Vizio 5.1 Soundbar: Best Bang For Your Audio Buck?


Since dismantling our projector-based home theater in 2005 and embracing something of a nomadic lifestyle, we’ve been sadly lacking in the surround sound department. But, having recently purchased a new home (and new television), we’re finally ready to get a bit more serious with our audio. Yet, I wasn’t motivated to recreate the elaborate config we once sported and have been fixated on soundbar-esque solutions — improved acoustics over the TV’s speakers, yet minimal clutter without fishing wires through the walls.

Of CNET’s top 2013 pics, I went with the (horribly named) Vizio S4251w-B4 for several reasons. vizio-remoteFirst, and perhaps surprisingly, the Vizio is much less gaudy than the octagonal Sony ($300) – and way more tasteful than my other Vizio hardware, with a matte finish and no glowing logos. But the biggest selling point is true 5.1 sound via the bundled rear speakers… which necessitated the purchase of these speaker stands. The soundbar array communicates wirelessly with the subwoofer, which in turn powers the rears with RCA cables. So, while there’s no wires crossing the family room, we wouldn’t call this a true “wireless” solution. However, to my untrained ears, it’s a highly effective compromise – all-encompassing surround sound, limited hardware footprint and minimal exposed wiring (which I obviously still need to tidy up).


Now, on to the downsides… There seem to be fewer budget audio solutions in 2013 that utilize HDMI ARC, turning a soundbar into a switch of sorts. Heck, even the $700 Sonos Playbar features a single optical input, and the Vizio is similarly constrained. While you could theoretically run all your devices through a HDTV, very few output 5.1 over optical – meaning the surround sound would be simulated. To pass the signal untouched, I have my TiVo Premiere XL4 piping audio straight into the Vizio for 5.1 sound when watching television, renting Amazon VOD, and streaming Netflix. And I’m contemplating a manual Monoprice optical switch to expand the Vizio’s capabilities.

Another potential pitfall is the size of the soundbar coupled with Vizio’s decision to exclude an IR repeater. If you’re in the market for this sort of device, be aware that the height of the speaker could obstruct your television’s IR receiver. Our HDTV sits fairly low and I’ve positioned the front bar a few inches forward to maintain the ability to remotely power cycle the set. On the topic of remotes, Vizio kindly includes one with a display and the soundbar possess the ability to ‘learn’ your television’s volume controls to limit clicker clutter.


The 5.1 Vizio Soundbar retails for $330 which represents a pretty solid value compared to the competition. But we picked it up for an even more compelling $280 at Costco. And, then a week later to honor the promo pictured above, they credited us $50 – bringing the soundbar down to an insane $230. There’s probably no cheaper nor more effective way to land pleasing 5.1 sound. Perhaps we need a second for the bedroom…

19 thoughts on “Vizio 5.1 Soundbar: Best Bang For Your Audio Buck?”

  1. Some additional notes… Vizio provided all sorts of cables, including optical and two power cables of differing lengths, and velcro cable ties. Also there were some basic wall mounting hardware and cutouts. More practically, for a 2013 audio solution, is in the inclusion of Bluetooth to stream smartphone (or whatever) audio as well. The single optical input and lack of HDMI is a real bummer and I pulled this all together before HBO GO was announced for the Apple TV. Hm.

  2. I don’t understand why these “wireless” solutions continue to be hamstrung by audio wires whatsoever.

    Why is there only one Sonos out there, and why haven’t speaker manufacturers embraced new technology more?

  3. Brian,

    What on earth does the Sonos have to do with this soundbar or any wireless surround technology? I’ll answer that for you – nothing. Could you be more obvious about working at Sonos and trying to make a plug? I am all for wireless competition, but until a realistic competitor comes out at this price, this Vizio will earn my business.

  4. Whoa, easy there Jeremiah. Nothing indicates Brian works for Sonos, he’s previously contributed comments, and his observation is indeed valid. Whereas your comment appears to be the driveby and originates from Irvine, CA…. home of Vizio’s US headquarters. Quite the coincidence. Regardless of allegiances, disclosed or otherwise, personal attacks are unwelcome here and the conversation needs to remain topical.

  5. I desire the Sonos Playbar, but $700 for the bar + $700 for the sub is maybe too rich for me. How does the Vizio sound compare to the Sonos. Do you think the Vizio is a near match for just listening to music?


  6. Yeah, the Playbar + Sub runs more than I am willing to spend as well – although I assume it has excellent acoustics to match the Sub’s beauty. The prime Vizio benefits are the inclusion of the rears, which very few “soundbar” solutions offer, and the low cost. I haven’t yet streamed music through the Vizio, but I can compare it to my Play:3s. Then again, as I mentioned above, my untrained ears probably wouldn’t provide the best analysis.

  7. Sounds like a nice soundbar solution.

    I’m wishing for something along the lines of in-wall Airplay/Bluetooth speakers that only need to be connected to a power source.

  8. I own the Sonos Soundbar and Sub setup for my main TV’s audio. I couldn’t be happier with it and in regards to @Jeremiah – I would happily pay the same amount again over ANY audio product in the Vizio line up, so I would agree that @Brian’s comment was very relevant.

  9. But does Vizio Sound Bar handle the modern codecs or only the legacy ones? I got my open box Sony 2.1 Speaker bar from BestBuy for less than this and it handles 7.1 PCM as well as the advanced audio Codecs. I wish these manufactures would come out with products that could handle more than the same audio codecs I was listening to fifteen years ago.

  10. For $229, I picked up the Vizio last night. I’ll hook it and report back in the next week.

    Funny thing, is Amazon is now offering this item for $228 to Prime members. This must be some new thing that Amazon is going to beat the Costco deals. I still bought from Costco to make returns easier, just in case.

  11. CY, Amazon needs to do something to keep Prime members happy (and enrolled)… all these “add-on” items that don’t ship free and overnight shipping is no longer a flat rate, but a sliding, undocumented fee has made the service less appealing. Not to mention LaserShip can never find the front door and leaves packages exposed in the driveway. I don’t plan on renewing, after like 7 years, in a few months. Maybe if Amazon Instant free/Prime streaming comes to TiVo and my Android devices. Maybe.

    Aarron, Vizio market probably doesn’t demand uber high end codecs and lists support for Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround, DTS TruVolume, DTS Circle Surround – which works for me.

  12. C|Net lists 13 soundbars in their “best” category? Really? How many soundbars are there that aren’t on this list (well, my Boston Acoustics TVEEM20B one for starters…). I understand how there are some different categories here… with/without rears, compatible with Sonos, etc, but 13 of them are different enough and essentially none of them are “better” than one of the others in the list in a categorical way? Seriously?

    Anyway, yes I had the exact problem you mention with mine–was too tall for the stand that came with my TV. In my case I mounted it ABOVE my TV, which looks a little odd I have to say, using these brackets:

    Works fine. I couldn’t use one that required its own remote though. Does the Vizio turn on/off without using its own remote? The BA goes into low power mode automatically and turns on when it senses energy on the input. Don’t know if everybody in the field does this stuff now.

  13. Glenn, there was another article that mentioned the Vizio, Sony, and Sharp as the best 2013 models. Regarding powering the Vizio on/off, I’m using my TiVo Glo remote to control it as a AV receiver and send two power off commands (tv + soundbar). With the native Vizio learning command, I think I was only able to adjust volume up/down.

  14. Off topic but hey… the real threat to cable TV MSO’s is OTA not OTT:

    In TWO years 5% of the US population switched to OTA reception. That’s an absolutely crazy increase, far bigger than the erosion we’re seeing due to OTT. Looks like the runaway increases in cable TV prices have started to outpace the available money for an ever-increasing chunk of the US population.

  15. Just got the Vizio S4251w-B4 via the Amazon Prime offer ($228). I’m also coming from using the TV’s internal speakers so it’s not a big surprise that it sounds much better. Not having to worry about the wires from the front of the room to the back of the room was a big plus. The wires from the sub to the satellite speakers are pretty much hidden behind the couch. I may end up with those same Sanus speaker stands you mentioned. I’ll bet my wife and kids will be looking over the shoulders during movies for a while wondering what that noise is!

    You mentioned in one of the comments that you are using the TiVo Glo remote to control the soundbar as an AV receiver and send two power off commands – I’ve got the same setup – what 4-digit code did you use to set that up? I tried all the codes I could find and couldn’t get it to work. Of course, it was pretty late & there’s always a chance I was doing something wrong – I’ll try again tomorrow.

  16. Hi Dave – how do these soundbars released by the TV producing companies compare to similar products built by dedicated sound companies like klipsch, JBL, or Yamaha, for example? The Yamaha NS-SP1800 seems comparable and his half the price on Amazon. The other issue with the Vizio soundbar is that they don’t specify the nominal operating power, which is arguable the most important spec for a set of speakers (how loud can they get). The frequencies look decent, at least. Is there any reason to go with the TV branded sound system over other speakers? I’m curious what you think about that – maybe they have something that I’m overlooking. -Pete

  17. Are you still running this with the monoprice optical switch?

    I just picked this up cheaply at costco. Right now, we have a older (2007) Samsung TV LN-T5271F, roku 3, fios cable box and popcorn hour c-200 (PCH). So I guess I am short inputs. I’m currently doing cable box -> coaxial digitial -> soundbar, roku 3–> TV –> optical –> soundbar and PCH –> optical –> soundbar . I have to manually switch the optical.

    (TV doesn’t pass through surround sound and the roku 3 surrond on netflix is DD+ anyway).

    Any advice on how to do this without a manual optical switch? Are there Coaxial digital switches, I couldn’t find one? Perhaps, I should get a new TV which passes through the surround sound to optical or just use the RCA audio out from the TV)

    Also, anyway to get 5.1 out of netflix on a Roku 3 out of this thing?

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