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Vizio SB2020n-G6 review: Compact sound bar is a good value, but sounds smaller than rivals

The Vizio SB2020n-G6 is an enjoyable and easy-to-use sound bar but it's beaten by several similarly priced speakers, including one of Vizio's own.

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Ty Pendlebury
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Ty Pendlebury

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Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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Just when you thought they couldn't get any cheaper, Vizio's sound bars slash another few bucks from their prices. At $70 the SB2020n-G6 is the company's least expensive yet, but it doesn't sacrifice much to keep the cost down.

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7.4

Vizio SB2020n-G6

The Good

The compact Vizio SB2020n-G6 has balanced, clear sound quality. The improved display system makes it easy to use. The subwoofer output offers some upgrade potential and will improve volume and home theater impact.

The Bad

The Vizio SB2020n-G6 doesn't go that much louder than a TV speaker and can distort at the top volumes. The Creative Stage and SB362An-F6 offer better sound quality for a bit more money.

The Bottom Line

The Vizio SB2020n-G6 is an enjoyable and easy-to-use sound bar but it's worth spending more to get a model with a wireless sub.

The SB2020n-G6 offers simple setup and enough features to satisfy the needs of most entry-level or bedroom systems. Lacking a sub, its sound quality is geared towards making speech sound more understandable rather than shaking your walls.

This little speaker's problem is that models that include a wireless subwoofer -- such as the Creative Stage or Vizio's own SB3621 -- sound a lot better and cost just a little more. That said, if you really don't want a sub the SB2020 makes a great starting point. It may not be a slam dunk but it's still a great value.

So what is this thing anyhow?

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Vizio SB2020n-G6 is a 20-inch stereo sound bar with an impressive number of features for your 70 bucks. The inclusion of DTS Virtual:X helps this diminutive speaker fill a room with sound.

The speaker offers Dolby Digital decoding via its optical input in addition to a USB port, 3.5mm auxiliary and Bluetooth. There's also an RCA subwoofer output in case you want to add your own sub.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

For the price I was impressed by the number of accessories included in the box: a candy bar remote, an optical cable and not only a stereo RCA to 3.5mm cable but also an RCA to 3.5mm adapter.  

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Sarah Tew/CNET

How does a sound bar with no display demonstrate any changes you make? With tones. Turning a feature on using the remote activates a high-pitched tone, and a low tone means the feature is off. In the case of EQ settings, high equals "movie" mode and low is "music."

The 2020 uses colors to denote each individual input, which I found easier to understand than the Morse code-like display of the higher-up models. If this 20-inch bar becomes a usability blueprint for how future Vizio sound bars will be, I'm fine with that. The remote offers all of the necessary functions and works well in concert with the speaker's system of colored LEDs and beeping tones.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

How does it sound?

Like many Vizio sound bars the SB2020 offers a balanced performance across both music and movies. However the subwoofer was sorely missed when I compared the Vizio to the Creative Stage, which does have a sub.

I listened to a range of music via the optical input and found that -- whether it was playing dream-pop or punk -- the Vizio performed well but didn't blow me away. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's Searching sounded lovely enough on the SB2020 with the rattling percussion and haunted vocals filling the space in front of me. The Creative Stage  sounded bigger and more powerful with this track however, helped along by the extra bass. It's worth noting that the Vizio cabinet rattled at the higher volumes.

If you're relying on the SB2020 to be a home theater powerhouse you will be disappointed. I wasn't able to get satisfying volume levels out of the Avatar test disk, though what was there sounded balanced enough. The Creative could get louder but it also sounded chesty on Jake's voice and with the rumble of the elephant-like hammerhead titanothere.

Adding a subwoofer to the Vizio contributed the expected amounts of power and volume, although it wouldn't be worthwhile buying a separate model for this and Vizio doesn't make one. Decent subwoofers start at $300 and for that you can get a great sound bar with a bundled sub such as the Polk Command Bar. If you have an old sub lying around, however, that would be ideal.

How does the Vizio compare against the $100 SB362An-F6? The step-up Vizio had more gravitas and the larger cabinet delivered a better stereo spread during Chapter 15 of the Matrix Reloaded test disk. With the SB2020 the brass stabs at the beginning of the movie sounded clear, the aforementioned fight scene sounded less than dynamic than either the Creative Stage or the SB362An-F6.

Compared against the built-in speaker of our M series TV the $70 sound bar had better bass and presence than the onboard sound, but surprisingly it wasn't a "sit up and take notice" difference volume-wise. The Creative Stage or the SB362An-F6, on the other hand, both offer a much more marked improvement over TV speakers.

Should you buy it?

Vizio upended the audio industry with its range of budget sound bars, but now the disruptor has become the disrupted. The Vizio may be a likable performer, but the value proposition the Creative Stage offers is ridiculous. The Creative's inclusion of both an HDMI port and a subwoofer means it's better connected and better-sounding.

However, if you can spend another $20 or $30, the Vizio SB362An-F6 offers a better stereo image and a more dynamic sound than either one.

01-vizio-20-inch-soundbar-sb2020n-g6
7.4

Vizio SB2020n-G6

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Sound 6Value 8