Vizio SB4021M-A1 Home Theater Soundbar review

The Vizio SB4021M-A1 looks good and offers some rumble, but the soundbar itself just doesn't hold up very well playing anything that's not entirely bass.

Soundbars with wireless subwoofers can certainly sound impressive, because that big 15-pound block you keep next to your couch can make the room shake without much effort. Because of this, when shopping for a system, it’s easy to ignore the soundbar speaker itself, which gives you all of the audio above approximately 100Hz. Dialog, music, sound effects, and anything that isn’t completely bass-driven suffers if the soundbar doesn’t do its job. Unfortunately, the Vizio SB402M-A1 is proof of that. Its subwoofer is capable and its $229.99 (direct) price tag is right, but the soundbar just doesn’t have enough depth or power to give the midrange and treble response enough impact.

Design
The soundbar itself is 40.1 inches wide and 4.1 inches high on its removable silver-colored feet, and measures only 2.1 inches deep. It weighs a svelte 4.8 pounds, and can easily be placed in front of your TV or mounted on a wall. The front is covered with a cloth grille interrupted in the middle by a glossy plastic rectangle with a silver Vizio logo and a blue LCD display. The ends are capped with silver-colored trim that give the soundbar a slightly more distinguished look. The top of the soundbar holds Power, Input, and Volume Up/Down buttons flush against a glossy plastic shell. The back holds the power port facing outward and a USB port, analog input, coaxial input, and optical input set facing right or down inside recessed areas, which are designed to make the ports accessible when the soundbar is mounted on a wall.

The wireless subwoofer is nondescript and black, measuring 12.8 by 8.5 by 11.3 inches (HWD) and weighing 10.9 pounds. The front, top, and back are black plastic, while the sides are covered in cloth grilles. A side-firing port sits on the back. It comes pre-paired with the soundbar, so all you have to do is plug it in, make sure it’s within about 30 feet of the soundbar, and enjoy the bass.

The remote is large, chunky, and simple, measuring 4.4 inches long and 0.6 inches thick. It holds Power, Input, Mute, and Menu buttons, plus a direction pad that doubles as playback and volume control. The remote isn’t backlit, but it’s easy enough to use blindly.

Performance
Speakers need room in the cabinet to resonate, and while the big, chunky subwoofer has plenty of space for bass, the soundbar is too thin to produce satisfying midrange. Rage Against The Machine’s “Guerilla Radio” sounded notably tinny, with the richer drumbeats and guitar lines sounding hollow and jangly. The subwoofer produced decent deep bass, but when the bass crept over the crossover and requires the soundbar’s drivers, it lost a lot of its weight.

The tinny trebles and mediocre midrange was apparent in Tron: Legacy, where the sweeping, alien soundtrack of Daft Punk had plenty of force thanks to the subwoofer. But dialog sounded comparatively fuzzy, and crashing and shattering sound effects lacked much texture. Anything that wasn’t deep bass had a distinct lack of warmth, and the soundbar sounded decidedly inferior on all fronts compared to the Sony HT-CT260 soundbar.

The Vizio SB4021M-A1 is an affordable sidebar with a nice design, but it doesn’t fare particularly well with audio performance. If you can spend a little more, the Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260 offers much better midrange and treble response, and features built-in Bluetooth to boot.

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Specifications
Channels 2.1
Wireless Remote Control Yes
Separate subwoofer Yes
AirPlay No
RF No
Type Home Theater, Soundbar
Physical Dock No
Bluetooth No

Verdict
The Vizio SB4021M-A1 looks good and offers some rumble, but the soundbar itself just doesn't hold up very well playing anything that's not entirely bass.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc