Vizio bills itself as "America's HDTV Company," but the company has begun dipping its toe into the home audio side of the electronics pool with the VSB210WS. Billed as a "High Definition Sound Bar," the $349 package features a sleek-looking single speaker paired with a full-size 2.4GHz wireless subwoofer. While high-definition TV is something that is clearly objective, high-definition sound is something completely different. While we wouldn't sign off on the "high-definition" moniker for the VSB210WS (or any sound bar we've heard to date), we did find it to be a credible performer for the price. It's a stereo speaker, so it cannot promise much in the way of surround sound. That said, Vizio engineers gave the VSB210WS a noticeably fuller, more bass-rich sound than your average entry-level sound bar, and the inclusion of a wireless subwoofer makes it a good deal.
Design and features
The VSB210WS's sound bar and subwoofer are attractively finished in a high-gloss black plastic. Construction quality feels substantial and the speaker's brushed metal end-caps are distinctive. A removable black cloth grille covers the four 3-inch-high mid/bass drivers and two 0.75-inch aluminum dome tweeters. A built-in 15-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier powers the drivers. The 9.2-pound sound bar measures 4.82 inches tall by 39.95 inches wide by 4.33 inches deep.
Toward the center section of the front edge of the speaker cabinet, you'll find the power, input selector, volume, mute, and processing controls. Conveniently enough, the sound bar's built-in feet can double as wall brackets.
The small, black plastic remote control duplicates the speaker's controls and adds a subwoofer volume control. While this is a welcome addition, the sound bar doesn't have a dedicated display panel, so you'll have to make sense of the flickering LED lights to determine volume, input, and processing functions.
The 10-segment LED array is located behind the grille. The first seven white LEDs indicate volume level and input selectors. LED numbers five through seven correspond to the three audio inputs, the orange eighth LED indicates that the speaker and subwoofer have linked, and the last two blue LEDs refer to the sound bar's processing modes (These processing modes include SRS TruSurround, which produces virtual surround sound, and SRS Labs' TruVolume, which promises to minimize volume fluctuations.). When you mute the unit, the volume LEDs will flash. If you think all of that sounds confusing to read, our hands-on experience wasn't much better. This is something you'll simply have to get used to in order to understand the various functions of the sound bar.
The frustrating LED arrangement wasn't our only gripe with the system. You have to point the remote directly at the VSB210WS or it won't work--there's no leeway here. We also found that the remote turned the volume up or down a bit too quickly.
Connectivity is fairly basic: just two stereo RCA analog inputs and one optical digital input (one stereo RCA cable is included).
System setup is quite simple, as you only need to hook up your audio connections to the VSB210WS and adjust the subwoofer volume to your taste. But since the VSB210WS doesn't switch video sources, like your Blu-ray player or cable box, you'll have to remember to switch those on your TV manually, or set up a macro on your universal remote to handle the job.
The 2.4GHz wireless subwoofer is styled to match the sound bar speaker. The subwoofer cabinet's gracefully curved sides and rear are finished in gloss black, while the top panel is set off with a chrome edge. The box features a 6.5-inch woofer that is located behind a removable black cloth grille. Vizio did not supply a power rating for the subwoofer. It weighs 15.5 pounds and measures 12.3 inches tall by 11.18 inches wide by 11.87 inches tall.
While wireless operation may ease placement hassles, the VSB210WS subwoofer still needs to be placed near the sound bar for optimal quality. Also, remember the sub must be plugged into an AC power outlet. We were happy to see that it's so easy to change the subwoofer's volume, as we were always adjusting it after we changed movie and music discs. Unfortunately, we couldn't find one setting that satisfied all of our listening examples.
The Sony HT-CT100 sound bar/subwoofer system ($299) offers some stiff competition for the VSB210WS. The Sony system doesn't offer a wireless sub, but the 3.1 channel system offers source switching for up to three HDMI devices. This svelte Sony sound bar is a mere 2.75 inches tall by 31.5 inches wide by 2.6 inches deep, so it's a lot smaller than the Vizio bar. The HT-CT100 medium-density fiberboard subwoofer is 19.75 inches high and 14.25 deep.
We should also note that Vizio will soon offer the VSB210 ($200) sound bar, which appears to be the same as the VSB210WS, but without the subwoofer.
The VSB210WS has a fuller, more bass-heavy sound than most budget-priced sound bar systems. There's a satisfying weight to the sound of movies and music and listening in stereo never produced the processing artifacts (hollowness or tizziness) that plague some sound bars. With the VSB210WS, traditional stereo worked best for music, while switching on the SRS TruSurround forced the sound into a much harsher, more aggressive edge.
This wasn't the case with movies, as the SRS TruSurround did open up the sound by projecting it a bit wider than the sound bar's actual physical width. We found that the Sony HT-CT100 did better in that regard with ZZ Top's "Live From Texas" Blu-ray. With that system, the sound of the hometown crowd's cheers spread out well to the sides of the CNET listening room. When we sent the same disc through the VSB210WS, the crowd's applause never escaped all that far from the speaker cabinet.
Next, we checked out the SRS Labs' TruVolume feature that reduces loud-soft volume fluctuations. We used battle scenes from the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray, and noted a slight reduction of loud-soft dynamics. While it does actually work, we can't say it's very effective. The fiercest bomb blasts and street fighting assaults in "Black Hawk Down" were reined in by the VSB210WS, whether the SRS Labs' TruVolume was turned on or off. We've found that this is a common problem with sound bar speakers, and we judged the VSB210WS to be about average on that score.
Moving onto the "Across the Universe" Beatles musical Blu-ray, dialogue sounded very natural and pleasantly warm. The gospel choir singing "Let It Be" sounded fantastic.
KD Lang's "Ingenue" CD had a big warm sound, but rocking out with Bruce Springsteen wasn't as satisfying. The VSB210WS can only play so loud before you can hear it straining. Further listening proved that stereo separation is certainly not a strong point.
In sum, the VSB210WS is a reasonably accomplished sound bar plus subwoofer combination, considering its affordable price tag. That said, if you don't need a wireless sub, we'd recommend the similarly priced Sony HT-CT100 for its superior sound quality and additional video connectivity.