Besides offering the standard three front channels in one neat package, Vizio has taken the next step and included a wireless subwoofer and dedicated surround speakers to make a true 5.1 channel system. With solid build quality, excellent connectivity options, and surprisingly good overall performance, the Vizio SB4051-D5 is an excellent option for those wanting to pump up the anemic sound of their flat panel TV without delving into the complicated (and often far costlier) realm of separate components and speakers.
Vizio is a relatively new brand onthe A/V block, but they’ve quickly made a name for themselves by offering flat panel displays that deliver a lot of bang for the buck. With this success, it was only natural for them to expand the home entertainment line. Sound bars are an area where Vizio is particularly strong and they are consistently one of the best-selling (if not the best-selling) brand in the category. I’ve seen Vizio sound bars for years at many local retailers and have heard them on countless occasions, but never in my own environment. The reason for this was simple – I’m a bit of a home theater snob.
Sound bar – 3 x 2”, 3 x 4”, Subwoofer – 1 x 6.5”, Surround speaker – 1 x 2”, 1 x 4”
Sound bar – 150Hz – 20kHz, Subwoofer – 35Hz – 170Hz, Surround speakers – 150Hz – 20kHz
1 x HDMI, 1 x Digital Coaxial, 1 x Optical Coaxial, 1 x USB, 1 x 3.5mm analog mini-jack
Bass, Treble, subwoofer level, surround level
1 x HDMI (ARC)
Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital+, DTS Surround
Google Chromecast, Vizio Smartcast, Bluetooth, Google Home-compatible
Vizio Smartcast for iOS or Android
40 x 2 x 2.1”
24.2 x 13.1 x 2.8”
2.4 x 5.4 x 2.4”
1 year parts and labor
Vizio SB4051-D5, Sound Bar, Soundbar, Vizio, Surround Sound, Home Theater Speakers, Sound bar review 2018
Unless a system has separate components (preferably a whole rack of them) and lots of large speakers scattered throughout the room I’m not typically interested. As I’ve progressed through life and my personal time has become more and more valuable, I’ve started to change that position. I now value things that are simple and easy, and I understand why items like sound bars have become so popular. Sound bars are also the component I get the most questions about from family, friends, and co-workers, so I figured I’d better get with the program and start reviewing some. Being that the Vizio SB4051-D5 is a real 5.1 system, I couldn’t think of a better sound bar setup to test the waters with.
The Vizio SB4051-D5 System consists of three separate speakers. First, you have the 40” wide sound bar, which houses the front left, front right, and center channel speaker arrays. This is a very attractive design of black metal mesh with plastic end-caps made to look like brushed aluminum. On top are buttons for power, input selection, Bluetooth pairing, and volume up/down. White indicator lights on the left front edge of the sound bar glow in different combinations to denote various settings or the volume level while a small blue LED indicates Wi-Fi connectivity. Fortunately, they all turn off a few seconds after you’ve made a change. Around the back of the sound bar are the input terminals. There are two HDMI ports, one input and one output with ARC (Audio Return Channel) support. I was glad to see that Vizio included some options other than HDMI, including a USB port, optical & coax digital, and a 3.5mm analog mini-jack for old-school sources. With all these choices, pretty much any audio component can be connected. There is also an Ethernet port for wired network connectivity in addition to the built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. A standard detachable IEC power cord rounds out the back-panel options. My only wish on the connectivity side would be for an additional HDMI port or two. The sound bar unit was heavier than I expected and felt extremely solid in my hands.
Next, we have the wireless “slim” subwoofer, which is thin enough to slide underneath a couch on integrated rubber feet or behind/to the side of a couch using the supplied add-on aluminum feet. The subwoofer has its own detachable IEC power cord and two RCA outputs for the surround speakers along with a power switch and a pairing button. Vizio is kind enough to ensure that the subwoofer is already paired to the sound bar when you unpack it – thank you! The surround speakers are miniature versions of the sound bar, with more black metal mesh material and top caps of brushed aluminum-looking plastic. Again, weight was higher than I expected and the build quality felt as sturdy as the main sound bar. There is a single RCA jack for the speaker cable, which connects to the subwoofer for power and signal using the included speaker cables. These cables are 15’ long and should be adequate for most setups providing that you place the subwoofer towards the back of your room.
Setting up the Vizio SB4051-D5 in my family room proved to be very easy. While I am no neophyte when it comes to setting up gear, I did my best to impersonate a typical buyer of normal technical proficiency. As such, I followed the included instructions when setting the system up. These proved to be very well-written and incredibly easy to follow. Vizio also offers web videos of the setup process if you prefer that to reading a manual. I placed the sound bar on my family room TV stand, right in front of my good old Fujitsu 50” plasma display. I wanted to put the subwoofer beneath my couch, but my sofa has short legs and the space was too tight for my liking. So, I quickly screwed on the supplied aluminum feet and placed the sub upright behind the couch instead. As someone who has run many wires through drywall, ceilings, and flooring, I really appreciated the fact that the subwoofer is wireless. Vizio specs a 60’ range on the sub so placement shouldn’t be an issue for anyone with a normal size home. Next, I placed the surround speakers on the end tables that flank my sofa and connected the RCA cables to the subwoofer. Vizio is also kind enough to include the brackets and screws necessary to mount the sound bar and surround speakers to your walls. They even include a template to ensure you don’t make any mistakes when drilling the holes. They also include a whole bunch of cables in the kit that match up with the SB4051-D5’s inputs to get the user going with minimal fuss.
Connecting my sources was also pretty painless with one exception, my circa-2006 Fujitsu plasma lacks an HDMI-ARC port. As such, I was unable to use my TV to switch HDMI sources. Since the SB4051-D5 only has a single HDMI input, I had to figure out how to get my Comcast cable box, Sony Blu-ray player, Amazon Fire Stick, and Xbox 360 connected. Fortunately, the Denon X7200WA in my family room system could pass all sources through to the Vizio sound bar without issue. I just fed the HDMI output from my Denon to the dedicated input on the sound bar then ran a second cable from the HDMI output on the sound bar to my display. All sources remained connected to the Denon receiver which was now functioning as a really expensive HDMI switch box. I had to change sources on the Denon (and then power it back off to enable passthrough) every time I wanted to change HDMI sources on the Vizio, but it worked. For those of you with a newer display with HDMI ARC, simply connect all of your HDMI sources to your display and then connect the HDMI ARC input/output of your display to the SB4051’s HDMI ARC port and you should be all set. Plus, you’ll still have the dedicated HDMI input on the back of the sound bar if needed. Hopefully you’ll have enough HDMI inputs on your display to accommodate all your gear, but an extra HDMI input or two on the sound bar itself would be welcome for those with lots of components. I also connected my old Yamaha CD changer to the sound bar with a digital coaxial cable.
Initial setup using the included remote control was pretty easy, but I highly recommend downloading the Vizio Smartcast app. Once you’ve added the SB4051-D5 to your home Wi-Fi network (or hardwire it using the LAN port), you can use the Smartcast app as a remote control and to configure the device. I’ve been spoiled by the many auto-calibrating components out there today, so I found it nostalgic to manually set subwoofer levels, surround levels, and surround balance settings on the SB4051-D5. Perhaps Vizio could include some sort of auto-calibration software in the future. From the Smartcast app it is easy to adjust these settings as well as treble and bass levels or change between the music or movie EQ presets. The Smartcast app also functions as a Google Chromecast dongle, so you can cast any compatible app directly to the sound bar. Spotify, Pandora, and Amazon Music are some of the big names here, but there are tons of other apps that will work as well.
I started using the Vizio SB4051-D5 as most people would, just watching some TV via my cable feed. I was fortunate to catch a marathon of “Outlander” one weekend and being that this is my wife’s favorite show right now, I was “allowed” to watch a few episodes.
The show’s intro (in an actual Dolby Digital 5.1 feed from STARZ HD) features some powerful music and it helped me to dial in the SB4051-D5. The factory settings for the subwoofer were way too high, which led to some really boomy sounding bass. Using the Smartcast app I dropped the subwoofer level a few notches and brought the bass EQ down to a neutral setting. Treble seemed a bit bright as well, but changing from the movie EQ to the music EQ made the sound far more natural. I left the treble EQ setting at the neutral position as it offered the most natural treble response. Now the intro music sounded much better, with the horns cutting through and the big drum hits sending some palpable thumps through the room. Bass response was fairly deep, but I don’t think it went much below 40Hz in my room. Dialogue was a bit recessed at first, but bumping up the center channel level two notches greatly improved dialogue intelligibility. Overall, I was impressed with how the system sounded, especially given its modest price point. With less than 40” between the left and right front channels I didn’t count on much imaging, but it was better than expected and I could still pick out certain effects from the right, center, or left channels.
Given that this was a family room setup, most of my viewing was dominated by what my four-year-old wanted to watch, so into my Sony Blu-ray player went “Cars 3.” While the SB4051-D5 cannot handle the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless soundtrack on this disc, it played the DTS core track just fine (you’ll see a little amber light go on the sound bar with DTS sources). The introductory racing scene sounded pretty good, with good dynamics and bass from the wireless sub. There was a bit more chuffing coming from the port than I would like, but if I kept the volume within reason it wasn’t too audible.
I’d also like to point out that my family room is pretty big: 22’ x 15’ with a 10’ ceiling (3300 cubic feet), so I was asking a lot of the SB4051-D5 when cranking up the volume. While playing this movie back loudly, I didn’t hear any ill effects from the sound bar or surrounds. Everything remained clear and dialogue was nice and crisp. I didn’t pick up on any excessive brightness in the treble as I slowly pushed up the volume. The surrounds match very well with the tonal characteristics of the sound bar and the surround field was compelling. If given the choice, dedicated surround speakers will always beat out pseudo-surround emanating from front speakers and I really must commend Vizio for including them with the SB4051-D5. On the flip side, I’d really like to see Vizio find a way to handle lossless formats such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD since they really do sound significantly better than lossy Dolby Digital and DTS. Perhaps that could be incorporated into the next generation of products.
We had given my son a copy of “Despicable Me 3” for Christmas and it has been in heavy rotation since then. The first heist scene is a real sonic workout, with lots of sound effects set to Michael Jackson’s classic song, “Bad.” The effects and thumps sounded very good, but “Bad” sounded just a touch flat to me. The midrange presentation on the SB4051-D5 is not quite as rich as I’m used to (I’ll admit, I’m a bit spoiled here) and if you have higher-end gear in your possession you’ll probably notice it too. There is also a touch of muddiness to the mid-range, which adds a little bit of a sonic veil to the presentation.
I want to stress that compared to the sound from a typical flat panel TV, the SB4051-D5 is a huge step up, but it still can’t compare (nor should it) to more expensive dedicated surround setups. I cranked this scene up quite loud and was really surprised by the overall volume level generated by the SB4051-D5. Vizio specs say this system can hit 101dB, and I have no reason to doubt that. Those of you with smaller rooms than mine (up to about 250 square feet/2500 cubic feet) should find the SB4051-D5 more than adequate. If your room is larger than this, I would highly recommend stepping up to the larger SB4551-D5 ($499.99) which upsizes the sound bar to 45” wide and increases the size and bass extension of the subwoofer slightly. Peak output of the SB4551-D5 goes up to 104dB as well.
I was really very pleased with the overall capabilities of the Vizio SB4051-D5 system for movie and general TV watching so I switched over to music sources. I started by testing the SB4051-D5 as a Bluetooth speaker system. I paired the sound bar to my iPhone 6S and started streaming Norah Jones’ latest album, “Day Breaks.” Initial playback exhibited odd phasing at first until I realized the system was still in surround mode.
Going into the Smartcast app and changing the system to two-channel shut down the surround speakers and center channel and made things sound much more natural. I wish there were some sort of auto setting that could switch between surround mode and stereo on the fly. Perhaps this could be added via firmware update. Considering that this was only a 256Kbps MP3 encoding over Bluetooth, the overall sound was pretty good. There was the typical blurring of the sound inherent to all Bluetooth streaming that I’ve ever heard but for non-critical listening it was certainly adequate. On “Tragedy” clarity and detail suffered the most, with Norah’s voice sounding grainier and thicker than usual. The same veil coated the instruments. For comparison sake, I loaded up a copy of “Day Breaks” on my CD changer and sent it to the sound bar via the coaxial digital input. The sound was much better overall, with greatly improved clarity and detail. The mid-range, which had been muffled through the Bluetooth stream, was much better now and had significantly better body to it. It was still a bit flat sounding to my ears, but non-audiophiles probably wouldn’t notice. Sound staging and imaging were just ok through the Vizio, but this is relative to higher quality components.
I also wanted to test out some IP-based streaming so I loaded up Amazon music on my Android tablet (an older Nexus 7) and brought up Metallica’s “S+M,” their live concert with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. I had to use my Nexus 7 because you still can’t cast from the iOS Amazon Music app to a Chromecast device. So annoying but typical with competing companies. Anywho, I started “The Call of Ktulu” on my Nexus and then hit the Cast button to send audio to the SB4051-D5.
The really cool thing about Chromecast or Vizio’s Smartcast is that it establishes a direct Wi-Fi connection from the sound bar to the internet source, so you aren’t using your device’s bandwidth to cast the audio. This frees it up to do other things, very nice. While Amazon Music is still using lossy compression on their music, “Ktulu” sounded pretty good. The intro strings and guitar sounded nice, though they didn’t have the body that I’m accustomed to with my admittedly much more expensive speakers. Bass kicked pretty hard, at least down to the circa-40Hz limit of the sub. As I typically do with Metallica, I played this track fairly loud and the Vizio held its own. This recording is a bit bright in the upper mid-range and treble, but the SB4051-D5 didn’t make it sound harsh. If anything, the slightly recessed mid-range and treble of the sound bar was an advantage on this track as it tamed the inherent brightness of the recording. The Vizio did a good job of conveying the sweeping emotion of the orchestra while still letting the heavier sounds of the band punch through. As I expected, the soundstage was slightly compressed, but I still really enjoyed what I was hearing. If only Amazon Music used higher resolution files. . .
I want to take a moment to remind everyone of the Vizio SB4051-D5’s MSRP: $429.99. That is for a complete 5.1 channel system with a wireless subwoofer and dedicated surround speakers. It also happens to have lots of streaming options built in and doesn’t require an A/V receiver. In short, the Vizio SB4051-D5 does a lot for the money, which seems to be the corporate mantra for Vizio. While I will admit that I am totally spoiled when it comes to stereo and home theater gear, the SB4051-D5 really does perform like a far more expensive product. If you are looking for an easy-to-use surround system for a bedroom or small home theater, you really can’t go wrong with this sound bar.
If two-channel music is more your thing, the Vizio SB4051-D5 again performs well beyond what its modest price would suggest. It is a far better Bluetooth speaker than just about any I’ve heard and the streaming options are robust. There are even plenty of legacy connectivity options to accommodate non-networked components. Bottom line – the Vizio SB4051-D5 Sound Bar System is great product for those who want good sound while keeping things simple.
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