If you think you'll miss out on a home-theater experience by choosing a budget sound bar, think again. Sure, you can pay hundreds or even thousands for a sound bar or audio system to go with your home theater, but if you choose wisely, some real gems can be had at the budget level too.
The $100 Vizio SB362An-F6 may not look like much -- a Toblerone shoved in a sock -- but as with many recent Vizio sound bars, its appearance and price belie serious performance. The quality of sound it can deliver at this price is kind of amazing.
What surprised us most is how well the bar held its ground in our direct comparisons with the, which costs twice as much. Features and design aside, the Vizio is the more enjoyable listen, and that's quite an accomplishment given how good the Yamaha sounds.
The biggest competition for the SB362An-F6 comes from within. The step-up Vizio SB3621n-E8 costs $150 (or even less) and offers significantly better sound thanks to an included wireless sub -- something the cheaper version lacks. We think it's definitely worth the money to get the version with the sub, so it remains CNET's Editors' Choice for budget sound bars. But if you don't want an extra box in the room, or you just want to spend as little as possible on a great sound bar, get the SB362An-F6.
There's something distinctly "80's sci-fi" about the SB362An-F6. Those hexagonal end pieces could be an apartment building the antihero buzzes in his flying car, or miniature fighter intakes at the end of a Battlestar's hangar outrigger. This 36-inch-long sound bar can sit on an AV stand in front of your TV -- provided you have enough clearance for its 2-inch height -- or it can be mounted on the wall (with two keyhole ports) to point outward into your room.
The side of the speaker is where things get particularly geometric, with a series of triangular buttons staggered across the hexagonal face. The buttons include volume, source selection and a dedicated Bluetooth option.
The remote offers powerful levels of control for a cheap soundbar, with volume plus three bands of EQ and a input selector.
Bells 'n' whistles
The SB362An-F6 is a 2.1 channel system with two built-in 3-inch "subwoofers" that Vizio claims deliver frequencies down to 50Hz. The woofers are actually mounted on top of the unit, and it does sound different if placed on a table than when you hold it up vertically (though we didn't test it mounted on a wall).
The underside of the cabinet has a scooped-out section for the inputs. As expected at this price, they're scant: optical audio for hooking up your TV, a 3.5mm analog port, and a USB port for playing MP3s and WAVs from a thumb drive. There's no HDMI with, as found on the Yamaha YAS-108.
The Vizio offers both Dolby and DTS decoding, which is impressive for a sound bar at any price, plus it has DTS Virtual:X, which is designed to simulate sound coming from around and above you, and that works especially well. We first heard DTS Virtual:X last year in the $300 Yamaha YAS-207 -- it's a technology that does a great job of simulating surround and even height effects -- and here it's appearing for the first time in a hundred-buck sound bar.