Vizio SB3821-C6 2.1 Channel Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer
HDTVs are Vizio's mainstay product, so it's easy to forget that they also offer quality soundbars to fit any budget. We've narrowed our selection down to the SB3821-C6 - a 2.1-channel soundbar that comes with a separate (wireless) subwoofer. Yes, we cheated a little and broke our self-imposed limit on selecting only true 1-piece soundbars, but this affordable soundbar justifies this rule-bending simply because it performs so well.
The SB3821-C6 sticks with Vizio's tried-and-true design, with logo-embossed end caps surrounding the flat cloth panels and flush controls. While it doesn't break new ground on the design front, Vizio clearly saw no need to deviate from an effective formula. It's a little on the tall side and may therefore block your TV remote's line-of-sight to the IR receiver; the alternative is to wall-mount it instead. The wireless subwoofer shares the same aesthetic as the soundbar itself, and the only physical connection present is the embedded power cable. This allows added flexibility with placement, since the only limiting factor is having a wall outlet nearby. If you have experience with any of Vizio's soundbars from the past few years, the SB3821-C6 will feel entirely familiar - in a good way, of course.
The reason we felt compelled to select this 2.1-channel "soundbar" is the inclusion of the standalone subwoofer. 1-piece soundbars perform admirably with bass at moderate volume levels, but predictably run out of steam when asked to cover intense action sequences or bass-heavy music. In this case, the larger powered subwoofer handles the bass frequencies that overwhelm smaller drivers, leaving the soundbar portion free to accommodate the midrange and high sections that the tweeters and 2.75" drivers excel at. When properly dialed in, the SB3821-C6 maintains its composure and will provide loud and clear sound even when pushed to higher volumes. What's more impressive is this soundbar's ability to noticeably separate left and right audio streams using only sound processing, making it especially well-suited for watching movies.
The SB3821-C6 offers flexible connectivity, from the expected digital optical audio and 3.5mm aux input to digital coaxial and even stereo RCA jacks. Vizio includes cables in the box to support each of these inputs. There's a USB port present as well - Vizio states that it's compatible with .WAV files, but the awkward location of the port means you're better off plugging in that USB device elsewhere in your system. The only disappointment is the lack of HDMI ports, though this can be forgiven considering the affordable price. The remote is simple and straightforward, and it requires line-of-sight to the soundbar unit in order to function. The volume level and various playback information is conveyed through a stack of lights visible through the cloth, but it can be hard to discern at a glance, especially in bright light. Beyond the assortment of inputs on the rear of the soundbar, the SB3821-C6 includes Bluetooth connectivity for wireless playback. The SB3821-C6 is refreshingly free of any gimmicks or surprises - everything works exactly as advertised and requires minimal fuss to function.
Vizio has always been big on value for money, and the SB3821-C6 certainly carries this trait. Given its performance and straightforward setup and use, it remains reasonably priced (typically available online for less than $150) and is widely available through major retailers. If there's room in your entertainment setup to place a separate subwoofer, the SB3821-C6 is a compelling budget-friendly option with enough performance to earn its keep for years.