Vizio Elevate soundbar review: This Dolby Atmos speaker could start a revolution

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Soundbar capable of reproducing the atmospheric effects of Dolby Atmos the soundtracks have in circulation since 2016, but so far they haven’t been very innovative. To work well, Atmos devices need additional speakers to reproduce those height effects and are usually small static ceiling-facing drivers. The Vizio Elevate costs a pack but tries something radically new: motorized speakers that rise and rotate depending on whether you’re listening to compatible music or movie. The craziest part is that it actually works!

Like it

  • Motorized speakers work well.
  • Excellent sound for movies and music.
  • Many connections
  • Includes rear and wireless sub.

I do not like

  • It’s not as easy to use as the Sonos Arc
  • No support for Apple AirPlay
  • Slightly short surround cables

The Vizio Elevate is expensive for a soundbar, but Atmos bars in general have always had a trend towards the high end. The Samsung HW-Q950T comes close in terms of specs, but even that system costs $ 1,700. The Sonos Arc ($ 799 at Sonos, Inc.) it offers the simplicity of a single bar and includes a voice assistant, but it doesn’t sound as good as the Vizio. With its mobile speakers, the Vizio Elevate is truly its animal.

Newbies beware though: Vizio Elevate’s manual setup can be tricky and isn’t helped by the confusing remote. Some users may also find wired surround speakers annoying depending on where they choose to place the subwoofer – the cables are probably too short for large rooms.

The rotary speakers stink of makeup, but in practice they work well, adding oomph to the music and spaciousness to real Atmos soundtracks. If you don’t mind spending the money on a complete, great-sounding soundbar, the Vizio Elevate is a very serious contender. If Elevate is too rich for your blood, however, the Vizio SB36512 is the winner of our Editors’ Choice and a great alternative for less than half the price.

Build quality: a step above

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Vizio Elevate is a 5.1.4 soundbar that offers compatibility with both immersive standards: Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. In addition to the main speaker itself, Elevate’s setup includes rears, a large subwoofer, and a remote control. If you want to spruce up the Arco with a similar range of speakers, namely the Sonos Sub and two Symfonisk for the rear channels, it would cost about $ 1,700.

The Vizio Elevate may be a plastic soundbar at heart, but its design is … er … elevated. The main bar is sturdy and is available in a two-tone finish: part in thick vinyl and part in gunmetal aluminum. This is a large speaker that is 48 inches wide and 6.5 inches deep. The ends are covered in a matte black material, which makes the matte black controls difficult to see, but the raised buttons are actually easier to use by touch. The front of the soundbar includes a colorful LED that makes it relatively easy to tell which input you are in, as well as a white LED level meter.

The main speaker features 13 drivers, including a dedicated center channel and 5 tweeters in total. The swivel speakers are located at each end and rotate when the system detects a Dolby Atmos / DTS: X signal, revealing the Atmos logo on one side and DTS: X on the other.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The subwoofer is one of the largest I’ve ever seen on any system, measuring 11 inches wide by 14 inches deep and 16 inches high. The rear speakers have both forward and upward facing drivers and are connected to the subwoofer by a 30-foot cable (the connection between the soundbar and the sub is wireless). The cable was long enough to be draped behind my sofa and along the side of the living space to the subwoofer in the front, but length could be an issue for some installations.

Vizio claims the system is capable of 107 decibels, and I found it was quite noisy, so don’t worry about filling even the largest living spaces. Elevate includes a wall mount bracket in the box (BYO screws, however) and Vizio has designed the bar to mate perfectly with the Vizio OLED TV.

A mountain of features

Connectivity is excellent with two separate HDMI inputs, one of which supports eARC, as well as optical digital, 3.5mm analog audio and 3.5mm “voice assistant” input, USB and Bluetooth. Elevate connects to your network via Wi-Fi and supports Spotify Connect is Chromecast incorporated. Unlike the Arco, it is missing Apple AirPlay support but its physical connectivity is far better than Arc’s.

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The Elevate also lacks a built-in voice assistant, which is found on Arc and other soundbars, but I don’t see that as a major drawback. Using Alexa or the Google Assistant on a soundbar can be annoying as the volume mutes if you hear the wake word, meaning you may miss some of your schedule. If you want to use a voice assistant to listen to music via Elevate, it’s easy to set the soundbar as the default speaker for an inexpensive Google or Echo speaker nearby.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The remote resembles those supplied with the cheaper Vizio soundbars but differs in two important ways. There is an LCD on the top and four buttons that help with the installation at the bottom. Having both Effect and EQ options is a bit confusing because they perform very similar tasks and navigating the menus via the different buttons takes some getting used to.

Adjusting the subwoofer volume was easy enough with the Level button but not everything was intuitive, and you will need to know this to download the Vizio SmartCast app to complete, for example, the Wi-Fi setup. I also had some issues updating the firmware from the website, but Vizio told me it was because one of the files had an incorrect name and assured me it was now fixed.

In comparison, the Sonos Arc was a simple pleasure to use, install, and update, even though that speaker setup benefits the iPhone greatly. ($ 599 at Apple) users – Sonos’ TruPlay calibration app is not available on Android. I initially had some issues with Arc and these were solved using TruPlay (on an iPad ($ 300 domestically)).

Loud and powerful sound

Elevate costs double the current SB36512, but you can’t expect double the performance. I haven’t been able to test the two models side by side, but in my experience there are always diminishing returns when going from a great and cheap speaker to a much more expensive one.

For these tests, I compared Elevate side-by-side with the Sonos Arc, because the two are roughly the same price. The Vizio quickly established itself with authoritative sound quality on all types of material. Unlike the Arco, which performs better in home theater than music, the Elevate was equally capable with both, a rare feat among soundbars.

I started my tests with music, Radiohead’s My Iron Lung to be exact, and found that the Arco wasn’t as complete as the Vizio. The Arc played the song in a detached, slightly boxy and distant way. By playing around with the EQ I was able to improve the definition of the percussion, but Thom York still felt like he was phoning her. The Vizio was the opposite, lively and punchy thanks to that subwoofer. It wasn’t quite perfect, though, as I needed to cut the treble down a bit, but overall much more listenable.

I switched to something more ethereal with Dead Can Dance’s Yulunga (Spirit Dance), and the Arc improved a bit, with a freshness and presence in the stereo shaker eggs, for example, even though it wasn’t able to to dig deep on the larger drums. Vizio’s authority was evident from the first bars of the song. Lisa Gerrard’s voice hovered from the speakers and the string accompaniment was easier to hear. The diver was able to completely resonate the drum and gong sounds in my rehearsal room.

Then I moved on to movies and TV, starting with the infamous egg theft Chapter 10 of The Mandalorian. The episode features a chase scene through the clouds and an inevitable canyon run (it wouldn’t be Star Wars if you couldn’t flip your ship vertically or had to contend with guard rails on gang planks). During this scene the Arc was able to convey a real sense of height as the Razor Crest descended into the planet’s freezing atmosphere, chased by two X-wing fighters.

As adorable as the Arco sounded, it was the Vizio’s dedicated rear and subwoofer that really helped anchor the action. Elevate’s surround effects were much more precise, and the ship’s metallic thud as it glided across the frozen canyon floor sounded impactful and frightening. However, it did not have the same dizzying height as the Arch.

The sub and the rear again helped the Vizio convey a sense of space in my next test, Thanator’s chase scene from Avatar. Insects buzzed around the listening position, dialogue was clear and explosions explosive. In comparison with the Arco, it could occasionally send an insect-like click to my right that made me think the Elevate’s backs somehow still worked, but the sense of surround was far less palpable.

The revolution starts here

Will rotary and motorized speakers become a trend? Probably not. The Vizio Elevate’s up-firing speakers add some impact when in stereo mode it’s not really enough to justify a potential moving part down the road.

The Elevate may not be as easy to use as the Arco, but it has the best performance, and that’s what matters. The Vizio soundbar is also a better value, thanks to its improved connectivity and dedicated subs and rears. The Vizio SB36512 still offers the best value of any Atmos soundbar I’ve tested, but if you want an upgrade, the sleek Elevate is a more refined and home theater-ready speaker.

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