Vizio VSB210WS soundbar with wireless subwoofer

The Short Form
$350 / VIZIO.COM
Snapshot
Within its very modest means, Vizio's soundbar system offers surprisingly good sound quality
Plus
• Clean and clear sound • Sleek and trim styling • Convenient wireless subwoofer
Minus
• Confusing LED display • Limited amplifier power
Key Features
• Soundbar: two 3/4-in aluminum dome tweeters, four 3-in mid/bass drivers; 40 x 4 3/4 x 4 1/4 in; 9 lb • Subwoofer: 6 1/2-in woofer, 11 1/4 x 12 3/4 x 12 1/4 in ; 16 lb
Emerging seemingly out of nowhere, Vizio has managed to carve itself a healthy slice of the TV market. The company specializes in what I'd call the "budget" category (they might prefer to call it the "bang for the buck" category). Not surprisingly, the next target in its sights is the audio market. Case in point: Vizio's first soundbar, the VSB210WS. Soundbars are the perfect complement to a flat-panel TV : a no-fuss solution that antagonizes old-school audio purists, but offers potentially good performance for the rest of us. The question is, can a TV company also do sound right?

Setup

Vizio's system comprises two units - a soundbar and a wireless subwoofer - both clad in glossy black plastic. The soundbar itself is extremely trim with brushed-metal end caps, and I appreciated the metal feet that can be optionally flipped over and used for wall mounting. Each side of the bar holds two 3-inch drivers and a ¾-inch tweeter , which are powered by dual 15-watt amplifiers. Several control buttons are aligned across the bar's top . Around back you'll find two pairs of stereo analog inputs and one optical digital input, as well as two acoustic ports. A diminutive 9-button remote is included.

The subwoofer sports a front-firing 6 ½-inch driver . Around back are an acoustic port and a button labeled "Link" that enables a 2.4 GHz wireless connection to the soundbar. Vizio claims a 60-ft range (with clear line of sight).

Setup was easy. I first tossed the soundbar on a shelf under my TV and connected it to my Blu-ray player via an optical cable, and my receiver via an analog stereo hookup. I next placed the subwoofer 20 feet from the bar, nestling its parabolic-shaped cabinet in a corner . Finally, I powered up the soundbar and subwoofer (both use external power-supply "bricks") and ran a quick procedure to wirelessly sync the bar up with the sub.

Operation was equally easy. It took only a moment to dial in the subwoofer level (conveniently, this adjustment is independent from master volume on the system's remote control). The bar offers SRS TruVolume for volume stability when channel surfing, and SRS TruSurround HD for virtual surround sound. I wasn't at all impressed by a series of multicolor LED indicators that flashed furiously (and confusingly) from behind the grille to indicate various operational modes. I gladly would have paid the extra 5 bucks for an alphanumeric LCD.

Music & Movie Performance

Romping through a wide variety of music ranging from J.S. Back to Beck and a good deal in between , I was suitably impressed. Actually, my expectations were exceeded. Vizio's soundbar is neither a revelation nor a miracle, but when played within the amplifiers' limits, it's a solid little system . Listening to On Every Street from the album of the same name, Mark Knopfler's characteristic vocals sounded clear and clean, as did his equally characteristic Stratocaster. Classical music, always tough to reproduce, fared a little less well, with strings lacking the lush warmth that a virtuoso, as evidenced in Anne-Sophie Mutter Plays Mendelssohn, can impart.

I was equally happy with the Vizio's performance on movie soundtrack s. Big-ticket films like Body of Lies did not faze the soundbar. Dialog was crisp and intelligible even during scenes of mayhem, the score was well reproduced, and effects had plenty of punch. Of course, with no rear channels, a soundbar system cannot provide a full sense of immersion, but SRS TruSurround HD did introduce some extra ambience into the sound field and widen its panorama.

Small subs generally lead a stressful existence, but Vizio's actually showed some spunk. It lacks a bottom octave, but upper bass was reasonably musical at low and medium listening levels . However, distortion was evident when I cranked things up. The system didn't provide any chest massages during movie action sequences, but explosions and weapons fire packed sufficient kick to get the point across. And the sub's wireless link to the soundbar worked flawlessly during my time with it.

Bottom Line

You need to stretch your dollars in today's tough times, and soundbars offer an ideal opportunity to do just that. As long as you don't miss the full immersion you'd get from a 5.1 speaker system, for a given price they can provide better sound quality than a mess of tiny individual speakers . Throw in the sleek, unobtrusive look and you have a real deal. Speaking of deals, this little Vizio soundbar is a good one. For all the big audio/video companies that have lost TV market share to Vizio, here is something else to worry about. Like I said, times are tough - for everyone.

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