Soundbar Roundup: Vizio S4221w-C4
What’s a $250 soundbar doing in a test with models costing two times as much? Well, Vizio is currently number one in soundbar sales, so we thought we’d be remiss in excluding it. The S4221w-C4 is the most expensive of Vizio’s 2.1 soundbars. There’s also a 5.1 model, the $329 S4251w-B4, but we wanted to stick with 2.1 soundbars for this test.
The S4221w-C4 lacks HDMI input. But otherwise, it offers more inputs than most soundbars: RCA analog, 3.5mm analog, TosLink optical digital, coaxial digital, and a rear USB input. (The latter is marginally useful, though, because it plays only WAV files.)
The driver package ain’t bad, either: The 42.3-inch-long soundbar incorporates a 0.75-inch tweeter and two 3-inch woofers in each channel. The subwoofer has a 6-inch driver. Amplifier power is unspecified. The soundbar decodes Dolby Digital and DTS, and also includes DTS (formerly SRS) TruVolume volume leveler and TruSurround surround sound simulation.
Because the S4221w-C4 lacks HDMI, your TV remote can’t control the soundbar through an HDMI connection. However, the S4221w-C4 can learn commands from your TV remote, so your TV remote can control the soundbar along with the TV.
The buttons on the Vizio are mounted on the rear, where they’re almost impossible to see and difficult to use. But the remote is the best of any soundbar I’ve ever tested, with menus displayed right on the remote’s LCD. The display isn’t backlit, but it’s reflective enough that it can be seen in dim light. This is much easier than trying to figure out the arrays of flashing LEDs on the front of many soundbars.
Don’t pity poor Vizio for being unfairly thrown in with competitors costing twice as much. Geoff, Lauren, and I feel the S4221w-C4 can go up against any soundbar tested here—and in most cases, beat them.
You probably wouldn’t think of Vizio as the first brand you’d choose for a music system, but when I played Steely Dan’s “Aja” through the S4221w-C4, it sounded like a good small stereo system, not like a mass-market soundbar. I heard loads of detail and a wide, enveloping soundstage (even with TruSurround off), but the sound stayed smooth and natural. “Amazingly flat and spacious,” I noted when listening to a few favorite James Taylor cuts.
Geoff and Lauren also loved the spaciousness, although their 20-years-younger ears noted a slightly soft sound in the upper treble, making it sound “laid-back,” according to Geoff. Turning the treble up one notch helped a bit, but any more than that, and the sound got edgy.
With movies, the S4221w-C4 matches or beats any other soundbar tested here. It played quite loud: 98 dB average, 102 dB peak. Switching on TruSurround only slightly enhanced the soundstage but seemed to boost the treble a lot; we’d probably just leave it off because this bar doesn’t need more surround effect. I did notice that I often pushed the little subwoofer to its limit, with some audible distortion, but still, even at loud volumes, the sound never got thin.
We can’t think of any soundbar that’s a safer recommendation than the S4221w-C4. It has a big, enveloping, yet natural sound, it plays loud, it has a nice feature set, and it’s priced really, really low. What more can you ask?
Vizio S4221w-C4, left (purple) +3.45/–3.17 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz; –3 dB @ 150 Hz, –6 dB @ 124 Hz.
Subwoofer (blue) Normalized to level @ 80 Hz: lower –3 dB @ 43 Hz, –6 dB @ 39 Hz; upper –3 dB @ 97 Hz.—MJP