George Lucas once said that "sound is half the moviegoing experience." But when someone starts the journey of buying a new sound bar, it’s easy to get swept up in the sea of numbers, resulting in complete confusion.

Number of channels? Number of drivers? Why is there a decimal point in the description?!

Let’s work through these numbers and clear things up…

Multi-Channel Sound Bar Basics

First let’s take a look at what these numbers in the description of a sound bar really mean.

In audio, a “channel” represents where a speaker is—whether actual or virtual. In stereo music, there’s a left channel and a right channel.  Without going into the evolution of home theater, let’s just say that the number of “channels” has evolved well beyond left and right….

To make sense of the number of channels in any given audio system, generally, the configuration of a sound bar is set up with a series of up to 3 numbers, broken up by a decimal point (said aloud as “dot”).

So, let’s look at the TCL Alto 8+ Sound Bar. In its best configuration, it is described as a 3.1.2 Channel system. Let’s break this down:

  • The “3” represents the number speakers (generally) at the listener’s ear-height level. Picture sitting on your couch and just looking around, not up or down. Starting on your left, you would see 3 speakers—a left speaker, a center speaker, then a right speaker. There is your “3”.

    • Note: It’s important not to underestimate the importance of a dedicated center speaker. As much as 80% of the sound in a movie comes from on-screen dialog, music and effects. Having a center channels speaker to handle that anchors the sound to the screen and makes a much more enjoyable experience. If you had a “5” as the first number, you could picture yourself continuing to spin around in your chair and come across 2 rear speakers behind you, designed to add to the immersive impact, like hearing planes zooming behind you in Top Gun: Maverick!
  • Next would be the “1” in the description. This describes the thunderous booming you feel as the T-Rex approaches in Jurassic World…the speaker we call the subwoofer. It can be integrated into the sound bar, or as a standalone unit you can put anywhere in the room. This brings that room-shaking bass that makes us feel like little kids again while watching The Matrix for the first time.

Until the advent of amazing Dolby Atmos, that is generally where the channel description ended. A 5.1 (five-dot-one) system had a left, center, right, right rear, left rear, and subwoofer in the system. 

***Whew*** So we’re done, right? Almost! 

Sound That Surrounds

In my opinion we can now cover the most exciting advent in the world of home theater since Star Wars came out: Dolby Atmos. This brings an immersive new channel to your audio system: height.

In thinking about the world around us, sound doesn’t happen in two dimensions. Action isn’t only happening in front of you or behind you. You also hear sound from above you.

With Dolby Atmos, additional height speakers help place the sound accurately in your three-dimensional movie watching experience.

This is the “2” in our 3.1.2 (three-dot-one-dot-two) system. Two height speakers, plus the Dolby Atmos decoding, get you involved in a 360-degree world!

A Sound Bar for Any Home Theater

Those are the basics of how to break down the multi-channel options you’ll encounter when looking for great audio to complement the great picture of your TCL TV. And at TCL, we offer everything from an ultra-compact 2.0 Channel sound bar (even one that’s truly wireless) to let you hear your TV’s sound just a little bit better, to a truly cinematic 3.1.2 Channel system. All are designed with your enjoyment and budget—another important number—in mind.