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Customer Review

1,275 of 1,388 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5.1 made easy!, July 11, 2013
This review is from: VIZIO S4251w-B4 42-Inch 5.1 Channel Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer & Satellite Speakers (2013 Model) (Electronics)
If you'd asked me a couple years ago which 5.1 sound system to buy, my answer would have been simple: "none."

They were a big expensive pain. It seemed like my friends who had these systems would either have them only half set up (say, ditching the surround speakers) or fully set up but not used (because the input selection or the remote was too much of a pain). My previous roommate had a 5.1 "surround" system - with all five speakers under the TV. We rarely used it because we had to change 3 settings in 3 different places to make it work.

Let's review the misery of yesterday's 5.1 systems, shall we?

1) You needed to place and wire six speakers: left, center, right, left surround, right surround, plus a bass module. That's a lot of wires, speaker stands, and connections.
2) To connect the left and right surround speakers, you needed to run wires across your seating area. That's pretty ugly unless you go through the effort to make conduits or buy a special rug.
3) You needed to purchase a separate receiver to power those speakers - and connect it too.
4) You paid for all that - an absolute minimum of $400, with nicer gear easily double that.
5) You needed to manage additional remotes and settings. Good luck if you ever asked a friend to change the volume.

Well, it's almost as though Vizio started with this list, and then eliminated these problems one by one when making this 5.1 soundbar. The soundbar itself combines Left, Center and Right channels into one thin module that will fit in front of your TV, assuming you use a TV stand with at least two inches of space there. There are no speaker stands or speaker wires, and no separate receiver - the amplifier is built in! The only wires are the ones you absolutely need: sound input (an optical cable in most cases) and power.

But what about the bass module and surround speakers? This is where the Vizio really shines. Low frequency sounds like those from the bass module cannot be well localized by the human auditory system. Simply put, you can place the bass module anywhere in the room, and it will sound nearly the same to a human. So why not place it behind your seating area where it can also connect to the surround speakers? Tada! You plug the bass module into a power outlet behind your seating area and the surround speakers into the bass module. No wires run across your living room. The audio signal is sent wirelessly, with pairing automatically set up when you plug in the bass module. Just try to keep the bass module within 60 feet.

But what about the remotes and connections? Again this product is one step ahead. Through an easy setup process, you can program the soundbar to respond to the volume commands from your TV remote. No need to dig up the sound bar remote. Now, even your drunk football buddy can change the volume. But what about turning the sound bar on and off? You must need the sound bar remote for that right? Nope. It also has a power saving feature, so it turns itself off automatically. To turn it back on, just turn up the volume on your TV remote. Genius: these three tweaks mean you don't even need the sound bar's own remote after day one. Something lots of other reviewers have noted (which I somehow took for granted) was that the remote includes a small LCD display to help you navigate options without commandeering your TV's UI or cluttering the appearance of the soundbar itself. Nicely done; other UI designers would do well to copy this.

A point for the fellow TV audio nerds out there: according to various internet sources, "most" televisions downmix the 5.1 audio signals they receive to stereo at their outputs, meaning that if you connect the optical audio output from the TV to a sound system, your sound system only gets two channels, even if the TV received 5.1 input. To work around the curse of those TVs, you need to plug the cable box / TiVo, Wii AND Blu-Ray player directly into your sound system, possibly using a switcher, which is a pain! However, there's good news here for Vizio TV owners like me: Vizio is one of the brands of TVs that outputs true 5.1 audio from its optical output. (Or at least it does on my VF550M which is a few years old.) I even borrowed a bitstream analyzer from a coworker and verified it. But you don't have to go that far to check on yours: the soundbar lights up with a "Dolby Digital" light for about two seconds when it detects a Dolby Digital bitstream, which is generally 5.1. Pretty cool.

Even if you don't give 5.1 input to this system, it can create 5.1 for you through a built-in upmixer provided by audio tech company DTS. Just give it stereo and the upmixer takes care of the rest. It's not as good as real 5.1 but it makes pretty good use of all the speakers. I enjoyed this feature when playing my iPod music on the system using its Bluetooth option. Which reminds me: this system has a Bluetooth option. It makes a damn loud party sound system, which Vizio claims outputs 102 dB SPL. I verified that it will indeed put out sound at or above what psychoacousticians call the "threshold of pain."

A few nits. First, the soundbar isn't quite as wide as I'd like: the left, center and right channels in it are all too close to each other. I use my sound bar with a 55 inch HDTV that I sit about 8 feet from. Unless I sit closer, audio from the sound bar generally fails to sound well "spread out." I kind of wish the sound bar would telescope so I could spread the left and right speakers wider! Second, when using Bluetooth the sound quality can be poor - kind of like a pirated MP3 rather than the high quality iTunes audio I'm streaming. I work around this by using the Spotify app on my TiVo to stream music directly from the internet to the soundbar. A final issue, which might be a soundbar bug or a weakness of digital audio in general, occurs when initiating or restarting digital audio, such as on Netflix or TiVo-played cable TV. The sound will either begin after a quick loud "snap" noise, or take a couple seconds to fade in after video has begun playing. Obviously, it should be instant and flawless.

The overall package though is a total winner. As you may know it's won consumer awards including a Best of CES award from CNET. It's priced aggressively at $330 and the convenience is liberating. I recommend buying it and freeing yourself from the headaches of yesterday's 5.1.
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Showing 1-10 of 97 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 15, 2013 7:37:11 PM PDT
Vizio makes a wider version of this specifically sized for bigger TVs like yours

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 15, 2013 8:01:40 PM PDT
Thanks for the comment. I just checked the Vizio website and the sound bar that I reviewed is currently the widest sound bar they show with 5.1. If you have a link to a larger one, great! Please post it. For now, this is all Visio has for 5.1 channel sound bars:

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 16, 2013 11:00:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 16, 2013 11:07:40 PM PDT
Midwest MTB'er,

This soundbar is actually the longest one out of the three. There is a couple more (2.0 and 2.1), but they are the smaller ones. I saw a video on Youtube where they showed the 3 of them, and I thought the middle one was this one. However, it is the longest one.

Harun Ar-rashid,

Thank you for your very detailed review. I'm sure I am not the only one who appreciates it. I'm glad to read that bluetooth quality is poor. I went to a retail store to try the soundbar and it did sound bad (I used Spotify music and an HD Youtube 5.1 test video over 4G). Yet, I went to try the exact same content on the Sony HT-CT260, and the sound (specially on the music) sounded clearer (at least to me) better on the Sony. I know Vizio's surround will deliver a better surround experience. Based on your review however , I'm hopeful that once I plug my PS3 and watch blu-ray content, the sound won't be the same as a pirated MP3.

Again, thank you for your review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 17, 2013 6:08:50 PM PDT
FYI, the wireless connection isn't through WiFi, it's bluetotooth. May want to revise your review (thanks for posting such a detailed review) just so others aren't confused.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 17, 2013 8:43:33 PM PDT
R. Neal, thanks for the comment. After researching it a bit (Vizio website and retailer websites' tech specs, user manual, reviews) I've found no mention of either WiFi or Bluetooth, just "wireless" and "pairing" for the bass module. If you can provide a link I'll update the review to be more clear. In the meantime, I'll change it to "wireless." Thanks!

Posted on Aug 18, 2013 2:43:51 PM PDT
Wanted to post a quick update after having used the Soundbar for a couple months. I still love it. One thing that the CNet review mentioned was that the soundbar does not have an automated EQ setup option, which automatically chooses the best treble, bass, midrange, and subwoofer settings. True. And it took me a little bit of fiddling to get it right for my living room. Here are the settings I found worked best, in case it helps anyone else. Please note these are all on a scale from 1 to 13, which is the range Vizio gives you for such settings. The factory default is 7 of 13 for everything.
Bass: 3-5
Treble: 10-11
Center: 9-10
Surround: 9, though this depends quite a bit on where you place your speakers. Note that these surround speakers have a different frequency response then the soundbar, so you should probably adjust the volume of these first, then the EQ.
Subwoofer: 7-9
- There are ranges shown above for all the settings. This is because the best EQ heavily depended on song and genre.
- Somewhat surprisingly, it was classical that I found benefitted the most from the "smile" EQ of boosting "treble" and "subwoofer" while keeping the other two lower.
- The only music I found worked well with the default factory setting of 7/13 all around was an old Stevie Wonder song.
- The "center" and "bass" setting names are somewhat misleading: They should be "midrange" and "low midrange." If you like bass, crank the "subwoofer" setting, not the "bass" setting.

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 7:43:11 AM PDT
Davyo says:
Many thanks for posting about the Vizio TVs passing 5.1 via the optical output, I just bought the new 70" M Series Vizio TV and planed on getting the 5.1 soundbar to go with it but was not sure if I needed to get an SPDIF switcher in case the optical out on the Vizio TV would not pass 5.1 with HDMI sources hooked up, the fact that you used a bitstream analyzer to check it out is GREAT !!!

Even my ONE HOUR call to Vizio CS did not answer that question as Vizio CS is clueless, the 5.1 optical subject is also not listed in the Vizio manual

Many thanks again for posting that info, I will set all my HDMI sources inputting my Vizio TV to PCM and then only have to run the one SPDIF cable to the soundbar, that make's life real easy.


In reply to an earlier post on Oct 9, 2013 11:44:58 AM PDT
QUASAR says:
THANK YOU for an AWESOME review. Is there some way to hard wire an older Ipod touch (mine does not have bluetooth feature) to this soundbar?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2013 5:14:41 PM PDT
Quasar, my pleasure, and apologies for the delay in responding. You can definitely do a wired connection. The sound bar takes in "RCA" input in the back. The cable to convert from headphone output of your iPod to RCA is included in the box. Here's more info:

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2013 10:16:24 AM PST
Ben says:
You have a AUX (2) port on the sound bar. Just use a AUX cable from your ipod touch to Aux (2) and select Aux(2) as input in the Remote.
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