2.1 Stereo System for TV Listening

How well does a 2.1 stereo system work for TV listening?  As I have been looking at smaller homes, I’ve noticed that in many of those places, the TV would need to be same room where I would be listening to music.  In quite a few of these homes, it would be tough to set up a good 5.1 installation anyway.  A 2.1 system makes a lot of sense, since sound quality for music is my priority.  I currently have a quality 2.1 system with an integrated amp, tower speakers, and music streamer in my living room as well as a more modest 5.1 system in my TV room.

My biggest concern about using a 2.1 system for TV listening would be getting clear dialog audio at both low and high volumes.  I would be interested in reading about your experience using a 2.1 system for TV listening.  Thanks in advance for your input.


I am in total agreement that a 2.1 system can be well suited for audio and video.

My systems that provided for both were based on 2-way stand mount speakers placed for best music reproduction, well off front wall with TV centered in between on front wall. TV can be covered when not in use. When using subwoofer often had it off for music. Don't use one now.

Multi channel audio for video can be great however requires a dedicated video room for proper setup IMO.  

Often I force my 5.1 system to 2 channel stereo, it sounds better most of the time if not content with surround originally planned.

Now, the issue becomes imaging. One person sitting in the middle is terrific imaging, but, if two or three, a few people off-center, then the dispersion pattern of you main L and R speakers have great importance.

Even alone, I am partially to left of center because my side table with coffee warmer, coaster for a drink, box of spare remotes live there.

Maybe the damn dog gets the middle (not here).

My vintage speakers were designed for a wide creation of decent L/C/R imaging for the full width between them, and work quite well, the whole sofa gets L/C/R imaging.


I keep asking if anyone here knows of currently made speakers with similar dispersion exist. Alas, no one answers.

Anchoring dialog for video with a center channel is very important, IF the program HAS center channel content. Much is 2 channel, no center signal.

To move L or R info to the middle is to destroy imaging in many cases, so it really comes down to the pattern of the main L/R speakers.

Easily adjustable toe-in can be a solution.

The DBX system aims the left drivers more to the right side, BUT, left is closer to the volume of the left speaker, thus sitting left, you get L/C/R. opposite occurs sitting right side.

I apply this principal to my main music system. Toe In directly at the center for me alone in the middle.

Friend over, small table in the middle, both of us off center, I alter the toe-in, left speaker faces right person, ... opposite. Not perfect, yet both of us get decent l/c/r imaging, enjoyable enough to enjoy the intent of the content, this musician here, ...

keep the flexibility in mind when choosing speakers, placing them, and ease of toe-in alteration. Enough slippery material on the bottom of the speakers, relative to their weight, get firm but movable.


I am old school and use a  Zvox for my TV listening.  I bought it in 2014 and I like it for the expanded dialogue so I can actually hear what is being spoken.  The built in 6 inch woofer is plenty for our living room.  

Been doing this for years. Alway sounds great. Especially for concerts.

I found 5.1+ systems fussy and actually distracting. To me, every surround system I’ve listened to at a friend or family member’s home has been way over the top to enjoy the film.

I have 4” Kanto powered Bluetooth speakers with a Definitive Technologies transmission line 8” subwoofer. They sound seamlessly integrated and are practically invisible.

This allows me to have my main system dedicated to music listening.

I run my TV audio thru my 2 channel stereo system.

My TV is like 12 yr old but it has a Coax Audio Output on the back and I run a coax audio cable from the tv's audio coax out to the coax audio input on my stereo amplifier. Sounds great! No problems with dialog at all.


I also have two systems Mine are located in a credenza below my TV For movies l use my Emotiva XMC-2 AV preamp and Anthem MCA-5 amp but only connect L & R speakes, plus the center channel I also have two SVS Ultra subs For two channel l use my VAC Tube amp & ARC LS15 tube pre amp   I use a speaker switch box to change from my 3.2 AV to 2.2 VAC tube rig

This topic actually interests me at the moment. I have gone from a 7.1 system down to a 2.1 system as I have grown tired of all of the cables, speaker wires, endless experimentation, furniture placement considerations and the rat’s nest behind the TV. I’ve also grown more fond of listening to music than watching movies. I really enjoy 2.1 for music and the more I think about it, 2.1 works just fine or my TV needs. It’s clear and immersive enough for me.

At the current point in time, I cannot imagine ever going back to 7.1 or 7.2.

FWIW... I’m amazed at the knowledge base and experience of many of the people on this forum.

@stereo5 I love my Zvox, use it in my bedroom setup. voice is incredibly clear. i think about adding a sub to round out the stage.

@flyfish77 I had a great Arcam 5.1 setup, then came 7.1 and it all began to feel like way too much to deal with. I slimmed down to a quality 2.1 and have been happy ever since. hope you have fun with the transition.

I use my main system in 2.1 for TV and movies and it sounds great.   Did away with surround 15 years ago and never looked back

if you are concernedwith dialog clarity you need a center channelwhich means surround sound


we are a shop that caters to both high end stereo and theater


the best solution is a two channel integrated plus a suround receiver plus acenter and mains isw hat you want

Dave and Troy

audio intellect nj

home theater designers

My experience is similar to a few members above. I ditched surround sound about 15 years ago and I've never had the urge to go back. My TV setup has 2 modest tower speakers and a 10" subwoofer with no center channel. It's only my wife and I that watch TV on a love seat so imaging hasn't been a problem. I don't use a center channel because the dialogue is quite clear but I will admit that a couple years ago I began using subtitles for movies. My wife and I realized that we were missing a lot of dialogue - especially when the actors had foreign accents - and it was silly not to use the subtitle feature. I don't think a center channel would make any difference.

Once I went to 2.1 I realized that it actually improved the movie watching experience. For me, surround sound is mostly distracting. We don't watch many blockbusters with whooshy-bang-boom sound effects so surround is really not important to us. And it's so nice not to have to deal with all those damn wires and extra speakers.

In my main system upstairs I have a TV on the wall behind the speakers (the speakers are about 6' into the room). I use this for watching concert videos and for breaking news if I'm I'm paying bills or doing something up there. My system images very well so 2 channels provides an excellent "you are there" experience for watching a concert.

@flyfish77 , is there a speaker switch you found of quality, that you can recommend?   I want to slip an older amp in my 5.1 setup (dislike it's 2 ch sound) to listen to 2ch in same room.  

The 2.1 system for movie does not do well primarily because of the less clear / focus dialogue that was distributed to the central channel speaker in the 5.1 or 7.1 AVR system. Creating / wiring a "phantom" center channel into a 2.1 system is tricky based on my limited exposure and the mono center channel created tends to messing up the soundstage of the original 2.1 system. For moving watching, I will suggest just buy a used reputable AVR and a center speaker and select the 3-channel mode. I use Harman Kardon AVR 25 ii for movie and it works great with a 3.1 setup. You could easily buy it or a comparable quality AVR for around $150.

I've used my 2-channel hi-fi system for my television sound for decades. My system also throws a very sharp center image, so dialogue sounds clear as long as it was recorded clearly, which often is not the case, and music and sounds are a lot better.... 

My two main speakers were 14 ft apart with minor toe-in for music listening.  As such the person not sitting in the middle listening position could not get clear dialouge when watching movie without a Center channel...

I have a pretty small home, not "tiny home", but damn close enough.

I use 2.1 since there is no room or anywhere to have a dedicated stereo listening room, and I watch a lot of movies and shows, and Youtube music/concerts/video, nearly equal to just listening to music.  Though NEITHER is perfect, they are both great mixtures, and suit the space and lifestyle perfectly, with what ever compromises more than willing to be paid.  I can't say that I experience the dialog issues others mentioned, but I am betting I am experiencing 'some', but it's not as bad due to my speakers being only 7' apart.

Honestly I wouldn't watch "TV" of any kind any other way.  Regular shows suffer some, but in general I feel like I am getting way better experience. Things like NPRs "Tiny Desk" concerts are literally, live performances in my tiny living room.  I've never had surround 5.1 so I can't speak to that, but 2.1 has been a mainstay and a must for me for years.  Though I would bet a 5.1 would be a better movie experience, a solid 2.1 system will do really damn good I would think in 'most' living rooms. 

I use a Rega Elex-r integrated amp, fed by a Black Ice FX DAC, and a REL TX5 subwoofer.  The DAC gets TOSLINK from the "TV" (I stream to a Google Chromecast Ultra puck on the TV), and an older Pioneer Elite PD64 CD player.  The Chromecast Ultra Puck will receive 24/96khz, so 'high res' from Qobuz/Amazon Music etc, videos, movies etc, and display the app the TV being broadcast from computer or phone. 

I, like others in this thread have "down-graded" to a 2.1 stereo system that I use for TV as well as living room music streaming. I was using my old Lexicon MC-8 AVP for 5.1 surround for movies and TV and recently thought it was time to consolidate into an all in one Denon AVR. I didn't like the AVR, and it definitely didn't cut it for music listening..it wasn't on par with the ancient Lexicon for music or movies. So I switched to a 2.1 Integrated with an HDMI input and I'm very happy with it. 

With the surround set up, which is awesome when you're in the mood, I feel like it had to be turned up loud to get all the center channel dialog,  which meant the mains and surrounds were really loud when the action got going. With the 2.1 stereo set up I feel I can leave the volume low while still getting a great Phantom center and clear dialog. I have my mains about 8 feet apart with slight toe in and have no issues. At one point I had them with extreme toe in, where the tweeter was crossing in front of the seated center sweet spot. Like if you had the tweeter aimed at opposite ends of a 3 person couch..this set up for me caused a very wide center image. I use a laser line leveler, just place it on top of the speaker and aim it where you want. I will add that with my current set up if I don't want to turn on the receiver (Arcam SA30) I can still use the internal TV speakers. 

Someone here mentioned a Zvox for TV listening, my brother has one and I think they are phenomenal for TV use. Better than your average sound bar if you just want to watch TV, very clear sounding...they are worth looking into and not very expensive I believe. These days we also have the option of 2ch Integrated Stereo's with the Home Theater bypass. Where you can incorporate your AVR/AVP for movies with a dedicated 2ch. Integrated for better quality music listening. Your AVR uses the Integrated's amplifier for the main speakers and subwoofer for movie/TV time, you flip a switch and the AVR is turned off and it's just the Integrated Receiver for Music time. 

So I have no issues using 2.1 for TV, but for dialog and clarity your equipment does play a part in that. If I was a manufacturer I would really consider coming up with a 3.1/3.2 system. Built mostly with music in mind but with a switch to turn on a 3rd channel..a center channel. With crossover or room correction/Dirac Live, a couple sound modes maybe, although I could live without it...but I would be all over a product like that. Somebody please make me one 😃