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When I purchased my new HDTV earlier this year I had no idea I would also be replacing my Vizio sound bar, too. After about four years my Vizio VSB210WS began shutting down for brief periods. The...
Expansive sound, simple design, incredible remote, and Bluetooth support
Availability is a bit scarce, no IR repeater
When I purchased my new HDTV earlier this year I had no idea I would also be replacing my Vizio sound bar, too. After about four years my Vizio VSB210WS began shutting down for brief periods. The LED lights indicated that it was due to a "thermal shutdown." The sound bar had been a great addition to my home entertainment system and I had gotten many hours of enjoyment out of it. Since purchasing my new TV I had been using the sound bar for all viewing, not just movies, since the speakers in my TV, the Panasonic TC-65PS64, were lackluster, making the audio sound flat and hollow. So I immediately started researching sound bars to find a replacement.
This year there are several good sound bars to choose from, and choosing one near the end of the year is a great time to shop, for many reasons. Not only can you get great holiday sale deals, but you also have the benefit of comparing professional reviews of the products, with many editors releasing their "Best Of" lists. Toping those lists are sound bars like the Sony HT-CT260 and HT-CT660, or the Pioneer SP-SB23W. Heck, Vizio also offers some other great, top-rated sound bars, including their 5.1 sound bar system, the Vizio S4251w-B4. According to some of those reviews, the (42-inch) Vizio S4221W-C4 is their favorite 2.1 sound bar this year, scoring particularly high with movies and TV content, but also doing pretty darn well for music. Based on those recommendations, and my satisfaction with the former Vizio, I jumped in.
Vizio is known for being efficient. That efficiency is evident in the packaging for many of their 2.1 sound bars this year. Rather than a long, rectangular box, you get a weirdly-shaped box with a long end slanted to a shorter one. It's obvious that the longer end houses the sound bar while the shorter end houses the taller subwoofer. This design allows Vizio to maximize the volume of items they can cram onto a pallet, reducing costs, and saving you money. Or, that's my theory at least. The box is easy to carry, as Vizio provides a makeshift handle. You may almost feel like you're carrying a guitar case. It's pretty cool, actually. And if you wonder how to get the items out of the box without totally decimating it, just visit Vizio's web site, where a video is presented on unpacking and setting up your sound bar. Little touches like this go a long way, and Vizio extends the thought, design, and simplicity to the product, as we'll see.
As with most sound bars, setup is pretty simple and quick. You connect the sound bar to your TV (or devices), plug in the power, power on the sub, and you're good to go. Some are a little more complicated, but in most situations you're up and running in ten minutes or less. The Vizio is no exception. After unboxing you can choose to "figure it out" or go through the quick setup instructions included in the box. Vizio also includes an optical audio (TOSLINK) in the box. The sound bar has analog connections (RCA, 3.5mm to RCA cable, and coaxial audio) as well, with coaxial and a 3.5mm to RCA cable included in the box. There is no HDMI on the Vizio S4221W-C4, however. If your TV supports digital optical audio, then you can use the optical audio and use the TV to switch the audio, which I find more convenient. The subwoofer is linked to the sound bar at the factory, so just plug in the units and you're done. The subwoofer has a power switch as well, so be sure it is on. The Vizio S4221W-C4 supports Dolby Digital and DTS formats, so you may want to setup your equipment to output to those formats, if supported. If the sound bar detects one of those formats, an LED on the bottom of the sound bar will briefly illuminate to indicate it has detected the format.
The design of the Vizio S4221W-C4 is rather simple, matching the styling of the new M Series TVs they released this year. The sound bar is black, having fabric material covering the sound bar and meeting up with a glossy black base trimmed with a bit of silver or aluminum that has the Vizio badge on the right. There are LEDs on the bottom left of the sound bar to indicate levels, and when in use there is one LED illuminated. On my former Vizio the LEDs would turn off seconds after making an adjustment to the settings or volume and I kind of wish they had done that here, but it's not a bother. If the sound bar goes into standby mode the LED is dimmer. There is no LED display on the bar itself. Instead, you use the LED display on the remote to adjust settings, which we'll cover shortly. The subwoofer is a taller, rectangular box, fabric covering on one side with the same glossy black base. It is nice and slim rather than boxy, so you can place it easily around the room, and it's wireless (yes, you still have to plug it into a power outlet).
One of the most praised features of the Vizio sound bar is the included remote. Besides being a good weight, feeling comfortable in the hand, and having a good key layout you can navigate by feel, it includes an LED on the remote itself; no more squinting across the room to see what setting you're adjusting. This makes changing settings a breeze. You can adjust treble, base, dialogue volume, subwoofer volume, setup Bluetooth pairing, etc. using the remote. Paring the sound bar with my iPhone 4S was easy. Programming my TV's remote to control the sound bar volume up/down and mute was also quick and easy too; I was surprised at how quickly the code was found pairing the system (perhaps a perk of having a newer TV). There is also a nighttime mode that will lower the subwoofer and audio levels to some degree, although I haven't tried it. The sound bar also supports DTS TruSurround and TruVolume. The former creates a wider field of sound and the latter will try to level out the volume so that loud commercials and other content don't jolt you out of your chair. In my testing I found that TruVolume enabled might be adjusting the level too frequently, so I leave it off, which seems to lower the volume of the sound bar a bit.
Performance is admirable. I am not the biggest audiophile, so I can't get into the fine details of how it sounds. But as a layman, I find that the dialogue is clear and seemingly natural. At times it sounds a bit hollow, but I probably need to make a few more adjustments. In certain content, particularly with local TV stations, news broadcasts, for example, I'll notice variances and some hollowness to the sound, but that's probably due to the feed being received. Sound on Blu-rays, DVDs, and via Bluetooth streaming were impressive. Of all things, we watched Mars Needs Moms on Blu-ray and the audio was incredible. When ships were launching the subwoofer performed incredibly well, rumbling the room as if we were near the ship. Gun fire and other effects came through with punch and dialogue was clear. Never did I reach for the remote to adjust the volume to understand what was being said, which couldn't be said for the VSB210WS, which had no adjustments for anything but volume and subwoofer level.
The Vizio S4221W-C4 is a solid recommendation. It outperforms the speakers on many, if not all, HDTVs on the market. It has simple styling that looks good without standing out. It can sit on an entertainment cabinet, or you can wall mount it, which Vizio makes simpler by providing a template for marking the holes and providing attached mounting brackets, which some sound bars don't do. Vizio truly seems to have put a lot of thought into their sound bars. Getting one may be a bit difficult, however. It seems that Best Buy has an exclusive on the Vizio S4221W-C4, and some stores are running low on inventory at the time of this review. My local store was sold out. The 38-inch version is more widely available at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Amazon and other retailers, but it lacks the drivers to produce better sound and it also lacks some of the adjustments that can be made on the 42-inch version. Availability may improve after the holidays. Hopefully so, because the Vizio S4221W-C4 is one of the best budget sound bars this year.