speakers (likely by turning them down) and use the soundbar in isolation. Ultimately, this is what you purchased the soundbar to do, anyway, so why get in the way of this high-quality sound performance?
Check out my top picks for soundbars.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.