Last year, Vizio seriously impressed us with its Elevate, Atmos-enabled soundbar. So when the company announced its full lineup for 2021, we were excited to see what it had to offer. While the Vizio brand may conjure up images of affordable televisions, the company also has a strong foothold in the audio industry and has been particularly successful with soundbars.
So how will Vizio follow up on the innovative Elevate soundbar, which was rated 9 out of 10 in our test and challenged Sonos Arc for the title of best soundbar on the market? Let’s take a look at the entire 2021 lineup so you can see if any of these models deserve a spot under your TV.
The Elevate soundbar
The $ 1,000, 48-inch Elevate soundbar debuted in 2020 but is still the headliner of the 2021 franchise. The innovative design features mobile speaker boxes that rotate in real time and the direction they fire in depends entirely on the audio source. In short, this soundbar is designed to take full advantage of object-based surround sound technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS: X.
The accompanying wireless subwoofer is a bit of a monster, but that extra space is put to good use – it houses a huge 8-inch driver. The Sub can handle frequencies up to 30Hz and outperforms the rest of Vizio’s 2021 lineup in terms of rumble. The Elevate system comprises a total of four loudspeakers (bar, wireless subwoofer, two surround loudspeakers), 18 drivers in a 5.1.4 configuration and can turn up the volume to 107 dB.
Four of these 18 drivers are dedicated, upward-facing speakers that add to the truly impressive soundscape. HDMI 2.1. Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) connectivity also helps in this department by shuttling lossless audio back and forth between the TV and soundbar (more on that later), and the bar also has two separate HDMI 2.1 inputs.
Another cool perk is that Elevate (unlike the rest of the Vizio range of soundbars) is Wi-Fi enabled and supports Chromecast audio.
For 2021, all Vizio soundbars will be what the company calls “Voice Assistant-ready”. It’s a bit of a misnomer. None of the models can act as a smart speaker, nor can you control it through smart assistants like Alexa, Siri, etc. However, if you have a smart speaker like a Nest mini or Amazon Echo, you can get it over. connect to a Vizio soundbar via Bluetooth or the 3.5 mm aux socket. When you do this, the soundbars will detect when these wizards are active and reduce the sound from the soundbar for you to interact with.
Again, we were seriously impressed with Elevate when we took it out for a test run, so it deserves a long look if it falls within your budget.
If the $ 1,000 price of the Elevate is a little steep for you, but you want a little more performance than what you can find in Vizio’s budget-friendly V-Series offerings, this is where you should look. There are five M-series models in total, with the ($ 450) M512a-H6 and M512ax-J6 ($ 330) topping the list in terms of both price and performance.
Both systems have four speakers (bar, wireless subwoofer, two satellite speakers) and – like all models in the series – are Dolby Atmos and DTS: X capable. However, the M512a-H6 is the only offering that has dedicated, upward-looking drivers that provide that extra layer of sound information so you can get the most out of object-based audio.
The $ 300 M215a-J6 is one of the most affordable ways to experience virtual Dolby Atmos, albeit via a 2.1 channel configuration.
The entire series is Bluetooth-enabled and all models have an HDMI 2.1 input and an HDMI 2.1 output with HDMI eARC. The odd bar out is the 150 m2 21d-H8, which is billed as an “all-in-one” system, meaning there are no standalone subwoofers or surround speakers; the bar itself does the heavy lifting.
eARC is a big part of what sets the Elevate and M-Series apart from the lower-priced V-Series offerings, which are only ARC-capable and don’t have HDMI inputs. ARC uses HDMI 2.0 or 1.4 to carry audio information back and forth between your TV and soundbar, but with less available bandwidth than eARC, it uses lossy compression.
Another differentiator is the LCD backlit remote control that comes with the Elevate and all M-Series models, but only on a V-Series model (V51x-J6).
- 5.1.2-channel M512a-H6: $ 450, available July 2021
- 5.1ch M51ax-J6: $ 330, available now
- 5.1-channel M51a-H6: $ 350, available now
- 2.1-channel M215a-J6: $ 300, availability pending
- 2.1ch M21d-H8: $ 150, available now
As mentioned earlier, the V-series is the more budget-friendly option here. You don’t always have to break the bank to get great audio. While none of the models in the series have dedicated up-facing drivers and none are Dolby Atmos-enabled, they are all compatible with DTS Virtual: X, which uses digital signal processing (DSP) to deliver impressive audio with fewer speakers deliver (from two).
It’s also noteworthy that Vizio claims to have redesigned its subwoofers for a “narrower, more impactful” sound at the lower end of the spectrum. It will be interesting to see if this pays off given the somewhat limited low-end range of the V-Series offerings, two of which don’t have standalone subs (V21d-J8, V20-J8).
The 5.1 models (V51x-J6, V51-H6) are the crème de la crème here and contain 4.5-inch radio subs as well as flat surround speakers. The $ 100 V20-J8, on the other hand, is the cost-conscious option. At just 70Hz, the stand-alone bar barely achieves the low-end rumble that many home theater enthusiasts seek, but it should still represent a significant (and affordable) improvement to your TV’s sound.
The V-Series bars all have optical, USB and 3.5 mm aux inputs as well as an ARC-capable HDMI output. However, none of these bars have an HDMI input.
Well that’s it. We’ll keep you updated with news and reviews in the days to come, and take a look at our guide to the Best Soundbars for 2021 when you’re in the market.