Vizio S5430w-C2 Soundbar

PRICE $300

Three-channel soundbar
Impressive soundstage width
Excellent price/performance ratio
May block your TV’s remote sensor
No supplied subwoofer

Vizio’s affordable S5430w-C2 sounds great with movies and music, and adding your own sub cranks it up a notch.

The sonics of soundbars have improved steadily over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that even the priciest flagship models were marginal performers, but Vizio’s affordably priced S5430w-C2 can provide a surprisingly satisfying home theater experience. That says a lot about Vizio’s commitment to push the limits of the category without straying too far from the entry-level price point. The all-plastic construction may be the most obvious price concession here, but since you’ll rarely touch the soundbar in use, I’d consider that a cost-effective design choice. Its understated appearance is easy on the eyes.

Measuring an impressive 54 inches wide, the S5430w-C2 was designed to aesthetically complement 60-inch or larger displays. One thing’s for sure: It’s a foot wider than many much more expensive soundbars, like the $1,299 Sony HT-ST7 or the $1,900 Yamaha YSP 4300. The Vizio’s generous span produces a remarkably spacious soundstage without resorting to spatial signal processing, which makes for a cleaner sound. The other noteworthy design plus for the S5430w-C2 is that it’s a three-channel soundbar, with integral left-, center-, and right-channel 3-inch speakers (two drivers each for the left and right channels, one driver for the center); a 4 x 3-inch woofer delivers the deeper tones (though no dedicated subwoofer is provided).

The feature set includes Bluetooth, Dolby Digital, and DTS processing. Connectivity options run to HDMI and HDMI ARC, USB, optical and coaxial digital inputs, RCA and 3.5mm stereo analog inputs, and an RCA subwoofer output jack. Tucked behind the left side of the soundbar you’ll find power, Bluetooth pairing, input selection, and volume up/down buttons.

I liked the remote’s minimalist button layout and its small, non-backlit LCD display that scrolls through a wide range of settings: volume, bass, treble, center-channel volume, subwoofer volume, surround levels, night mode, DTS TruSurround on/off, DTS TruVolume on/off, etc. You can program the soundbar to change volume and mute via your TV’s or cable box’s remote.

The Setup
I placed the S5430w-C2 in front of my Panasonic 50-inch plasma set, on the TV stand, and connected it to the HDMI output of my Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player. With the soundbar directly in front of the Panasonic’s IR sensor, the TV didn’t respond to commands when I was seated on my couch; I had to stand up and aim the TV’s remote directly at the sensor to turn the set on and off. I didn’t have to fuss with subwoofer pairing or speaker calibration requirements, so I had sound in less than two minutes.

Over the next few days, I got acquainted with the various sound-tuning options, and that’s when I ran up against one minor design quirk. The 12 tiny white LEDs on the lower side of the soundbar light up to indicate volume, bass, treble, surround, and subwoofer levels (as well as DTS TruVolume on/off, etc.) as you make adjustments. But seconds later, the LEDs dim; to confirm a setting, you need to re-enter the mode and make a change.

This skinny soundbar makes plenty of bass on its own. The sound was full enough that most S5430w-C2 owners won’t be tempted to buy a subwoofer. That said, I put my old PSB Alpha SubSonic 1 into service, and it definitely made a substantial difference. Its bona-fide deep bass and nimble definition easily trounce what you get from virtually all subs that are included with soundbars, including those that sell for double the price of the S5430w-C2 plus, say, a $319 Hsu STF-2 powered sub. So if you crave deep bass, adding a separately sold sub is the way to go. And thanks to the Vizio’s subwoofer output jack (and relatively low cost), that’s a plausible upgrade here. The majority of soundbars sold with wireless subwoofers have no sub output jack and can’t be upgraded for use with a different subwoofer.

Most soundbars aren’t physically broad enough to create a satisfyingly wide soundstage. Sure, they can use spatial processing to spread the image wider than the confines of the cabinet, but the 54-inch S5430w-C2 does wide naturally, by being wide. Turning on DTS TruSurround broadens the soundstage without obvious sacrifices in sound quality, but alas, genuine room-filling surround isn’t in the cards. Then again, few soundbars can do that. If surround is a priority for you, the $330 Vizio S4251W-B4 comes with separate surround speakers to help generate an enveloping experience.

The S5430w-C2 has onboard standard Dolby and DTS processors, so it decodes the extracted core from Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks—and it sounded perfectly fine doing so.

The Sound
The first movie I watched for this review was Berberian Sound Studio, a quirky but brilliant little film about Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a British sound mixer working for an Italian horror movie director in the 1970s. I loved the way the S5430w-C2 tracked the creepy sound mix and its constantly shifting perspective, involving the movie-within-the-movie’s actors recording sounds in a cramped booth, the same sounds played over studio monitors, and the actors’ voices in Berberian itself. The film’s beautifully crafted mix is taken from the perspective of Gilderoy, an aurally fixated man whose only real pleasure in life comes from manipulating sound. The Vizio didn’t miss a beat.

The train derailment scene in Super 8 on Blu-ray failed to undo the S5430w-C2’s composure. The sound remained clear, but the full power of the massive, crushing-metal onslaught was missing in action. Adding the PSB sub restored some of the low-end oomph; still, the soundbar’s 3-inch drivers weren’t up to the task of delivering the scene’s true impact. Then again, no soundbar I’ve heard can do that. If wide dynamic range and high-volume capability are what you crave, take the plunge and buy a dedicated 5.1 or 7.1 speaker/subwoofer system.

Once I returned to less strenuous fare, like the acoustic tunes on Neil Young’s 2000 concert DVD Red Rocks Live, the rich tone on “Harvest Moon” belied the soundbar’s svelte appearance. There was even a hint of soundstage depth and dimensionality. That sort of sonic sophistication isn’t always a given with soundbars, and it’s rarer still in budget-priced models like the Vizio. I turned up the heat with another concert DVD, Elvis Costello and the Imposters’ Live in Memphis. Costello’s in a small club in 2004, and the energy of the crowd is palpable, though I felt the drums and cymbals sounded a tad harsh. Lowering the treble helped remove the rough edges.

For a $300, one-piece, subwooferless soundbar system, the S5430w-C2 is as good as it gets. And that’s not meant as a knock. It wasn’t that long ago that you’d have to spend far more to get any soundbar that performs as well as this one does.

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