VIZIO S4251w-B4 5.1 Surround Sound Bar
We are remodeling our basement, and in anticipation of that, we decided to buy a new TV. I have always appreciated surround sound, but our budget is really small, so I went searching for what I could get in terms of surround at a decent price. Also, the area we are putting it in is fairly small. It is a long narrow room that is about 21’x15’.
I read countless reviews and watched many videos on this product. After hours of research on this one I decided to buy it. Our TV room is still under construction, so this review will be based on the sound bar being hooked up to my PC. My relevant PC specs are: Creative X-FI X-treme Gamer sound card with optical out, GTX 660 SLI, FX-8350 CPU, and ASUS Blu-ray optical drive. It should also be noted that my current sound system is a JVC MX-GT88 with two additional 150W RCA speakers integrated into it. For anyone not too familiar with this system, or if you don’t want to google it here are some specs:
SUBWOOFERS : 160 W per channel
MAIN SPEAKERS: 70 W per channel
Type : 3-way bass-reflex type
Speaker units : Subwoofer : 20 cm (7 7/8 in.)
Main Woofer : 12 cm (4 3/4 in.)
Tweeter : 5 cm (2 in.) cone x1
Impedance : Subwoofer : 6 Ω
Main speaker : 4 Ω
Frequency range : Subwoofer : 30 Hz — 70 Hz
Main speaker : 70 Hz — 20 000 Hz
Sound pressure level : Subwoofer : 77 dB/W•m
Main speaker : 84 dB/W•m
This is an older bookshelf system, but it is no slouch either. It can definitely handle itself in the volume and bass department. I usually have it set on level 2 of 3 in the bass settings, and I never even touch the Sound Turbo function, not because it gets too distorted or because it can’t handle it, but because it is just too darn much bass to handle. It blows you away. I have used this system for years for movies on the PC, lots of music, and PC gaming as well. It has excellent sound reproduction, and excels in sound power and warmth, even through analog connectors. The reason I bring up this is so that you know what I am comparing it too. I have always loved this system and don’t have any plans to get rid of it.
On to the review of the VIZIO S4251w-B4. All star ratings are given based on the price of this item. Obviously there are better sound systems out there, but all my ratings are given with price in mind.
BUILD QUALITY: 4/5 I wasn’t super impressed, and never really disappointed.
Overall, I see that it is quite sturdy. It weighed a bit more overall, than expected and unpacking was a little bit of a struggle. It was packaged well, and the box would have to take a serious beating to damage the product.
The sound bar is rigid and firm, the casing seemed a little flimsy in places, but you really shouldn’t have any issue with that, since most of the time it is just sitting there.
The rear satellite speakers are heavier than expected as well. I expected them to feel like a cheap 2.0 computer speaker, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are well built and have a feel of quality. The entire bottom of the rear speakers are a rubber grip pad. The plugs to the speakers are a nice touch, and better than bare wires like many 5.1 systems.
The mesh fabric cover is just about what you would expect from most speakers, nothing new here. The cables all seem to be of decent quality. I would say the RCA cables are above average quality. Everything else is average to so-so.
AESTHETICS: 5/5 Nailed it with a balance of style an simplicity.
The set looks great too. It has a minimalist design that really does a good job of finding a balance between flash and being conservative all at the same time. The subwoofer is vanilla, but it won’t be seen much, the rears follow the same pattern as the front bar, but has some subtle Vizio branding on the backs that add a little style if your speakers will be seen from the rear, at all, like mine will. The rears are plain and minimalist, but not ugly at all. They will compliment a modern design scheme. The speakers connect using standard RCA plugs that are given a little bit of custom Vizio flare, so no ugly bare wires sticking out of the back.
The front LED display is also a very nice touch. The LED’s, when not lit, are invisible. When all lit, there are 12 of them. They are identical and in a straight line. They indicate things such as volume, balance, levels of bass, treble, center channel, etc. They are fairly easy to understand. One nice thing that the designers put in is a feature that allows you to easily see when the channels are balanced. There is no guessing if your LED is in the middle or not, because when it is, the TWO middle LEDs light up to indicate that it is in the center. It is really intuitive and despite its simplicity, it really ads to the ease of use and overall experience of the system. Also there are 25 volume levels if you include muted. With only 12 LEDs, the volume is notated by the LEDs having two brightness levels. So a half lit LED indicates a half step up to the next level.
The bar perfectly matches the Vizio M-series TVs which I will be purchasing soon, so it’s a nice touch.
The remote is nice. Has some subtle attractive branding, and is very functional once you take a few minutes to get used to it.
I like that the sound bar doesn’t have a display on it. This is really breaking the norm a bit. The LCD display is actually on the remote itself which is an excellent design decision. It’s a very nice and convenient feature. The only major drawback I have with it is that the LCD is not back lit, and it is impossible to read with no light, and even in low light situations, it is extremely difficult to read, if at all. The remote is small and light. It doesn’t feel cheap really, but it leaves something to be desired for sure.
OVERALL SOUND QUALITY: 4.5/5 A few qualms.
Overall, was I impressed with the sound? Yes. But,…
When I first plugged it in and fired it up, within the first few seconds of listening a small panic went through me, because it really sounded bad. Just very lack-luster and plain. But as with most things, I knew I could adjust the settings to my liking. My panic quickly turned into reserved excitement, because it began to blossom. Using the software for my sound card, and the units built in adjustments, I was able to tune it just the way I wanted it and it really began to shine.
On the technical side of sound, it is advertised to reproduce sounds from 40Hz to 20,000Hz. Keep in mind that humans are reported to hear, in general, with perfect hearing about 20Hz to 20,000Hz. As people age, they tend to lose hearing in the higher registers. Some dropping hearing to 12,000Hz, for those usually around 50+ years of age. Personally, I cannot hear anything above 19,000Hz (I am 27), so I consider myself to have very good hearing. My current JVC system mentioned above can reproduce all sounds in that range (20Hz to 20,000Hz), at least I assume it can do the 20,000Hz.
So I tested the Vizio system to see where it stacked up. It actually outperformed its specs. I began to hear playback in the 25Hz range, but it was pretty muddy, but so is the JVC. On any system, the windows and floors don’t start to rattle until about 30-40Hz. And that’s where this sub hits its stride. At 35Hz the room starts to shake a bit. For higher pitches, it was able to go as high as I could hear (19,000Hz).
So overall, it has really good range.
MUSIC: 5/5 Doesn’t get a whole lot better than this in this price range.
Music is really nice to listen to on this set. The thing I noticed the most about the system is that it is able to create its own surround mix out of MP3/WAV/WMA files which are natively only in stereo. It does a nice job of splitting up tracks to make them have the surround effect.
At times I really thought that I was hearing distortion and chatter in the rear satellites, thinking the speakers were at its limit. But after some playing around, I figured out that that was actually a part of the music. I listen to ALL types of music, except rap. I go anywhere from rock, classical, dubstep, house, drum and bass, techno, alternative, country, soundtracks, etc. It turned out that the tracks I was hearing the distortion in were the dubstep and-the-like tracks where it was actually put into the music. Either this or it was the upscaling into 5.1 that causes it, because on most other tracks, like classical, vocal, etc it just wasn’t there and was clear as a bell. I can only think to attribute the fact that I didn’t hear it on my JVC to the optical input.
When it came to bass in music I was a little concerned that the little sub couldn’t handle some of my more bass intensive D n’ B tracks. Well my fears were laid to rest with a few BASSNECTAR tracks. It will really get the windows and floor rumbling. In fact don’t make the mistake of stacking anything on it, because it will be falling off, trust me.
MOVIES: 4.5/5 It can be very good.
As with all audio systems, your experience is only as good as what you put into it. So in order to get the full surround experience you need to have a good soundtrack. The movies I tried were The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, TRON, LOTR, Iron Man 2, and Master and Commander, all on Bluray. I didn’t watch any of these completely, just a few segments to get a feel. Most were ok, and I wasn’t really blown away too much by any of them, although it was very loud. My expectations may have been too high, because after about a week of having it, and putting in Master and Commander, then I was convinced that this little system is for real. It had no problem whatsoever keeping up with the incessant cannon fire and explosions. It kept you in the movie and it did it well, I even had to turn it down at one point.
The first couple times watching movies I did the quickly-look-behind-your-shoulder thing to see where that sound just came from. That was nice.
The highs stay high and the lows stay low. And the mids are also very much there. To compensate for the relatively narrow front L and R channels you can compensate by keeping your rear satellites a little wider to enhance the stereo effect lost by the narrow sound bar.
GAMES: 4.5/5 Brings a whole new element to gaming.
The games I tried were Skyrim and Dirt 3.
In Skyrim there are caves and dungeons where you fight zombie like creatures that can be rather frightening at times, but since I have spent quite a bit of time in the game I have grown pretty accustomed to them. That was in stereo. After trying this system out with Skyrim all of the sudden I became frightened of those caves again. Because all of the sudden they are behind me now! And lurking around every corner and I can hear them. And now the cavern walls are creaking and groaning all around me. It was definitely a new experience.
In Dirt 3 it was kind of a miss initially. In fact I kind of preferred my current speaker setup over the Vizio, that was until I decided to change the in-game audio options from Rapture3D to “software”, and oh my goodness what a difference it made! I had hoped for a much more immersive experience with 5.1 and I got it. You could “feel” the air pressure change when you drove into a tunnel, you could hear the cars approaching from behind you, you could hear the announcers voice rotate around you as you turned the corners, the crowd was all around you, and even the in-game music sounded better. If I did have complaints about the sound in this game it was due to the sound designers and not the sound bar.
OTHER FEATURES: 4.5/5 Some nice bonuses
Bluetooth: I was pleasantly surprised by this feature. It is super easy to set up and is really convenient to use when your PC is off and youre too lazy to get up and want music. I was afraid that there would be a big loss in audio quality, but I couldn’t really hear it. Where I did hear audio quality drops was when I was playing Pandora through Bluetooth.
USB: I never really got this to work, but I didn’t try too hard, because I will never use it.
Wall mounting: Haven’t used it yet, but I will, and it comes with all the hardware to do so. Even comes with a template to show you where to drill the holes.
Accessories: Comes with a plethora of accessories. Everything you would need to use it.
CONS: They came so close to a perfect system.
One major con that I find with this bar is that the bar is only 42 inches wide. This is Vizios only 5.1 surround setup. Why in the world would they not make it using their 54 inch sound bar?! The reason surround works, is because of the placement of the speakers. And limiting the width of the sound bar to 42 inches is crazy if you are trying to create a realistic surround experience! The farther the two stereo channels are apart the better the surround effect will be. This is VIZIOS flagship sound bar, and it seriously missed it with this point.
When it comes to sound clarity, coming from analog, even analog with a sound card, I believe I could hear things in the music that I never did before. With that being said, the front/center channels at times feel like they are coming out of a tin can. It kind of had a muddy, cheap feel to it. Not that I felt like I was missing anything but kind of like the center channel sounded like an alarm clock speaker. It was with the mids that I noticed this the most with. It is not terrible, and I think that most non-audio minded people probably wouldn’t notice it, but I did after a while. It may be that I am much too close to it right now. (About 3 feet as it sits on my PC desk.) Ultimately when we finish the media room and get this mounted under the TV I am sure it will diminish quite a bit.
Some have pointed out that it has no HDMI pass through, and therefore it is not able to play uncompressed audio codecs, such as DTS-HD or Dolby Digital-TrueHD. It plays the standard Dolby Digital or DTS files. I don’t see this as a major con though. Some will argue that you need to have really nice speakers to hear a difference anyways, and others, will say you can’t hear a difference at all. I have never heard true uncompressed sound on a nice system, so I may not know what I am missing.
Others have complained about audio dropping out at times. I did not experience this initially, but it happened a few times in Skyrim, so I did the INCREDIBLY EASY firmware update, and did not see it again.
OTHER THOUGHTS: For what I paid for this thing, and the performance I am getting out of it, and the features and convenience that it has, I am absolutely pleased with it.
I am still a college student, who just got his first mortgage, so with my budget; this was just about what I could do. I looked at other HTIAB systems, and other receiver/speaker combos, but they just didn’t really fit what I had in mind, and the reviews and prices were a mixed bag. I knew I wanted surround, and knew that the room it was going in is fairly small, so this sound bar really appealed to me. Also, the wireless was a huge selling point, as were the aesthetics because it will perfectly match the coming-soon VIZIO M-series which I will be buying.
All in all, for what I needed, wanted, and could afford; I really do not think that I could have done much better in the sound department, and all the other features like wireless, bluetooth, aesthetics, cost are all added bonuses in my mind. I highly recommend this 5.1 package.