Let me be upfront with you, I consider myself an audiophile and take my home’s surround sound setups seriously. I have a 4K 7.1 surround system in my man cave, and another 5.1 surround system in the living room, both costing upwards of a $1,000, so I’ve always invested in high-end systems for my audio needs. When the whole sound bar movement kicked off a few years ago I quickly dismissed the technology, not because I didn’t appreciate the slim form factor and functionality, but more for the fact that I just didn’t think a sound bar could rival a traditional surround sound setup comprised of a receiver, speakers, and a subwoofer.
Well, Vizio has once again corrected my way of thinking with another one of its high-quality home entertainment devices being sold for a very affordable price. I was blown away last year by Vizio’s advances in 4K displays, and still stand by my glowing review of the 2016 50″ M-Series SmartCast display, and now I can say the same for its latest 36-inch 5.1 SmartCast Wireless Sound Bar System. After unboxing this streamlined device (a sample was provided by Vizio for the purposes of this review) and hooking it up to the aforementioned M-Series display, my long held distrust of sound bar technology quickly faded as I was treated to rich sounds and deep bass that rival traditional surround sound systems.
For $249.99 this sound bar is an extreme value, and definitely worthy of your home theater setup if you need to enhance it on the cheap. With that I’d like to say, “Hello, my name is Matt and I’m a recovering sound bar hater, but I’m here to atone for my previously negative opinions on sound bar technology.
One of the most appreciated aspects of Vizio’s latest sound bar is its low stress setup. Unlike traditional surround sound systems that feature upwards of 8 speakers, Vizio’s 36-inch SmartCast Wireless sound bar only requires three total connections to get it up and running. The sound bar itself easily hooks into your display’s HDMI-ARC input, or standard HDMI port if you don’t have ARC technology. It can also interface to your display through an optical port if you would rather not tie up an HDMI port. To complete setup, you simply need to position the wireless subwoofer where you’d like it, and then hook in the right and left surround sound speakers that offer plenty of cable to perfect your surround sound setup. That’s it, no cables to run through walls or under carpets to get the satellite speakers hooked up, which is rather awesome when you don’t have the know how or ability to run speaker cable like an electrician.
It’s manageable form factor is also a plus, because this sound bar will fit perfectly in any existing setup, and even if it doesn’t there are include wall hanging brackets to give you more placement options. Also, since it’s only comprised of the main bar and the wireless subwoofer, you won’t have speakers cluttering the front of your display, or on stands in the middle of your theater or TV room.
Once the main setup is complete you can hook other devices into the sound bar through its HDMI, AUX, RCA, or USB ports, which are all nestled in the back of the main bar. Thanks to the device’s built-in SmartCast support you can also choose to sync it to your phone or tablet with the SmartCast app to allow you to control it through your own devices or the included remote. Enabling SmartCast also gives you the ability to quickly stream audio from various apps directly to the sound bar without the display needing to be turned on.
In total I would say — depending on your technical know-how and ability to read directions — installation takes at most 20-30 minutes. For the most part more complex setups like having HDMI-ARC enabled to pass the TV sound back to the bar are done automatically, especially if you pair it with another Vizio product. If the stress of setting up a traditional surround sound system has been too much for you to consider, then I can say with confidence that Vizio’s 2017 36-inch SmartCast Wireless Sound Bar is just the stress reliever you need.
Thanks to this sound bar’s SmartCast, Wireless, and Bluetooth capabilities, it’s a very functional device for today’s streaming needs and apps. If you’re a big user of Chromecast audio technology you’ll feel right at home with this sound bar thanks to the tech being baked in. You can quickly and easily cast sound from apps like Spotify, Pandora, iHeart Radio with a touch of a button, and the resulting streaming audio sounds crisp and pleasant. It also supports Bluetooth, so if you’d rather not screw around with SmartCast you can just sync it to any devices that supports Bluetooth to instantly pair it with a surround sound system that boasts booming audio and clarity. You can also incorporate it into a multi-room Cast speaker setup thanks to the included technology.
The HDMI-ARC technology works flawlessly as well, especially on a Vizio display. My Roku and game consoles all have their sound being passed from the TV back to the sound bar without any need for additional setup. They just work, which is appreciated and adds into this device’s easy setup.
I also have to mention that the included remote is actually pretty well made and highly functional thanks to its basic LCD screen to toggle inputs, as well as the sound bar’s audio settings. With a few button presses I can toggle the surround sound level, subwoofer level, overall bass and treble levels, pre-configured EQ settings, and many other options. Of course you can manage all of these through the SmartCast app on your mobile device, so even if you lose the remote you’ll still have a GUI interface to interact with it thanks to SmartCast technology.
Inputs and Tech Specs
Vizio’s 2017 model 36-inch SmartCast Wireless Sound Bar System doesn’t skimp on inputs, which is impressive when you consider how slim its form factor truly is. As you can see below there are ports for just about every bit of technology that uses sound, so regardless of what other devices you have you will be able to hook them up to this sound bar.
- Analog Audio Input – 3.5mm stereo mini jack
- Digital Audio Input – Optical (Toslink)
- Digital Audio Input – RCA (Coaxial/SPDIF)
- USB Input – USB (for .WAV Audio Playback)
- HDMI Input – Yes
- Bluetooth® Input – BLE 4.0
- Wi-Fi Input – 802.11ac
- Ethernet Input – Yes
- HDMI ARC – Yes
- IR Receiver – Up to 30 feet
- Sound Bar Size – 36″
- System Frequency Response – 50 Hz – 20 kHz
- Subwoofer Speaker Size – 5.2″
- Sound Pressure Level – 101dB
- Sound Enhancement Technology – Dolby Digital®, DTS Studio Sound™, DTS TruSurround™, DTS TruVolume™, DTS Digital Surround™
- Bluetooth – Yes
- Sound Bar Buttons – Power, Input, Volume Up, Volume Down, Bluetooth
- Remote – Yes, with LCD Display
- Installation – Table Top and Wall-Mountable
- Package Contents – Sound Bar, Wireless Subwoofer, Satellite Speakers (x2), 5’ RCA/3.5mm Mini Jack Cable, 5’ 3.5mm Cable, 5’ Optical Toslink Cable, 5’ Digital 75 RCA (Coaxial / SPDIF), 5’ HDMI Cable, Power Cord for Sound Bar & Subwoofer, Satellite Speaker Wires, QSG
When it comes down to devices like a sound bar the most important aspect of it is its ability to produce luscious sounds, and Vizio’s 2017 model 36-inch SmartCast Wireless Sound Bar System doesn’t disappoint in this arena. In fact, it exceeded my expectations on every level with all forms of media. TV shows sound clear and dialogue is pronounced through the main speaker bar, plus with the subwoofer and surround speakers you get a nice amount of punch to flesh out a show’s overall sound design. Thanks to the DTS and Dolby Digital support if a show uses either technology you’ll get even more powerful sounds out of the sound bar thanks to its comprehensive support of modern audio technologies.
Music sounds even better when being casted or streamed through Bluetooth. I love being able to cast Spotify from my home or Mac right to the sound bar through Bluetooth or SmartCast, and the display the sound bar is hooked up to doesn’t need to be turned on. If you do have a modern Vizio display though you can even use its tablet remote to stream audio content directly to the bar, so you don’t have to tie up one of your other devices to get the party started right. Let’s just say that thanks to this sound bar’s ability to put out up to 101db of audio without distortion can really get your living space rocking without the fear of distorted sounding audio. You will get the cops called on you if you live in an apartment and turn this bad boy up all the way, because it can get very loud and bassy thanks to the 20hz range it supports.
This particular sound bar shines the most though when using it while watching a movie that supports 5.1 surround sound. Again, when you look at how small this setup is you will be skeptical of its surround sound abilities, but don’t let its size fool you. This thing easily competes with traditional high-end surround sound setups on all fronts. The true surround sound effect is highly noticeable while watching movies that support it, and the bass can rumble the room you have the subwoofer in. Now the sound bar doesn’t support some of the newer audio technologies like Atmos and TruHD, but unless you’re a professional audiophile, you probably won’t even notice the difference, as the sound quality while watching a movie is more than enough to rattle your bones with bass and sooth your ears with crystal clear tones.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m a tech-brand snob and have always gone with the big names over upstarts, lesser knowns, or cheap brands. Until 2016 I lumped Vizio into that group, but after checking out the M-Series HDR display, my tune changed. Vizio is a solid tech provider, and its 2017 Model 36-inch 5.1 VIZIO SmartCast Wireless Sound Bar System is further proof that this once cheap brand should be considered to have the same quality as Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic. If you need a sound bar that gives you full on 5.1 surround sound that can rival traditional surround sound setups, then look no further than Vizio’s new unit.
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Review Statement: The author of this review was provided a sample unit from Vizio for the purposes of this review.