Vizio VSB210WS High Definition Sound Bar Page 2

The product is “specifically architected for HD Audio sources,” notes the Reviewer’s Guide—mercilessly verbing the noun architect—so I picked three Blu-ray titles with lossless soundtracks and let the downmixing chips fall where they may.

I Saw You
Saw V (DTS-HD Master Audio) continues a long-running horror franchise that’s built on confinement, torture, squirting blood, endless moralizing, and hostile messages that are delivered to victims via the ultimate torture device, a 4:3 analog TV. As a pendulum blade slashes into the intestinal tract of a victim in the opening sequence, I could imagine my neighbors wondering, “What’s going on in there?” But the loud effects—especially the buzzing electric motors of the saw blades—gave me plenty of chances to toggle the TruVolume mode. It did indeed even out the volume level, generally by pushing quiet sounds up to a uniformly high level. However, subtle it was not. I could easily hear it pumping and making quick adjustments, especially to background sound. It seemed to be a better alternative to leave it off and set the master volume just high enough to catch the dialogue. The soundbar makes dialogue clear, especially in TruSurround mode.

Tommy Boy (Dolby TrueHD) showcases Saturday Night Live alumni Chris Farley and David Spade in a predictable but charming comedy that hinges on their usual personas and the late Farley’s considerable talent for physical comedy. In two scenes, he unexpectedly executes cartwheels. This time I played with TruSurround. Toggled on, it provided greater high-frequency extension. It also seemed to make the enclosure’s coloration less obvious, although it added a trace of hardness to the midrange. Toggled off, the mids got mellower, but they were also more plasticky. Occasionally, the soundtrack shot some rock or jazz through the soundbar. This was quite pleasant, although the lower octaves of the music called attention to the sub’s tonal character. The sub treated bass more proportionally than I’d expected. However, it didn’t have the dynamic tightness and pitch control that would mark a great sub. For the price, it performed well (and wirelessly).

Called upon to deliver a bravura performance in Drumline, the Vizio did not disappoint. In this story of a collegiate drum squad, told via DTS-HD Master Audio, percussion is everything. The system performed adequately in scenes that dramatize the struggles of the bass drummer. However, it really impressed me when it coordinated the midrange decay of dozens of snare drums into a coherent monster sound. I continued to toggle TruSurround and TruVolume and found the best results with the former on and the latter off. If I had to make a top-ten list of the most moving experiences I’ve had while auditioning movies for hardware reviews, this one would make the list. I’m not saying the plastic soundbar and its little sub delivered everything the soundtrack had to offer, but it delivered enough to keep me continuously riveted.

Tru Toggling
Since this product’s main application is movies, I’ll keep the music notes brief.

I quickly developed a preference for plain stereo in the Bill Evans Trio’s Portrait in Jazz (CD layer of a hybrid SACD). It was warmer, better focused, more natural, and it just plain felt better. This was especially true at higher volumes, although TruSurround was OK at background volume.

Moving on to the Vienna Philharmonic’s string sound, in its DG recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with Carlos Kleiber, I continued to toggle TruSurround on and off. With it on, the soundbar delivered more high-frequency emphasis—a lot more than a concert hall would, and that’s not necessarily good. With TruSurround off, the two channels coming out of the speaker emphasized the concert hall’s reflected sound, which better corresponded to my live listening experiences.

Angels & Cigarettes by Eliza Carthy places the musician’s excellent voice and violin in a mainstream pop setting that’s far removed from the folk tradition in which she grew up. Did I like the Pro Tools production better with or without TruSurround? Without. Definitely a trend.

The Vizio’s musical performance impressed me more than I expected it to. You might want to save that second analog input for a dongle to connect a music player or cell phone.

Tru Tones
It’s often interesting to see how soundbar speakers and other faux-surround products behave when you feed them test tones. I used two test discs, with TruSurround on and TruVolume off.

I started with the Blu-ray edition of Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics. It has an interesting set of 7.1-channel pink noise tones that sound not only in each channel, but also between the channels. The surround channels broke free of the soundbar, but only by a few inches. This reinforced my movie-listening impression that the surrounds had little presence. Most interesting were the front-channel in-between tones, center-left and center-right. The pink noise took on a dramatically different coloration. It resembled air being blown hard through a thin plastic tube—or a flutist having a really bad day.

The Avia Guide to Home Theater DVD contains a simpler set of 5.1-channel tones that are accompanied by vocal channel identifications. There was little change in pitch emphasis among the tones, which indicated that the soundbar was maintaining a fairly uniform frequency response among the channels. In the simultaneous vocal IDs, the front left, center, and right channels were well focused, and there was virtually no objectionable coloration to the voice. However, there was also little variation in the directionality of the voice as it moved from front to rear. The rear version was just a little lower in level and slightly less focused.

Vizio’s VSB210WS High Definition Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer, to give its full name, does a great job by budget-product standards. Not all soundbars perform the same—there are some that cost four figures and deliver better surround-like effects. But if you want to spend $350 to improve over built-in TV speakers and you don’t want to buy an A/V receiver, this soundbar and sub combo gets a lot of mileage out of that modest investment. It may be the ideal solution for a bedroom—or a bunch of bedrooms.

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