Best soundbar under $200: Despite its ridiculous name, I was incredibly excited about the Vizio SB3621n-E8 ($ 180 best buy) soundbar when it came out in 2017. It was a great sounding and affordable soundbar and has remained my favorite value for the past three years. The Vizio V21 reviewed here is its natural successor and enjoys several updates and a more straightforward name. The new bar adds HDMI, changes cosmetics and includes an intriguing smart speaker connection.
- Excellent home cinema audio on a tight budget
- DTS Virtual: X improves immersion
- Versatile connectivity, with HDMI ARC
I do not like
- The subwoofer is small and not very articulate
- Voice assistant connection not very useful
- Input color codes are not available in the user manual, only on the remote control back.
The sound quality is natural and unhurried as before, but the competition is much more challenging these days. Polk and Yamaha have been on Vizio’s heels for several years, and models like the newoffer even better sound for a little more money.
If you want to upgrade your TV sound for less than $ 200, the Vizio V21 should be among your top picks, and it will play music excellently too. It’s not as surprising or inspiring as the original SB3621, but that’s okay. The V21 stands out on its own as a reliable speaker at excellent value.
Vizio V21 doors, features, and remote control
The top panel. Ty Pendlebury / CNET
The soundbars are mostly black spots, heard and unseen, and the V21 follows the industry model to the letter: basic black with a mesh cover and a slightly textured plastic top. The top also offers several controls, including input selection, Bluetooth, and volume control.
Although the soundbar’s length is no longer in the name, as with the SB3621 (S.ound B.ar, 36 inches, 2.1 channel … got it?), the Vizio V21 is also 36 inches long. That name still holds a lame Easter egg, however, because it’s a 2.1 channel soundbar.
The wireless subwoofer with the system is an approximately 8-inch cube – now black instead of silver – and features a down-firing driver and rear port.
The LED now changes color based on the input. Ty Pendlebury / CNET
After years of complaining (at least on my part), Vizio has updated the soundbar’s LED display. Instead of a mysterious series of white dots, the display can change color according to the input and indicate the volume level as it rises vertically. It is perfectly usable, although a traditional alphanumeric display would be even more transparent.
The most notable addition is thedoor. This connector allows you to plug a cable directly into the ARC port on the back of your TV, and it’s best if you only use the streaming features built into the TV itself or the TV to switch between inputs. If you have a more complicated system, such as an , you can use the optical connection of the bar. Other options include Bluetooth, USB, a 3.5mm analog input, and another brand new 3.5mm connection for your “voice assistant speaker” (read: Amazon Echo Dot ($ 50 on Amazon)).
Ty Pendlebury / CNET
The idea behind the “VA” (voice activation) input is quite noble. You plug your smart speaker into this port and the soundbar automatically switches to the input when it hears a command. But if partnered with an I found that the Echo’s audio output was either silent (when using optics) or stayed on the VA input (when using Bluetooth). In the latter case, I had to use the remote to switch back to another source manually.
I’m sure Vizio is looking to please people who want to use their Dot as a music source or podcast and take advantage of the superior sound of the V21. But every time the Vizio walked past the smart speaker input, I had to turn the volume up to maximum, even with the Echo’s volume at maximum. In the long run, I’d instead use a separate smart speaker from my soundbar.
Ty Pendlebury / CNET
That remote is functional and relatively easy to use. However, it would help if you remembered to use the up and down buttons to control the secondary volume instead of the more natural volume keys. Also, don’t miss it, as the speaker’s color-coded inputs are printed on the back and aren’t mentioned in the documentation.
How does the Vizio V21 sound?
Due to the need to test at home, I don’t have a Vizio SB3621 for direct comparisons, but the V21 is just as unbiased as I remember it was in the previous model. Instead, I compared the new $ 180 Vizio to a couple of other 2020 models, the $ 250 Polk Signa S3 and the $ 300 JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass, but of course, the significant price differences are worth keeping in mind.
Compared to these two products, Vizio’s secret weapon is compatible with DTS Virtual: X. First, the feature allows simple soundbars like the V21 to emulate a surround system and works very well. Unfortunately, JBL and Polk don’t have this add-on and therefore haven’t offered the same level of immersion.
While the JBL Deep bass’s more giant sub 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 bullets darted towards me, and the ratatat preceding “Freeze!” was more pronounced on the Vizio than on the Polk or JBL.
However, the more extensive subtitles of the Polk and the JBL helped to convey the gunfight’s impact better. Thanks partly to the more giant, more articulate submarine, the Polk offered an exciting and kinetic performance. The Vizio was overwhelmed by some of the low notes in the synth-bass score by comparison.
The Vizio’s expressive midrange made the film’s dialogue clear and balanced. During the Thanatos, they chase(at 26:53), streaming from Vizio sounded sonically fuller than the Polk, which was a bit hollow compared to a weaker and lower midrange. Polk’s bass control and sound mode adjustment didn’t support balance significantly.
JBL Deep Bass 2.1
The more expensive JBL Deep Bass 2.1 was the funniest in this scene. The giant submarine was able to capture more low-frequency effects – from the cushion of the Thanator’s footsteps to the gentle roar of the waterfall -, and the jungle felt 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. The smooth transition to the subwoofer made the acoustic music and male vocals sound natural, although the Polk was still slightly better. When Ben Harper played his creepy “Thing in Your Room” with his Widow of a Living Man melody, a couple of the lower guitar notes on the Vizio sounded in a way that sounded out of place.
There was a more significant distinction between guitar and vocals on the Vizio, but I couldn’t get the boom out even with the bass control turned down (there was a big jump between 0 and 1). The Polk was more enjoyable with the music, with better handling of dynamics and more powerful bass performance. It is the model to choose if you prefer music to movies.
Should you buy the Vizio V21?
There is no perfect soundbar – due to size and budget constraints, their engineers have to make several compromises. None of the three I’ve tried in this comparison can offer everything to everyone. The Vizio and the JBL tend towards home theater sound while the Polk’s main selling point is music. Overall, the Vizio offered better immersion than the others, and the Polk is the best compromise between the three models.
The Vizio is an excellent choice if you’re $ 200 or less, with powerful bass and an expressive mid-range. It’s a great follow-up to the SB3621 with HDMI built-in, especially a welcome feature. I can’t say yet how it will stack up with the best soundbars of the year, but there’s no denying that it’s already excellent value.