Vizio's been in the sound bar game for a while now and it shows. The VHT215 is the company's latest sound bar and it bests its predecessors in just about every way. It's the first Vizio sound bar that actually looks good, with a slim, sleek cabinet and a glossy finish that doesn't look cheap. The included remote is one of the best we've used and it's packed with connectivity options, including two HDMI inputs. Sound quality is great out of the box, plus it's endlessly tweakable, with separate controls for bass, treble, and subwoofer volume. There's really little to complain about with the VHT215, except the fact that the
Design: Thin with a truly great remote
The VHT215 looks considerably more refined than Vizio's previous sound bars. The front panel is dominated by a dark-gray speaker grille, with the rest of the cabinet sporting a glossy black finish. From the side, you can see the VHT215 is seriously slim at 1.9 inches deep. Metal feet jut out at an angle on the bottom, giving it an interesting look and, more importantly, providing a pretty solid base for the unit. There's a front-panel display (which not every sound bar has) and it gives helpful feedback like how loud the volume is or what input you're on. Overall, the Vizio VHT215 doesn't look quite as slick as the ultraslim Haier SBEV40-SLIM, but it's not far behind.
The wireless subwoofer has the same glossy black finish as the sound bar, although it looks a little tackier on the sub. It's reasonably compact and the wireless connectivity means you can place it pretty much anywhere in your living room, although it will typically sound best within 5 to 6 feet of the sound bar.
The included remote on the VHT215 is a real winner. Its minimalist design offers up buttons only for volume up/down, power, and mute. Even better, you can slide out a panel on the bottom to get a few more controls for adjusting the bass, treble, and subwoofer levels, plus select an input or choose a sound-processing mode like SRS TruSurround. It's really the perfect sound bar remote, although the build quality could be better.
Setup and features: Packed with jacks
The VHT215 is packed with connectivity for a sound bar, with two HDMI inputs, two digital audio inputs (coaxial and optical), and an analog minijack input. Even if you're planning to use your TV as a switcher, those extra inputs on the sound bar are nice in case you run out of inputs on your TV. The VHT215 also supports ARC (audio return channel), which means you can possibly simplify your cabling needs down to a single HDMI cable if your TV also supports ARC.
The VHT215 is a snap to set up. Plug everything in, hook up your sources and you're up and running. Subwoofer-speaker pairing is automatic and there's no initial speaker calibration required. However, as we mentioned, you can make bass and treble adjustments via the remote, with +/- 10 dB range of adjustment. Subwoofer volume is separately adjustable too, over the same wide range, so it's easy to fine-tune the sound on the fly, without delving into sound menus. If you're living in an apartment or any place where the sound can get too loud, easy access to the subwoofer volume is truly a blessing.
Performance: Tweaked to your liking
Thanks to the no-fuss setup, we heard the VHT215 at its best as soon as we popped in the "Anonymous" DVD. The movie is set in Elizabethan England, and asks the question, Who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? The VHT215 credibly recreated the ambience of the small theaters and stone-walled rooms, and dialogue articulation was consistently excellent. We felt the movie mix was a little bright, so we nudged the treble down a few dB on the remote, and that made the movie's Baroque music sound more natural.
The battle scenes in the "Home of the Brave" overtaxed the VHT215 when we played the Blu-ray loud, but lowering the volume cleared up those concerns. We used the SRS TruVolume feature to minimize the abrupt soft-to-loud volume shifts, and found it effective, but there was some muffling of the detail with the TruVolume.
The VHT215 is a 2.1-channel system, so it can't project the room-filling sound of a 5.1-channel home theater. Vizio includes two surround processing modes on the VHT215, SRS Wow and SRS TruSurround, and we were underwhelmed by the former, but felt TruSurround did a good job of expanding the soundstage across the front of our listening room. However, the same movie played over the Haier SBEV40-SLIM sound bar, which doesn't have any sound-processing modes, had richer and more powerful sound.
We also compared the VHT215 with Yamaha's excellent (but subwooferless)
CDs sounded about average for a sound bar system, which is to say, fine for background listening, but that's about all. The Haier SBEV40-SLIM was much better in that regard.
Conclusion: Top budget sound bar choice
The Vizio VHT215 is the best sound bar the company has made so far, with a smart look, great sound, and lots of flexibility to make sonic adjustments. Ultimately we prefer the Haier SBEV40-SLIM's slicker design and slightly better sound quality, but the Vizio is close behind with a great remote and sound that can be tweaked to your liking. It should be on your short list of options if you're buying a budget sound bar.