Vizio V21 review: Best soundbar under $200

Despite its ridiculous name, I was incredibly excited about the Vizio SB3621n-E8 ($ 180 at Best Buy) Soundbar when it came out in 2017. It was a great sounding, affordable soundbar and has remained my favorite for the past three years. The Vizio V21 reviewed here is its natural successor and has a number of improvements that go beyond a simpler name. The new bar adds HDMI, changes the cosmetics, and includes an intriguing smart speaker connection.

To like

  • Great home theater sound on a budget
  • DTS Virtual: X improves immersion
  • Versatile connectivity with HDMI ARC

I do not like it

  • The subwoofer is small and not very articulate
  • Voice assistant connection not super useful
  • Input color codes are not available in the user manual, only on the back of the remote control

The sound quality is as calm and natural as it was before, but the competition is much tougher these days. Polk and Yamaha have been hot on the heels of Vizio for several years and models like the new one Polk Signa S3 offer even better sound for a little more money.

If you’re looking to upgrade the sound of your TV for less than $ 200, the Vizio V21 should be one of your top options and play music the fine way. It’s not quite as surprising or stimulating as the original SB3621, but that’s fine. The V21 stands on its own as a reliable loudspeaker at an excellent price.

Vizio V21 Connections, Features and Remote Control

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The top field.

Ty Pendlebury / Tips Clear

Soundbars are mostly black blobs that are heard and not seen, and the V21 follows the industry template down to the letter: Basic Black with a mesh cover and a slightly textured plastic top. The top also offers a range of controls including input selection, bluetooth, and volume control.

Although the length of the soundbar is no longer in the name, as with the SB3621 (S.ound B.ar, 36 Inch, 2.1 Channel … understand?) The Vizio V21 is also 36 cm long. However, that name still has a lame Easter egg in it since it is a 2.1 channel soundbar.

The wireless subwoofer that came with the system is an approximately 8-inch cube – now black instead of silver – and has a firing driver and a rear connector.

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The LED now changes its color depending on the input.

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After years of complaints (at least from me), Vizio updated the LED display on the soundbar. Instead of an unfathomable row of white dots, the display can now change color according to the input and show the volume level by ascending vertically. It’s perfectly usable, although a traditional alphanumeric display would be even clearer.

The most notable addition is that HDMI ARC Port. This connector allows you to connect a cable directly to the ARC connector on the back of your TV. It is best to only use the streaming functions built into the TV or the TV to switch between the inputs. If you have a more complicated system, for example one external streameryou can use the optical connection of the bar. Other options are Bluetooth, USB, a 3.5 mm analog input and another brand new 3.5 mm connection for your “Voice Assistant Speaker” (see: Amazon Echo Dot) ($ 40 on Amazon)).

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Ty Pendlebury / Tips Clear

The idea behind the “VA” entrance (voice activated) is classy enough. You plug your smart speaker into this port and the soundbar automatically switches to input when it hears a command. But when with a partner Amazon Echo Flex I found that the echo audio output was either mute (if using optics) or stayed on the VA input (if using bluetooth). In the latter case, I had to use my remote to manually revert to another source.

I’m sure Vizio is trying to serve people who are using their Dot as a music or podcast source and want to take advantage of the V21’s superior sound. But every time the Vizio switched to the smart speaker input, I had to turn the volume up all the way – even with the echo at maximum volume. In the long run, I’d rather have a smart speaker that’s separate from my soundbar.

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Ty Pendlebury / Tips Clear

This remote is functional and relatively easy to use, although you need to remember to use the up and down buttons to control the sub volume instead of the more natural volume buttons. Don’t lose it either, as the speaker’s color-coded inputs are printed on the back and are not mentioned in the documentation.

How does the Vizio V21 sound?

Because of the need to test at home, I don’t have a Vizio SB3621 for head-to-head comparisons, but the V21 is just as balanced as I remember the previous model. Instead, I compared the new $ 180 Vizio to some other 2020 models, the $ 250 models Polk Signa S3 and the $ 300 JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass, but of course it’s worth taking into account the significant price differences.

Compared to these two products, the Vizio’s secret weapon is its compatibility with DTS Virtual: X. The feature first seen in Yamaha speakersallows humble sound bars like the V21 to emulate a surround system and it works very well. Unfortunately, JBL and Polk don’t have this add-on and therefore don’t offer the same level of immersion.

While the larger sub of the JBL Deep Bass offered the best bass articulation of the three, the JBL couldn’t beat the Vizio in Virtual: X mode for immersion, especially when it came to the lobby scene in The matrix. Bullets rushed towards me and them ratatatat that goes to the “Freeze!” of the soldier ahead. was more pronounced on the Vizio than on the Polk or the JBL.

However, the larger Polk and JBL submarines helped better convey the impact of the gunfight. The Polk offered exhilarating and kinetic performance, partly due to the larger and more precise submarine. The Vizio, by comparison, was overwhelmed by some low notes in the synth bass score.

The expressive midrange of the Vizio made the film dialogue sound clear and balanced. During the thanator hunt User picture (at 26:53), streaming from Disney PlusThe Vizio sounded richer than the Polk, which was a bit hollow compared to a weaker lower midrange. Adjusting the Polk’s bass controls and sound mode did not help balance in any meaningful way.

The most expensive JBL Deep Bass 2.1 was the most fun in this scene. The larger sub was able to capture more of the low-frequency effects – from the thanator’s footsteps to the soft roar of the waterfall – and the jungle sounded more alive with insects and running water.

With music, the Vizio didn’t sound as dynamic as the JBL or the Polk, but it still conveyed a real sense of stereo sound. Due to the smooth transfer to the subwoofer, acoustic music and especially male voices sounded natural, although the polk was a bit better. When Ben Harper did his creepy “In Your Room” thing on his Widow of a Living Man tune, some of the Vizio’s deepest guitar notes came out in ways that sounded out of place. There was a bigger difference between the guitar and the voice on the Vizio, but I couldn’t get the boom out even when the bass control was at its lowest (there was a big jump between 0 and 1). The Polk was more entertaining overall with music, with a better grip on dynamics and stronger bass performance. It’s the model to choose if you prefer music over movies.

Should You Buy the Vizio V21?

There’s no such thing as a perfect soundbar – due to size and budget constraints, engineers have to make a number of compromises. None of the three I tested in this comparison can offer everything to everyone. The Vizio and JBL tend towards home theater sound, while the Polk’s main strength is music. In general, the Vizio offered better immersion than the others and the Polk is the best compromise between the three models.

If you’re on $ 200 or less, the Vizio is a great choice with powerful bass and an expressive midrange. It’s a good continuation of the SB3621 with the HDMI built in, a welcome feature in particular. I can’t yet say how it will hold up against the best soundbars of the year, but there’s no denying that it’s already excellent value.

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