At a penny under $300, Vizio’s S4251W-B4 Sound Bar is rich-sounding home-theater-in-a-box WOW!
From the 30-minute (ish) setup to the impressive sound quality at a very reasonable price, my time with this product has been a joy.
Before getting into more of the product, I want to tell you why some reviews of this and similar equipment may be flawed. Many reviewers are jaded. Their experience, as mine, with numerous home theater sound systems from sound bars to full-blown fancy components, can cause brain fade.
My belief is that a reviewer’s mission is to detail what consumers will want to know without using the reviewer’s experience to cloud the mission. The product has to stand on its own without undue comparison to others. Consumers do not have the opportunity to sample multiple systems in their home, in their systems as we do.
Consumers do not necessarily have super-cool, high-performance video displays, as do many reviewers.
It is the reviewer’s job to write for the target audiences, which, in this instance, are consumers on modest budgets.
The facts are the facts, and more consumers are budget-conscious than ever. Often, it is not about what we reviewers perceive as quality, but it’s mostly about price. Time and again, I have seen higher quality products and recommended them, but it is the lower cost and usually lesser quality items that sell best.
Just remember that what is the most popular does not mean it is the “best” and will produce the most satisfying experience.
It IS, however, all about value. Value is that non-specific and not universal thing that is subjective according to each individual. I hope you will make your purchase based upon what YOU perceive as the best value for YOU; best price, best quality, and, above all, the most satisfying to YOU. It is, at once, so simple and so complex.
There is one more IMPORTANT consideration before choosing to add home theater sound. Sitting as close to directly in front of the display and not far off to one side is important. Many home setups feature a corner TV placement, with viewers off to the right or left, or both. Where would rear speakers live? If not within the front and rear sound envelope, the experience will not be as intended. It will not be optimal, so consider this before taking the plunge. If yours is not an ideal installation, consider the benefits and availability of changing where the display is located within your environment. Wired rear speakers need to be fed from a central source. More later.
Back to the matter at hand.
Despite the choice of TV, its built-in speakers do not enhance the overall viewing experience as will a 5.1-channel surround sound system. Only when something demonstrably better is introduced will the viewer experience be how it was meant to be. If you’re not buying any of this, it is not likely that home theater sound would be of great importance.
We consumers cannot imagine what it would be like to watch a film in a theater that has barely adequate sound. When watched in a theater, we experience movies as an immersive experience with sound and visuals as one. That is what can be experienced at home with the right pieces, both video and sound.
I hope readers will have a TV of sufficient screen size in order to get the full immersion experience. A TV measuring at least about 47 inches diagonally is a good start. The bigger the TV screen that fits the room, the better. Viewing at a distance of as little as seven feet suggests a screen size of at least 50 inches. Pull back to as little as nine feet from the screen and a 65-inch set is preferred! Sitting too close and watching a 42-inch TV is not going to contribute to the desired results.
What about sound? Remember the movie theater experience, that fully immersive experience where sound and sight become one?
The only way to fully “get” just how good is this Vizio S4251W-B4, would be to get it, set it up and delight at the fact that for a comparatively modest sum, you really LOVE watching your TV more than ever before.
A key factor in the Vizio 5.1-channel easy set-up is the wireless subwoofer that connects with wires from it to the rear (surround) channels. There are three channels across the front inside the sound bar – left, center, and right. Add the TWO rear channels (left and right) to get the “5” in 5.1 channels. The “.1” figure represents the subwoofer, the big speaker delivering, when appropriate, the subtle or thundering low frequency sound that you feel in your gut, the extreme bass, without overpowering the whole audio experience.
The sound bar component communicates using wireless Bluetooth technology with the subwoofer. Otherwise, there would have to be wires from the front to the rear, making it a more complicated setup. Running those wires does not a happy marriage make! The only wires at the rear are one each to the R and L speakers that connect to and get their sound from the subwoofer that wirelessly connects to the sound bar.
Watch this informative unboxing video from Vizio and witness the smart and simple setup before reading further. Place the sound bar directly in front of and only slightly below the lower edge of the display. Perhaps your TV is on a stand that sits on a piece of furniture. If needed and possible, shove the TV closer to the back of what it’s sitting upon, then place the sound bar in front of the TV.
Ideally, position the rear speakers behind and not more than a foot or two above ear level and to the sides of the viewers’ seating position. The subwoofer needs to be within wired range of the rear speakers as these speakers are deliverd sound from the electronics inside the subwoofer’s cabinet (that wirelessly – via Bluetooth – connects to the sound bar up front). Clever!
DO NOT power on the new system just yet.
Next, fire up your TV and watch a movie, perhaps an action-packed DVD of recent vintage, a football game or motor sports event on TV. Adjust the volume to your liking. THEN, lower the TV volume to nil, touch the power button on the Vizio remote control and adjust volume. The difference will be dramatic. So that’s what has been missing!
The comment I hear virtually every time I demo for an inexperienced visitor is that there is no sound from the rear speakers. This is NORMAL much of the time. Rear channel sound is heard only when there is something designed to be heard (from the source material) through those rear speakers, whether L, R or both. Surround sound does not mean there will be sound coming from all the speakers all the time. What fun I have demonstrating for guests, switching between the TV audio and the Vizio Sound Bar. Smiles, “WOW!” and the look of amazement are the norm.
When the screen is showing activity that generates audio, if there is dialogue, it emanates at the front, usually focused in the sound bar’s center speaker. As needed, dialogue sound is skewed to the R or L in the sound bar speaker to indicate sound that is off to one side or the other, or both Pay close attention to all the sound detail and location as you watch TV in the future. The location and intensity of sound will match what you see in ways not possible with the TV’s built-in speakers.
The subwoofer will erupt with those low and rumbling tones only when it is supposed to do so. Subwoofer placement is off to one side because those low tones are non-directional, unlike the sounds coming from the R and L speakers in front and back. It is possible that you will notice slightly some sub sound directionality only because of the proximity of the sub to your seating position. With the inventive and easy design setup of this system, the wireless sub and attached wired rear speakers, this is one unavoidable and acceptable compromise. The more I watch and listen, the more the system blends in and melds sound and vision to become transparent, just the way it is supposed to be, the way theater goers have a total immersion experience.
Locate the source of sound output on your HDTV ahead of time. It should be obvious on inspection and it’s in the TV’s manual or find it online at the manufacturer’s website. Figure out the placement of the sub and rear speakers before unboxing, too. Though it adds to the expense, you may wish to purchase stands for the rear speakers OR mount them on the wall behind where you will be sitting using the Vizio-supplied hardware. Ideally, those speakers should be outboard of the viewers.
Vizio has supplied a capable little display remote that provides all the needed controls – Power, volume, input selection, tone and balance, Bluetooth pairing mode and much more. Speaking of Bluetooth, this device may be paired with your smartphone or other BT device in order to play music from other devices through the Vizio sound bar system. Nice, very nice! The TV need not be on.
Is this an “audiophile” system? If you’re a serious sound maven, it is not. If you’re in that sometimes snooty club, you would not be looking at this product! This is one for the rest of us, with very good quality. The overall experience will put a smile on your face and on all who experience it, if they like to have serious audio accompany the images on a big screen TV.
Another quality sure to be a hit in many families is that it can simply NOT be powered on when anyone who wishes to simply “watch TV” is in charge of the remote. Adjust the TV’s volume and ignore the Vizio sound bar. This is yet another feature to keep peace and harmony in the home.
Were I the sole viewer and the only one home, I’d engage the Vizio sound bar just about all the time. It’s so much better than the speakers that came with my excellent Pioneer Kuro HDTV. But, I’m not, and SOMEONE here is not interested in surround sound because of the sometimes higher-than-normal volume that seems so right when watching a movie or concert, for example. And the great bass response from the subwoofer is not pleasing to SOMEONE here. It’s nice to have the capability to use it, or not. I’ll bet that many readers’ situations are similar to mine. In an informal poll I took, many families’ feelings are identical.
I can get away with using the Vizio all the time when streaming music from my iPhone and when listening to cable music channels. Its room-filling, even house-filling sweet sounds in this situation are happy-making for all. The sound just sounds better.
If you are considering this WOW! product and almost ready to buy one, why not have a look at the Vizio Quick Start Guide that can be downloaded here? Read through it to learn the simple and advanced capabilities of this Vizio S4251W-B4. It is quite impressive!
Find your best price, whether at a local retailer or online, of course. I found it at Costco for a $280 everyday price with free delivery.
All of the above does not matter as much as how the product performs its mission. I’m very satisfied! Vizio has delivered a credible 5.1-channel surround sound system to complement almost any environment. Its sound quality, ease of setup, versatility and ease of use round out a value-laden product that is the best at what there is in its price category. It is my belief that for most consumers, this Vizio S4251W-B4 will provide long-lasting satisfaction beyond expectations.