Sound controls

Vizio M-Series AiO soundbar review: Great sound for anything but Atmos

The 2000s were a crazy time, and especially for TV buyers – as screens became flatter, designs became more and more extravagant. Huge glass borders, physical depictions of sunsets and clouds, and other kinds of weirdness – something that culminated in the infamous LG TV with a hole in it. However, as television screen sizes increased, bezels shrank and designs became more conservative. It’s this conservatism that has rubbed off on the now ubiquitous TV partner, the soundbar. The current trend is towards something you don’t even notice – that “blends into the living space”. In real terms, this translates to: “a lot of black and gray”.

The Vizio M-series All-in-One matches the backrest in that it’s gray, and although it’s trapezoidal in shape, that detail is easy to miss. As with previous “Toblerone” soundbars the company has released, this model’s “dull” appearance belies its considerable audio chops.

As

  • Sounds great for its size and price
  • Excellent bass response
  • Also capable with music and movies
  • Two HDMI inputs provide flexibility

Do not like

  • Kind of ugly
  • No expandability
  • No Wi-Fi streaming
  • No real (or even fake) Dolby Atmos

Compared to other soundbars at the price, it might not have the best features – it lacks Wi-Fi music streaming, for example – but the Vizio offers a full and rich performance instead. Yes, it has Dolby Atmos functionality but it’s not capable of pitch effects, although that’s not surprising at this price.

If you don’t mind the lack of true Atmos performance – or its lackluster appearance – the Vizio M Series packs a lot of punch for the money, and it’s a perfect way to upgrade a budget TV for better music. and movies.

What’s in the box

The side controls

Ty Pendlebury/CBS

Dolby Atmos soundbars are a whole, and when they are well done they literally bring a new dimension to your films… and to the music too, why not? The M321 is a Dolby Atmos soundbar – it’s got the logo and all – but don’t read too much into it, as it’s strictly a 2.1-channel soundbar. The Vizio also features DTS:X decoding, as well as using DTS Virtual:X, and this is designed to simulate the sound coming around and above you.

Design-wise, the M213AD-K8 is 36 inches long, 2.13 inches tall, and 5.5 inches deep. Although it’s primarily designed to sit in front of your TV, it can also be placed on the wall (with two keyhole brackets) to point outward into your room. It features a plastic construction and features a gray fabric wrap on top. At one end, the bar features a set of controls, including power and input selection.

vizio on a table

Bluetooth input is naturally blue

Ty Pendlebury/CBS

The soundbar features a six-speaker complement that includes two woofers, two tweeters, and a pair of built-in 3-inch “subwoofers.” Unlike competitors Denon DHT-S217 or Sonos Ray, it is not possible to switch to more surround channels later. For example, there’s no subwoofer output, like on the Denon, so you can’t add a separate sub.

The front of the fabric-covered cabinet features a colored LED to indicate entry, as well as a series of white LEDs for volume. When switching inputs, a friendly male voice will read the name of the connection you are on. Unlike the extremely slow M-Elevate, I was relieved to find that the input changes instantly.

Under the M series

Two HDMI ports come standard

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The Vizio includes an HDMI plus HDMI eARC and optical audio input for hooking up your TV, two 3.5mm analog ports with one for a voice assistant like Amazon Echo Dot, and a USB port for playing WAVs from a stick. USB.

Finally, the remote offers volume control as well as two bands of EQ and an input selector. The back of the remote helpfully includes a color coded chart of the inputs.

Vizio Remote

The M-series AIO remote control

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

How does it sound?

We’ve heard of good implementations of Dolby Atmos without the need for dedicated height drivers – the Sonos Beam Gen 2 instantly springs to mind – but it’s really hard to discern a difference between 5.1 and immersive content on the Vizio. But for almost everything else, it’s great!

I compared the Vizio to two competing soundbars – the Denon DHT-S217 and the Sonos Ray – which are also single bars with “integrated” subwoofers.

I started my testing of these three products with The Matrix Lobby Stage, for its combination of fine detail, surround sound panning, and deep bass. It was in this scene that the Vizio showed its dominance over the Denon and, to a lesser extent, the Sonos. The Vizio featured a wider soundstage than the Denon and better sound effects separation. The film’s soundtrack is complex and dense, but the Vizio managed to separate the different types of gunfire from the falling cartridge cases and punchy bassline. While the Vizio arranged each element spatially across the soundstage, the Denon mixed it all together.

Meanwhile, while the much smaller Ray couldn’t compete with the others for bass, it was still able to push past the speaker’s limits for big sound similar to the Vizio.

Both the Denon DHT-S217 and the Vizio claim to be able to reproduce Dolby Atmos, so I used the opening scene of Mad Max Fury Road to test it. First of all, the Vizio’s resolution of the revolving, rotating Warner Brothers logo was the best of the three. Likewise, with the spectral voices that followed. The dialogue was rendered clearly and flowed through the room, although it should be noted that there was no hint of a height dimension. Everything was distributed horizontally.

The Denon, after disappointing with The Matrix, recovered ground with Mad Max. The soundstage widened, helped in part by the excellent sound mixing, and when a news anchor uttered the words “thermonuclear skirmish,” it had a pleasant otherworldly feel. Like the Vizio, the Denon was also able to deliver plenty of bass energy in this scene – from the firing of the Charger’s engine to the explosion that resulted in Max being captured by the War Boys.

Next, I turned on the Sonos Ray — and while it struggled the most with dynamics during this scene, Max’s dialogue had a rich, satisfying tone. The Ray doesn’t claim to be able to perform Atmos height effects – it’s not Dolby certified – and unsurprisingly, it isn’t.

Unfortunately, none of the compatible devices were able to convince me of the height dimension in this scene – showing that an Atmos checkbox is no performance indicator.

Although the Vizio isn’t able to stream over Wi-Fi, you can still use music apps on your TV or zap songs over Bluetooth. In the first case, it performed quite well against the Denon and the Ray. Although the one thing I’ve noticed is that the Vizio allows you to keep turning the volume up until it’s pushed well into the distortion, and this is especially noticeable with music. The Denon and Sonos, meanwhile, were noticeably capped before reaching that point.

In the Denon’s hands, the buzzing keyboards of Talking Heads’ Girlfriend is Better sounded like they came from way outside the cabinet. The song had a huge soundstage that the Vizio couldn’t replicate. I kept cranking up the Vizio and it got pretty fast, although the bass didn’t distort. Given that it was the smallest of the three, the Sonos still sounded tight on this song, and while it wasn’t capable of the bass extension of the other two, it was still relatively tight and didn’t distort. not at maximum volume.

Then, with Yulunga (Spirit Dance) by Dead Can Dance, I found this epic track to have pleasingly deep bass on the Vizio. However, he struggled to present the music with the broad perspective the material demanded. By comparison, the Denon was able to delineate the far left and right shakers while providing better overall clarity.

In summary, I found there wasn’t much to separate the Denon and the Vizio in particular, performance-wise, but the Vizio is ultimately cheaper and easier to use. The Sonos Ray, with its expandability and streaming chops, is for a different kind of user who values ​​music above all else. It may not have the bass response of others, but it’s a perfect package for a smaller TV/music streaming system.

Should I buy it?

Don’t let the Vizio M213AD-K8’s Dolby Atmos certification confuse you – it’s a stereo soundbar and as such it performs very well. It could very well lean towards music or movies, and it’s relatively affordable and easy to use.

The only real “problem” with the Vizio is that it’s pretty lousy, especially for the money. This gray fabric might be all the rage right now, but it’s really, really dull. Although some other soundbars, such as the Klipsch Cinema 400, offer a glimpse of a return to attractive design, most soundbars at this level are rather bland.

Overall, it’s great, if a bit flawed. If you want even better bang for your buck, you can try the cheaper Vizio V21, which offers a wireless subwoofer, making it even better for movies.