“Vizio’s SB36514-G6 is your one-way ticket to thrilling Dolby Atmos on a budget.”
- Slim-and-trim design
- Impressive Dolby Atmos performance
- Solid detail for the price
- Chromecast Wi-Fi streaming
- Multiple ways to adjust sound
- Bass can be flabby
- Setup and calibration take patience
It’s getting hard to hide from the wiles of Dolby Atmos. From 4K Blu-rays to Netflix, Amazon, and Disney’s new streamer, Disney+, Atmos is sneaking into every format. The only real barrier is the pricey hardware that makes Atmos sing.
That’s where Vizio’s growing fleet of Dolby Atmos soundbars like the SB36514-G6 come in.
After wowing the crowd with the $1,000 SB46514-F6 — which packs 5.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos power for hundreds less than most rivals — Vizio has unleashed multiple follow-ups in various sizes, all at lower price points. The SB36514-G6 shrinks the length of the flagship bar by a full 10 inches, but keeps all 5.1.4 channels, Chromecast streaming, and more for just $700.
There’s Atmos in there?
The SB36514-G6 arrives in a relatively compact L-shaped box that’s reminiscent of most two- or three-channel budget bars, and much smaller than the sarcophagus-sized boxes I’ve come to expect from other all-in-one Dolby Atmos setups.
Inside you’ll find a sleek-and-slim five-piece system outfitted in Vizio’s signature silver and black (shout-out to you Raiders fans). The 36-inch soundbar (which contributes to the convoluted name) packs three oval-shaped drivers on the front side, two passive radiators, and upfiring oval drivers toward the center.
The dual satellite speakers sport two drivers each, including their own upfiring drivers to complete the “.4” height channels that bounce sound off the ceiling for hemispheric immersion. The final piece of the puzzle, the aluminum-plated subwoofer, boasts a small-but-hefty 6-inch driver inside to belt out the bass.
While the satellite speakers must be connected with old-fashioned wiring to the subwoofer and mounted behind you, the system is easily among the most inconspicuous Atmos setups I’ve encountered, prompting guests to marvel at just how much sound can be coaxed out of such a compact setup. The aesthetic is more utility than sexy, to be sure, with only the silver-plated subwoofer really popping with any kind of stylistic flair.
Among the most inconspicuous Atmos setups I’ve encountered.
At the back of the bar are an ample collection of ports, including digital Optical connection, 3.5mm analog connection, Ethernet to go along with Wi-Fi connection, HDMI ARC for connection to your TV, and an HDMI input to connect a streaming box or other device directly. There’s also Bluetooth streaming, of course, though “casting” to the bar from Spotify or other apps using Google’s Chromecast technology offers the best sound quality.
Along with plenty of ways to play, the SB36514-G6 comes loaded with features — especially for its price point — many of which stem from Vizio’s Google partnership. The brand’s SmartCast system utilizes Google casting for Wi-Fi streaming, which also tacks on multiroom streaming with other Google Home speakers, as well as basic Google Assistant commands for the bar through said speakers. In other words, it pays to dive deeper into Google’s ecosystem here to get more bang for your buck.
When it comes to surround sound decoding, the SB36514-G6 has essentially the full Dolby suite, including Dolby Atmos (of course), as well as Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. DTS Digital Surround and the high-resolution DTS-HD Master Audio are also supported, but DTS:X, the brand’s Atmos rival, is not. As with the SB46514-F6, this means any DTS:X 3D surround tracks will need to be virtually rendered, but then again, we’ve been seeing so few DTS:X mixes outside of a few 4K Blu-rays that it shouldn’t matter much for most listeners.
On the video side, the SB36514-G6’s HDMI 2.0a input offers 4K HDR pass-through, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Old school interface (with a twist)
Those used to any of Vizio’s soundbars — including its midlevel and even entry-level bars — will be wholly familiar with the remote-based interface employed here. Essentially, the remote’s Casio-esque digital screen is the interface, requiring you to scroll through it from its small window for everything from EQ and sound modes to inputs and speaker adjustments, with only a column of white LEDs on the front of the bar as an onboard display.
It’s a system I’ve never loved, but one I’ve gotten used to over the years. Moreover, it’s easier to forgive the elementary setup compared to bars like Samsung’s pricey Q90R when viewed in the light of Vizio’s desire to deliver the most Atmos punch for your buck.
From the remote, you can alter almost everything, including adjustments for height speakers — something Vizio’s previous SB46514-F6 didn’t include — along with center, surround, and subwoofer levels, allowing you to customize the system for your room effectively. Still, it takes a fair bit more effort than systems with auto-calibration, like Sennheiser’s highfalutin Ambeo bar, and due to some bass balance issues (more on that below), I had to do a lot of fiddling to lock things in.
One interesting aspect of Vizio’s setup is the way Music, Movie, and Direct EQ modes work. The latter is the only way to get an unfettered sound signal, including stereo playback for music. In addition, any subwoofer, speaker, or bass/treble adjustments are exclusive to the mode you’re in. I ended up simply using Movie mode (with my own custom tweaks) for film and TV playback, and Direct mode for music playback.
Importantly, Vizio’s SmartCast app offers an additional means of adjusting sound and features, with a wide array of settings in the virtual remote pane. It’s a great supplement to the real remote, adding a modern upgrade to the aging interface. The app is also how you’ll set up the SB36514-G6 on your Wi-Fi network.
Getting the SB36514-G6 up and running is simple enough, if a bit laborious when it comes to running those long wires for the satellite speakers. They plug into the wireless sub, which theoretically limits its placement options in larger rooms, but there’s a ton of wire to work with and I simply placed the sub in the usual arrangement in my room. Just make sure you’ve matched the color-coded left and right inputs to the corresponding speakers, or you’ll need to start over.
Otherwise, connecting to the TV is an easy affair, with the included HDMI cable going from the bar’s HDMI ARC port to your TV’s corresponding ARC input. This is critical if you want to source Dolby Atmos from your TV directly, and it also allows you to use the TV’s remote to control the SB36514-G6’s volume and power (though you may need to turn on CEC in your TV’s settings). Otherwise, the optical input is your best backup option.
The system is a total ace with Atmos content.
The last piece of the puzzle, connecting over Wi-Fi via the SmartCast app, (predictably) gave me some trouble. It’s always something of a struggle getting third-party Google Home products to connect to Wi-Fi (or maybe it’s just me?), and I had to restart the app a couple times to get things working. Eventually things clicked, though, and I was able to use the app and stream via Spotify Connect with no issues.
There’s nothing like a sweet Dolby Atmos demo to knock someone off their feet, and a weekend full of houseguests gave me the opportunity to do just that. Lining up the library of specially tuned demos from two of Dolby’s latest demo discs had my guests absolutely stunned, enrapt in their first exposure to what Atmos can do. Like drug addicts looking for their fix, they repeatedly asked me to load the next scene to once again be engulfed in luscious Atmos sound.
When it comes to Atmos content, the SB36514-G6 is an ace.
In the Leaf demo, the bar pulls you blindly through the trees, and later spins the leaflet that breaks off the branch around you with impressive precision, while the subwoofer pulses the scene’s heartbeat effect throughout the room with booming pressure. The Amaze demo is similarly spectacular, as the insects at the beginning shimmer around you in whisper-close immersion, while the Rainstorm clip offers cascading showers from above and true-to-life thunder that rattles your chest with crackling force. And so on.
It’s that forceful subwoofer that occasionally gets in the way of an otherwise brilliant experience outside the Atmos clips. While the sub’s got the muscle, it doesn’t always have the tact to control it, sometimes sounding flabby and bloated when it should be tight and rigid. While that unrestrained punch generally does the trick in potent action scenes such as the introductory monster fight in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it sometimes comes in a bit hot, like an uninvited party guest who started celebrating too early.
That’s most evident in TV show content, particularly during musical interludes. In the thematic intros for shows like Parks and Recreation and The Office, the sub blasts out the room without warning, forcing you to scurry for the remote. In the Jessica Jones intro, the sub is simply out of step, altering the wonderful stand-up bass from taut and lively into a blurry, overblown mash. Overall, it takes some real balancing from genre to genre to keep the action hot and the subtler scenes cool.
You won’t experience these issues with Samsung’s high-end Atmos bars like the HW-K950 or the updated Q90R, which offer more detail, power, and most importantly, more control over the low frequencies. But those bars also retail at well over double the price of the SB36514-G6.
Otherwise, the SB36514-G6 is seriously impressive, offering a solid amount of detail from the front unit, with the bar only occasionally sounding as light in the upper midrange as it looks — usually when fed lighter mixes. It’s also relatively solid for music playback, as you can dial up the right settings for most genres in the Direct Mode and simply let the stereo sound pour out respectable detail for the money, and plenty of volume for larger rooms.
Frankly, it’s astonishing that you can get this kind of swirling cinematic sound from a bar of this price and stature. Vizio’s piecemeal system of swapping its basic, 36-inch bar into multiple Atmos iterations is one that seems to be paying off handsomely — both for Vizio and anyone who wants to add the sweet pulse of Atmos to their room while staying well below $1,000.
Vizio warranties its soundbars for one year after the date of purchase.
Vizio’s latest 5.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos soundbar delivers an impressive wealth of Atmos riches for your dollars in a slim-and-trim design, extending this exciting surround technology to just about any setup and any budget.
Is there a better alternative?
Not at this price. The bass response leaves something to be desired and you can get more detail and balance from similarly priced soundbars that employ virtual surround effects, but nothing I’ve encountered offers more Atmos thrills for less money.
If you want a bit more quality, power, and rigidity across the spectrum, and you’ve got some money to play with, Vizio’s $1,000 SB46514-F6 offers a higher-quality experience, including bigger, tighter bass. Outside Vizio, Samsung’s HW-N950, still my favorite overall Atmos bar, can be had at a bargain compared to its original price point.
Need more help buying a soundbar? Check out our favorite soundbars of 2019.
How long will it last?
The SB36514-G6 appears to be solidly built and is as future-proofed as you’d expect from a soundbar of this price and caliber. The only thing we’d want that isn’t here is eARC, something we’re starting to see on the latest, top-tier A/V gear.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re looking for thrilling Dolby Atmos sound on a budget, Vizio’s SB36514-G6 is the best $700 you can spend.
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