Everything’s high definition now – from TVs to women’s make-up (no kidding). HDTVs have been around for a decade, and now manufacturers are pushing high-def sound big time, too. We’ve always been fans of true 5.1-speaker surround sound systems, but they’re expensive and a hassle to install. That’s why most people (over 60 percent, according to surveys) use built-in television speakers alone for shows and movies. A good middle ground are “sound bars,” which are basically thin, narrow rectangles that fit neatly under flat-panel HDTVs. Pioneered by Yamaha, this single component has built-in amps, speakers and DSP circuitry to create a 5.1-system feel without the need to run wires everywhere, or break the bank. Top flat-panel seller Vizio is now branching out with its first sound bar. Is it high-definition sound? Let’s settle in and find out.
Features and Design
There’s really not much to a sound bar. It’s just a bar that pumps out sound. We’re not being facetious, just stating the facts. Although Vizio’s system comes in a huge box, the bar measures only 40” x 4.8” x 4.3” (W x H x D), weighs 7.8 pounds, and fits neatly in front of a 52-inch LCD HDTV. It has a black front cloth covering, and a piano-gloss rear section where you’ll find the few connections. There are recessed buttons for the major functions on the top of the unit, but you’ll handle them via the supplied remote. The bar comes with two silver-colored feet, but they can be moved and turned into brackets for wall mounting. Other than a small silver plate with a subdued Vizio logo, there are only a series of LEDs on the far right under the cloth. We’d prefer an all-black look, but that’s our taste. The rear has a DC-in outlet for power, as well as one optical digital and two analog audio inputs. Unfortunately, no optical cable is supplied (one analog is) so be prepared to shell out another $15 if you go this route.
In order to add some bottom and fullness to the audio experience, the VSB210WS is supplied with a wireless subwoofer, which handles frequencies from 35Hz to 80Hz (the itself bar is rated 80Hz to 20kHz). “Wireless subwoofer” is a misnomer, since you have to connect the power cord to an outlet. Still, you can place the sub practically anywhere, since bass notes are not directional like typical front loudspeakers. It can be placed 30 feet from the bar, but does need a clear line of sight for the remote to control it. The sub measures 11.2” x 12.3” x 11.9”, weighs 15.5 pounds, and has some cheesy silver accents. Again, Johnny Cash style is the way to go here as well.
The package includes the bar, subwoofer, remote, power cords, and one analog stereo cable. If you plan to go optical, don’t forget to pickup an optical cable, or have the dealer give you one to seal the deal. The unit is also supplied with a rudimentary owner’s manual, which could use higher-quality photos and the attention of a decent graphic artist.
With the bar and subwoofer in position, it was time to give it a workout.
Performance and Use
Setting up the system was fairly effortless, since the bar requires minimal connections. Linking the bar to the subwoofer only required pressing two buttons simultaneously. Once we saw the appropriate LEDs flashing when pressing the remote, signaling everything was OK, it was time for several listening sessions.
We connected the VSB210WS – which has two 15-watt amps – to the analog outputs of a 52-inch Sony XBR6; a Verizon FiOS set top box provided the content. This particular Sony has a so-so S-Force Front Surround system, so it would be a good comparison toggling between the two. Within a few minutes, we didn’t bother. The sound from the Vizio was so much better that it was no contest. Nelly Furtado and Lenny Kravitz concerts on Palladia almost sounded as good as being there. Car crashes from Casino Royale had the oomph that makes movie watching so much fun. And just watching some traditional TV shows like CSI sounded so much better.
The Vizio uses SRS technologies to juice up the system, including TruSurround HD and TruVolume. TruSurround did an excellent job creating a faux-5.1 feel with the sub, adding some thump. TruVolume exists for TV viewing, and helps eliminate the leap in loudness from some commercials. We weren’t impressed by this, as it flattened the overall experience, and instead we ended up using TruSurround most of the time.
All is not wonderful with the Vizio system. It offers only three inputs, compared to almost 10 on a Yamaha Digital Sound Projector (a.k.a. sound bar). But to be fair, that one costs four times more, and is also much larger. However, we did connect the digital audio output from a Panasonic BD player to the Vizio, and tested it with some butt-kicking scenes from The Dark Knight. It really added to the Batmobile crashing through barriers, as well as during the demolition derby underneath the streets of Gotham City. In fact, it added to the entire movie experience with depth, richness, and the little background sound effects and music that made the film so much fun. We really turned it up and were pleasantly surprised how little distortion there was.
This one is really a no-brainer. If you don’t plan on buying or setting up a 5.1-channel sound system, just purchase the VSB210WS. The audio experience is quite good, and the price is right. The bar fits neatly in front of your TV, works with a wide variety of components, but most importantly, adds that “high definition” sound HDTVs lack.
- Very good sound
- Pretty potent bass
- Distortion-free, even cranked up
- Easy to set up
- Not enough inputs
- Design a bit cheesy, especially subwoofer
- LEDs a bit hard to decipher
- Manual needs a makeover