For the longest time the 19” color TV was the acme of size to be found in the home. Then along came flat panels and before you knew what had happened, the 42” size took over where the cathode tube left off. Today, size continues to matter but for some reason the 42” size has “stuck” in the minds of those making consumer electronics — specifically those producing sound bars. But while a sound bar of that size has enough room for speakers and electronics, there’s two areas where it doesn’t succeed: the first being that there’s not a lot of room from one end to the other so as to create an effective stereo sound field, and and the second being that it can be dwarfed by the size of a 55” or larger TV. Neither of which are issues for Vizio’s S5430w-C2 54″ 3.0 Home Theater Sound Bar.
The first thing you notice about the S5430w-C2 is its size — it’s physically very large, as in 54-inches, which makes it imposing when placed against a 42-inch TV. Or the 50” Sony I used it with. In other respects the S5430w-C2 is conventional: it’s thickness is not unusual nor its horizontal shape, which to the eye reads as a dull black surface. There’s a non-removable grill covering the speakers in the front, while at the back are the inputs: one each HDMI, Optical, Coaxial, stereo mini-jack and analog RCA. Outputs include a HDMI with ARC for going from a content source on to the TV and a Subwoofer output to use with a powered sub (should one be desired/available). At the bottom left are a series of horizontal LEDs which provide both an indicator when it’s been turned on, as well as increasing/decreasing to show volume levels.
The remote is small but not as tiny as those credit card-sized versions. It features a thin BxW LCD panel across the top that reflects the button controls. This is many times easier to read than having a panel on the sound bar (which is often hard if not impossible to read anyway). The remote works in the usual line-of-sight that is a hallmark of IR.
The S5430w-C2 does not include a subwoofer, wireless or wired. Since many sound bars include a sub in the same price range as this Vizio, the inference is that there is something more working inside than would be found in others. In this case, it’s the speakers — dedicated left, right and center channels (one 3” each, hence the “3.0” in the name), with two “deep bass modules” — 6”x3” — for the low-end frequencies. The sound bar accepts Dolby Digital and DTS 3.0 channel decoding and features a number of audio technologies to provide enhanced audio experiences. These consists of DTS TruVolume (levels the audio for evening/lower volume listening) and DTS TruSurround (for simulated surround effects and aptx for near-CD Bluetooth streaming.
Watching television shows is an area where the S5430w-C2 does exceedingly well. Dialogue comes through clearly, even when music plays more in the foreground than background as it should. I could more easily drive the volume up all the way on a TV show without hitting any hiss or distortions. Vizio doesn’t provide the wattage but there’s no doubt in my mind that the S5430w-C2 comes with plenty of “oomph” and competes favorably with a sound bar I had used earlier in the month whose rating was stated as being 350 watts.
Movies fared well also. The S5430w-C2 can handle loud explosions and I found that the “deep bass modules” did perform their task fairly well, although at no times did they approach the true deep-seated bass wallop than a subwoofer could provide. But, with that said, it still performed better than average, especially when when compared to the speakers in the TV or similarly priced sound bars (sans sub). I did find the level of bass to be a bit more dominant when using the simulated surround, although it required some tweaking of the treble in response. As to the simulated surround mode, the overall effect was mild to me, although others watching with noted the effect, especially when seated dead-on to the TV (and sound bar). The larger size is of aid in this, party due to the space it has to work with from one end to its other, and partly since the “sweet spot” of listening to it is a bit wider than that of other, smaller sound bars.
The 5S5430w-C2 also has Bluetooth streaming, which can be paired with a device using a button on its back or on the remote. Streaming worked in a straightforward and consistent manner, using phone or tablet, iOS or Android. The quality of the audio, especially the midrange, was good and there was more than enough volume to drive heavy metal or other loud rock and roll (full disclosure is that I always played high resolution audio and no lorez MP3).
Bottom line: The Vizio S5430w-C2 54″ 3.0 Home Theater Sound Bar puts out big sound while its physical size makes it a better match up for larger TVs than others in its $299.99 price range. Additionally, the sound bar provides for a better stereo sound field with compelling bass despite the lack of a dedicated subwoofer.
Dedicated left, center, right audio channels, Wide sound field
No "Smart TV" features
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.