is one of our favorite sound bars of the year, with one big caveat: you have to like its rear speakers. They get you true surround sound, but for some that's not worth the extra clutter.
The Vizio S4221w-C4 ($250 street) is a step down from the 5.1 sound bar, offering essentially everything that's great about the step-up model without the rear speakers. It has great sound quality, built-in Bluetooth, and one of the best remotes offered on a sound bar. It also has the same refined styling, although its 3.74-inch height is still problematic, as it blocks the remote sensor on many TVs.
The similarly priced HT-CT260H) still get our nod as our favorite 2.1 sound bar, with slightly better sound quality and an IR repeater to help remote signals find their way to your TV. But the Vizio S4221w-C4 is certainly close, especially if you prefer its less flashy style.(and its successor, the
Design: Refined, but possibly in the way
The Vizio S4221w-C4 doesn't stand out much, but that's generally a good thing when it comes to sound bars. Its reserved style is dominated by the large black speaker grille on the front, with a thin strip of silver running along the bottom. There are some nice touches; on the far left, there's a series of LEDs that give you feedback on the volume level and even what input you're using. The wireless subwoofer is on the bland side, but it's easy to stash in an inconspicuous spot of your living room.
The major drawback to the S4221w-C4's design is that it might block your TV's remote sensor if you place it in front of your TV. It's a big drawback, as you'll find yourself holding the remote in the air, angling to get the remote signals to your TV. It's a common problem with sound bars, although models with aget around it, as do sound bars with IR repeaters, such as Sony's HT-CT260.
If you're considering the S4221w-C4, your best bet is to find your TV's remote sensor, break out a tape measure and figure out if the 42.32-inch-wide, 3.74-inch-high and 3.15-inch-deep cabinet will get in the way in your setup.
A remote worth talking about
Most sound bar remotes feel like afterthoughts, but it's obvious there's been some work put into the S4221w-C4's clicker. Its caliber is clear as soon as you pick it up, with a substantial feel and minimalist selection of buttons that easily fall under your thumb. The volume buttons at the bottom are even slightly tilted to make them easier to feel by touch; it puts the thin, credit-card-style remotes found on other sound bars to shame.
What really sets the S4221w-C4's remote apart is its built-in display. It's a smart idea: why not look at the remote right in your hand instead of squinting at a tiny display across the room on your sound bar?
In practice, it's not quite the perfect solution you want it to be. Figuring out the logic of how the menus work on the single-line display takes some getting used to. The display also makes it easy to forget that the remote actually needs to be pointed at the sound bar for your commands to take effect. The instinct is to angle the display toward your eyes, with the remote pointing upward, which means your remote signals may not be received by the TV. Still, you do eventually adjust to its quirks; its excellent button layout and feel make it a great remote overall.
Features: Bluetooth, Dolby/DTS, and more
There are four inputs on the back of the sound bar that should cover everything you need: optical, coaxial, minijack, and analog. Sure, that's only enough for four devices if you're connecting everything directly to the sound bar, but you're likely better off using your, in which case you probably don't need more than a single optical input.
The S4221w-C4 also has built-in Bluetooth, which is pretty much a must-have feature for sound bars these days. Bluetooth is the easiest way to wirelessly stream music from the vast majority of smartphones and tablets. There is compression with Bluetooth audio, so there is some sound quality lost, but it's less noticeable from a sound bar than a system with separate speakers. There's also onboard Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, which isn't essential on a sound bar, but is helpful in some niche situations.