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Vizio 2021 soundbars go big on Dolby Atmos and HDMI eARC support

Last year, Vizio seriously impressed us with its Elevate, Atmos-enabled soundbar, so when the company announced its full 2021 lineup, we were excited to see what it had to offer. While the Vizio brand may conjure images of affordable TVs, the company has a strong foothold in the audio industry as well and has been particularly successful with soundbars.

So, how will Vizio follow up on the innovative, Elevate soundbar that scored a 9 out of 10 on our review and challenges the Sonos Arc for the title of best soundbar on the market? Let’s dig in and take a look at the entire 2021 lineup so you can determine if any of these models deserve a spot beneath your television.

The Elevate Soundbar

Vizio 2021 elevate soundbar

The 48-inch, $1,000 Elevate soundbar debuted in 2020, but it’s still the headliner of the 2021 lineup.  The innovative design features mobile speaker pods that rotate in real time, and the direction in which they fire depends entirely on the audio source. In short, this soundbar was designed to take full advantage of object-based surround sound technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

The accompanying wireless subwoofer is a bit of a behemoth, but that extra space is put to good use — housing an enormous 8-inch driver. The sub can handle frequencies as low as 30hz and outpaces the rest of Vizio’s 2021 lineup in terms of rumble.  All told, the Elevate system comprises four speakers (bar, wireless subwoofer, two surround speakers), 18 drivers in a 5.1.4 configuration, and can crank up the volume to the tune of 107 dB.

Four of those 18 drivers are dedicated, up-firing speakers, which helps produce a truly immersive soundscape. HDMI 2.1. Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) connectivity aids in that department as well, shuttling lossless audio back and forth between TV and soundbar (more on that later), and the bar also features two separate HDMI 2.1 inputs.

Another cool perk is that (unlike the rest of Vizio’s soundbar lineup), Elevate is Wi-Fi-enabled with support for Chromecast audio.

For 2021, all of Vizio’s soundbars are what the company calls “Voice Assistant-ready.” That’s a bit misleading. None of the models can act as smart speakers, nor can you control them via smart assistants like Alexa, Siri, etc. However, if you own a smart speaker like a Nest mini or Amazon Echo, you can connect it to a Vizio soundbar via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm Aux jack. When you do, the soundbars will recognize when these assistants are active and lower the soundbar audio so that you can interact with them.

Again, we were seriously impressed by Elevate when we took it for a test run, so it deserves a long look if it falls within your budget.

M-Series Soundbars

vizio m series soundbar with grey background

If the $1,000 price tag on the Elevate is a bit steep for you, but you want a bit more performance than you’ll find in Vizio’s budget-friendly V-Series offerings, this is where you’ll want to look. There are five M-series models in total with the ($450) M512a-H6 and M512ax-J6 ($330) at the head of the pack in terms of both price and performance.

Both systems feature four speakers (bar, wireless subwoofer, two satellite speakers) and — like all models in the series — are Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capable. The M512a-H6, however, is the only offering that features dedicated, up-firing drivers, which provide that extra layer of sound information to help you get the most out of object-based audio.

The M215a-J6, at $300 is notable for being one of the least expensive ways to experience virtual Dolby Atmos, albeit through a 2.1 channel configuration.

The entire series is Bluetooth-enabled and all models save one feature one HDMI 2.1 input, as well as one HDMI 2.1 out connection with HDMI eARC. The odd bar out is the $150 m21d-H8, which is billed as an “all-in-one” system, meaning that there are no stand-alone subwoofers or surround speakers; the bar itself does all of the heavy lifting.

eARC is a big part of what differentiates the Elevate and the M-series from the less expensive V-series offerings, which are merely ARC-enabled and do not feature any HDMI inputs. ARC uses HDMI 2.0 or 1.4 to relay audio info back and forth between your TV and soundbar but with less available bandwidth than eARC, it uses lossy compression.

Another differentiator is the LCD-backlit remote, which is included with the Elevate and all M-series models, but only one V-Series model (V51x-J6).

  • 5.1.2-channel M512a-H6: $450, available July 2021
  • 5.1-channel M51ax-J6: $330, available now
  • 5.1-channel M51a-H6: $350, available now
  • 2.1-channel M215a-J6: $300, availability TBD
  • 2.1-channel M21d-H8: $150, available now

V-Series Soundbars

v series soundbar wall mounted with TV

As we mentioned earlier, the V-Series is the more budget-friendly option here. You don’t always have to break the bank for great audio. Though none of the models in the series feature dedicated, up-firing drivers and none are Dolby Atmos-enabled, all are compatible with DTS Virtual:X, which employs digital signal processing (DSP) to provide immersive audio using a smaller number of speakers (as few as two).

Also of note is that Vizio claims to have redesigned its subwoofers for “tighter, more impactful” sound at the low end of the spectrum. It will be interesting to see if that pays dividends given the somewhat limited low-end range of the V-series offerings, two of which do not feature standalone subs (V21d-J8, V20-J8).

The 5.1 models (V51x-J6, V51-H6) are the cream of this crop here and include low-profile surround speakers in addition to 4.5-inch wireless subs. The $100 V20-J8, on the other hand, is the cost-conscious option. Bottoming out at just 70Hz, the stand-alone bar will struggle to produce the low-end rumble that many home theater enthusiasts seek, but it should still serve as a substantial (and affordable) upgrade to your TV’s sound.

V-series bars all feature optical, USB, and 3.5mm Aux inputs, along with one, ARC-enabled HDMI out connection. None of these bars, however, feature an HDMI input.

Well, that’s that. We’ll keep you updated with news and reviews in the days ahead and be sure to take a look at our Best Soundbars for 2021 guide if you’re in the market.

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