There was only one sound bar we reviewed that received outstanding scores in every section of our listening tests. Our Top Ten Gold Award winner, the Vizio S5430W-C2, impressed our focus group with its crystal clear dialogue, powerful bass response and convincing surround sound. This sound bar is a major upgrade from virtually any TV speakers and is also one of the most affordable sound bars in our lineup.
We tested each sound bar in our lineup by surveying a focus group. Our listeners participated in a blind listening test, where they were unaware of the manufacturer of each sound bar. There were three different listening categories – movies, music and games. The survey contained questions in each category that focused mostly on the sound bar's dialogue clarity, bass response and simulated surround sound capabilities. As our focus group listened to each category, they filled out a survey comparing the sound bars.
Our group watched a scene from "The Bourne Legacy" that had both dialogue and action. Although the Vizio sound bar captured the action with prominent bass response, it still kept the vocal dialogue crystal clear. The dialogue did not get drowned out by the action in the movie. Our focus group also found that the sound bar had exceptional panning of sound effects, especially when glass was broken and explosions happened in the distance. A few of the listeners noted the fine audio detail, including being able to hear quiet footsteps or the sound of someone gently setting something down. The sound bar created a wide sound scape that not only encompassed sounds from left to right, but also top to bottom and front to back, creating the illusion of surround sound.
The home theater sound bar continued to perform well during our music listening test. This song, "Idioteque," by Radiohead, was chosen because it has significant panning and strange ambient nuances that fire sound in all directions. It also has a powerful kick drum that continually drives the song through its entirety. Our listeners found the Vizio sound bar balanced all the components of the song. Even with the powerful bass, the Vizio sound bar still made room for all the extras throughout the song. The vocals and the vocal overdubs were clear and panned accurately. All of the ambient rattlers, shakers and other added effects were audible and clear. Our focus group gave this sound bar high marks throughout the music portion of our test.
Finally, one of our reviewers played "Batman: Arkham Asylum" (we get to have fun every so often), while our focus group listened to the sound bar. The Vizio S5430W-C2 does not come with a separate subwoofer, yet our focus group was impressed with the prowess of the bass response. Our focus group participants also felt that they could hear the sound coming from all sides of the room, displaying accurate surround sound simulation. They could hear sounds coming from far in the distance and sounds that seemed to come from above and below them. The surround sound was impressive. This was the only sound bar that we reviewed that received an A+ grade in all three categories.
This Bluetooth sound bar provides far more than the common connectivity options. The most common way to connect your sound bar to your television is an optical cable. Aside from an optical cable input, this sound bar also provides an HDMI input – a digital connection that is considered a better quality connection option than optical because it has the ability to pass more digital information. It also has a USB port and an aux port to charge and play audio from your mobile devices. Finally, if you use an AV receiver, there is an HDMI out and digital audio port to route sound from the sound bar to the receiver. We did not test the HDMI out option, but the capabilities are available.
This sound bar has Bluetooth capabilities. We conducted a maximum Bluetooth range test in which we placed the sound bar in an empty hallway and streamed music from an iPhone to the sound bar. We walked down the hallway and measured the distance between the iPhone and sound bar once the signal began to break up. We were able to get 45 feet away from the sound bar before we started to lose signal. This is 12 feet farther than the standard Bluetooth range of 33 feet.
The second Bluetooth test we conducted added walls between the iPhone and sound bar. With two adjacent walls between the iPhone and sound bar, we were able to get the standard 33 feet away from the sound bar before we started to lose signal. This test gives a more accurate read on the type of Bluetooth range you'll experience in a home setting. Both Bluetooth test results aren't spectacular by any means, but they are at least up to par with the standard.
The Vizio is the largest sound bar we reviewed. It is a 54-inch sound bar you can rest your TV on. This sound bar does come in smaller sizes if you feel the 54-inch model is too large for your TV stand, but we cannot attest to the sound quality of the other models since we didn't test them. The 54-inch sound bar has five dedicated drivers and doesn't include an external subwoofer. This unit can also be mounted to the wall.
The Vizio remote is one of the most comfortable remotes to hold and use. It has practical button spacing and size. The remote also has a small display to let you know what action the remote is taking – volume, function or others. You can reach all of the buttons on the remote with one hand, and it has rounded edges so it feels comfortable in your hand. The remote has outstanding range, too. We were able to stand 81 feet away from the sound bar before we lost signal. This ranks fourth best among all the sound bars we reviewed.
This sound bar is covered by a one-year warranty on parts and labor from the date of purchase. Vizio offers live chat support for immediate contact with customer service. You can also contact technical support via email and phone.
This is not only the best-performing sound bar in our bunch – it is also one of the most affordable. The Vizio S5430W-C2 was found to be the best-sounding home theater sound bar by our focus group. It provides clear dialogue, powerful bass response and simulated surround sound like a home theater system. It also provides many ports for connecting mobile devices and transferring high-quality digital signal from your TV. You will enjoy the sound quality upgrade this Vizio will provide for your home entertainment center.
This is the best-sounding sound bar in our lineup.
It may be too big for your TV or TV stand.
With high-quality sound, lots of connectivity and an affordable price, this is our favorite sound bar.