True surround sound is hard to get with a soundbar. You need not only a subwoofer, but a set of satellites to provide rear-channel audio. The Vizio S4251W-B4 offers just that, which looks great on paper. Unfortunately, even after you have those components, you still need to deliver quality sound. The $329.99 (direct) Vizio S4251W-B4 sounds decent and features Bluetooth, but when held against the Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260, the S4251W-B4′s soft midrange and flat high end are disappointing.
While Vizio has tried to bring its soundbar size down over the years, the S4251-B4 is still chunky and trapezoidal. It measures 3.2 inches deep, 3.7 inches high, and 42.3 inches wide, and weighs 16.1 pounds. The front is covered by a cloth grille broken up only by a small glossy black strip on the bottom, edged with a thin silver line. The black strip holds the soundbar’s limited display, a row of LED lights that indicate the soundbar’s volume level and whether it’s active. Power, Input, Bluetooth, and Volume Up/Down buttons sit tucked behind the left side of the soundbar. The back panel holds an RCA stereo audio input, a 3.5mm input, a coaxial input, and an optical input, along with a USB port for playing back .WAV files (and, strangely enough, only .WAV files; no .MP3, .AAC, or other support through the port) stored on a flash drive. The subwoofer measures 12.5 by 6.9 by 15.9 inches (HWD) and, strangely, weighs less than the soundbar itself at 9.8 pounds.
The S4251-B4′s remote is strange, especially compared with other soundbars’ remotes. It’s a 5.5-inch-long grey plastic rectangle with playback controls laid out in a large square like a navigation pad, flanked by Volume Up/Down and Mute buttons below and Input, Menu, and Power buttons above. A monochrome LCD display sits above all of the buttons, offering some information beyond the row of LEDs on the soundbar itself. However, the display seems largely superficial; it confirms you’re pressing the button you want to press and gives the illusion of feedback, but it’s still just beaming commands like a regular remote. I can make the remote seem like the soundbar is in Bluetooth pairing mode from across the lab; by pressing the correct button, the display says “Pairing,” and if it was pointed at the powered on soundbar it would be in pairing mode, but it’s just a readout that doesn’t actually indicate what the soundbar is doing. You’ll have to keep your eyes on the row of LEDs on the soundbar to make sure it’s doing what you want it to.
For music, the S4251-B4 puts plenty of oomph behind its audio, but it isn’t particularly crisp or warm. I streamed several songs from my iPad to the soundbar over Bluetooth, and in everything from The Knife’s “Silent Shout” to Jonathan Coulton’s “Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee),” the music sounded slightly muffled or buzzy. To its credit, I heard solid, distinct reproduction of midrange and only slightly bright high-end at times, but compared with the LG NB3730A, which I tested concurrently over Bluetooth with the S4251, it sounded vaguely like I was listening to FM radio. To its credit, the wireless subwoofer pumped out strong low end during “Silent Shout,” shaking the test room without distorting the individual notes.
Movies fare a bit better, but they still suffer from the lack of high end detail. I watched the tyrannosaurus scene in Jurassic Park 3D, and while the subwoofer made the room rumble with the dinosaur’s roar, the dialogue and the sound of rain on the roof of the jeep sounded flat and soft. The tiny satellites are so underpowered that I forgot they were even connected, especially against the subwoofer’s thunder. The rear channels sounded too quiet, even cranked up, compared with the soundbar and the subwoofer, and their tiny size doesn’t indicate they’re capable of putting out much sound at all against the other components. While the rear channels can technically produce a true surround sound effect, it’s still not very good, especially against nicer-sounding stereo soundbars like the LG NB3730A and the Sony HT-CT260. The soundbar itself isn’t wide enough to produce a compelling sound field on its own, and compared with the Sharp HT-SB60, which is built for 60-inch HDTVs, it doesn’t image directions very well even with the satellites.
The Vizio S4251W-B4 is a decent soundbar that offers genuine rear channels and Bluetooth support, but its style and sound quality don’t hold up against similar-priced soundbars that offer virtual surround sound. The Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260 costs slightly less and offers better sound quality in the midrange and high end, and the LG NB3730A adds loads of online services and apps to an already solid-sounding bar. If the rear channels provided a better surround image it might be a different story, but the S4251 just doesn’t justify its $330 price tag.
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
|Type||Home Theater, Wireless, Soundbar|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc