Pros: True 5.1 surround sound, easy setup, good bass, affordable price
Cons: Remote is unlit, firmware update necessary, slight issues with rear satellite speakers
Performance wise, it's one of the few sound bars that offers true surround sound at an affordable price (Between $300-$370 as of the time of this review). Luckily, I managed to buy mine during Black Friday.
The sound bar achieves true surround sound by including a wireless subwoofer and 2 wired rear speakers with the sound bar. The subwoofer and speakers are really their own mini system, as the subwoofer needs to be plugged into a wall and the speakers plug into the subwoofer. I found this setup actually makes it easier to hide or place around your furniture. Any piece of the system can be wall mounted.
The Vizio S4251W-B4 comes as a complete package, with wires and wall mounts included. Even the batteries for the remote are included. Here's a quick run-down on what’s in the box:
- 1 Sound Bar
- 1 Wireless Subwoofer
- 2 Wired Speakers
- Remote Control (with Batteries)
- RCA Cables
- RCA to 3.5mm Cable
- Digital Coaxial Cable
- Optical Digital Cable
- Wall Mounts and Hardware Accessories (Nuts, Bolts)
- Power Cables
I’ll leave the physical specs to other reviews, but I’ll say that the sound bar itself is about 42 inches long and about 4 inches tall.
Finally, and perhaps the biggest draw for me, is that my fiancée both loves the system aesthetic and finds it easy to use. While that may seem silly, having a device that makes the cut between "my stuff" and "our stuff" really helps come budget review time (I'm looking at you PS4!).
Setup’s Easy… Sort of
Setup is pretty standard plug and play:
- Connect power cables to the sound bar and subwoofer
- Attached rear satellite audio cables to the subwoofer and flip the power switch on the subwoofer.
- Media devices are connected directly to the HDTV
- Connect optical cable from the HDTV to the sound bar
I personally use my TV to switch among my different media devices (cable box, game console, laptop, etc), rather than run them through the sound bar.
Please note that by using this method, you may experience “simulated” surround sound due to your HDTV’s converting sound to stereo between devices. If you are an audiophile or you own a TV set with true DTS (like newer Sony/Toshiba models), you can get the true digital experience by directly connecting your media device to the sound bar.
The "sort of" comes in to play once you're all hooked up. You see, the speakers don't have an automatic calibration feature. This means you'll have to play with the individual sound levels (bass, treble, etc) to best fit your room and setup.
User Interface: Less is More
Design wise, I prefer the minimalist aesthetic of the Vizio S4251W-B4 to other systems that have big touch panels on their bars/speakers. The remote has the only display screen you'll need, and for quick volume reference you can use the little row of LED lights on the bottom left corner of the sound bar.
If I had any complaints, it would be that the remote's single line display is sometimes unintuitive and hard to read in the dark (but not enough to deter my tech-averse better half).
The Vizio S4251W-B4 sound bar also has basic controls on the back. The only button you’ll likely need back there is the one for pairing up your Bluetooth device to the speakers.
Also a “Dolby Digital” visual queue will light up for two seconds on the bottom left corner for the sound bar to let you know if the surround sound is in fact true digital and not “simulated”.
The Vizio S4251W-B4 has many great features shared with its more expensive competition, but I’ll try to touch upon ones I don’t frequently see in other reviews.
One such feature is the much welcomed “TruVolume” function, which equalizes the audio levels in a movie or game. Now you won’t have to fumble for the remote to turn down the volume when a murder scene’s music suddenly climaxes to 1,000,000,000% of the original volume and then back up afterwards to hear them talking – and your fiancée complaining about your terrible movie choice. Or maybe that’s just my house.
For those in an apartment or town house, the “Night Mode” lowers the bass levels for quieter gaming or movies. This can really help lower neighbor complaints, or if you have light sleepers in the house (cough).
As mentioned above, the speakers are Dolby/DTS compatible.
Also note that the speakers are capable of going up to 102dB.
Areas for Concern
Again, I’ll try to touch upon complaints I didn’t see in other reviews while researching my purchase.
To begin with, the remote control display is unlit. While still very functional, this makes it hard to read in dim lighting.
My unit constantly has a low static hissing from the rear speakers when the volume is low. You’ll have to put your ears close to even notice. However, this only impacts the rear speakers. The subwoofer and sound bar remain crystal clear. Please note that this issue may be unique to my set.
Lastly, there was an intermediate on/off volume issues that would occur when switching between different audio sources (which I knew about before my purchase through other reviews). Fortunately, this is easily fixed by uploading the speaker set with new firmware. Just download the new firmware onto a USB thumb drive and plug it into the sound bar to fix the problem.
Overall, a great sound bar system at a great price. This isn’t the “ultimate” sound system for hardcore audiophiles, but you'll be hard pressed to find anything better that doesn't run you into the $1,000+ range. It’s been a welcome addition to my modest home theatre system, and one that I definitely recommend to friends.