Vizio's brilliant $149 alternative to Bluetooth speakers

Vizio's little sound bar wireless subwoofer system blows away pricier Bluetooth speakers.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
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The Vizio SB3621n-E8 sound bar system

Sarah Tew

The Vizio SB3621n-E8 isn't just a terrific little sound bar system for movies and TV, it's also a sweet speaker for playing tunes. It's the first sound bar CNET ever reviewed that earned five stars and an Editors' Choice award. Heck, I'd be just as enthusiastic about the $149 SB3621n-E8 if it sold for $300 or $400, it's that good.

Still, it's first and foremost a sound bar, but I also spent time playing music over the SB3621n-E8, and thanks to its potent wireless subwoofer this system packs a wallop no pint-size Bluetooth speaker could dream of mustering. The sub is a mere 6.7 by 11.8 by 7.9 inches and features a 5.4 inch woofer. The sound bar is also compact at 36 by 2.1 by 3.2 inches. System connectivity runs to USB, optical and coaxial digital inputs, plus Bluetooth 4.0.

There's a clarity and dynamism with the sound of movies and music that floored me. Yes, it's still a small speaker system, don't expect it to work miracles in a huge living room or loft space, but nestled in the 11 by 20-foot CNET listening room the SB3621n-E8's capabilities loomed larger than any little wireless speaker I've heard.

Listening to Angelo Badalamenti's original score for "Twin Peaks" the SB3621n-E8 had weight enough to fully convey the music's ominous tone, and I credit the little subwoofer with the big sound. The sub, plus the clear sounding bar projecting a fairly wide soundstage is beyond what you'll get from any $150 Bluetooth speaker, that's for sure.

With Wilco's recent "Schmilco" album the natural tone of Jeff Tweedy's vocals and the acoustic instruments were well served by the SB3621n-E8. Nice, but Arcade Fire's aggressively harsh new "Everything Now" album was just as unpleasant as I've heard it sound on my home system. So the SB3621n-E8 can't soften the nasty sound of harsh recordings, but that's true for most of the better-sounding audio systems -- don't blame the messenger for bad sound.

Solo piano recordings rarely cut it with Bluetooth speakers or sound bars, but the SB3621n-E8 was definitely up to snuff with Patrick Cohen's gorgeous "Satie, E" album. The piano tone was natural, and Cohen's exquisite touch on the keys was preserved, each note's sustain clear.

The SB3621n-E8 is a musical sound bar and excels with movies, a feat no $150 Bluetooth speaker can match.