TVs have gotten bigger — way bigger — but as a result the actual chassis holding the electronics has shrunk. That is fine as far as the display goes, but where is the room for the speakers? There is none, is the answer. This makes the need for a sound bar even more pressing, but it also means that the audio has to stretch a greater distance if there’s to be stereo coming from the left and right sides of the TV. Hence the need for the 54 inches of Vizio’s S5451w-C2 Home Theater Sound Bar. But does that mean that the speakers must share space with a subwoofer and psycho-acoustic technology in order to “create” greater depth and a sense of surround? Again, not with this sound bar. Listen as it gets set up to understand all.
The S5451w-C2 is long enough to fairly match the front of a 55“ TV, with the length also allowing for placement of 3 3” drivers (Left/Center/Right) and a bass module. These are really devoted to providing front-firing audio and stereo separation as I see it. There’s a “sweet” spot dead-center for a single person, but the S5451w-C2’s size enables bodies to be placed to either side and still get the stereo effect. Which means that the often-used couch placed in front of the TV won’t be causing the usual problems when people sit down to watch something. I plugged the sound bar in for power and turned it on using the tab control at the side.
Connecting the sound bar to the television can be done with a single optical cable — providing the TV decodes Dolby Digital surround from its output (otherwise all that is coming out is stereo sound). The Sony Bravia I have does that, so the Vizio can work with the native 5.1 audio signal coming in and decode it correctly (it also does DTS, includes DTS TruVolume for audible leveling and has a post processing surround matrix to improve on what’s being heard). There’s also a mini-jack input and a set of analogue RCA’s.
The three sets of speakers provides the left, center and right channels — or would if there was a way to get bass and surround separately. There is — in fact the provided subwoofer is one heavy guy with a 8” front facing driver that connects wirelessly to the sound bar. Instructions are provided for pressing tabs to connect the sub to the sound bar, but in my case it arrived already configured. So all I had to do was place the subwoofer at the corner of the opposite wall, plug it in and turn it on. When the sound bar was off, the sub went into a “sleep” state.
But I had to turn the sub around so that I could get to the two RCA inputs on the back. One was for connecting the included Left satellite speaker that went a few feet away to the left, the other input did the same for the other Right satellite speaker which went to the right. I now had the capability not only for getting a true bass response, but for getting a true surround response as well. Vocals are really clear, which makes this highly suitable for use with normal TV viewing, be it Judge Judy, a sitcom or repeats of The Walking Dead (which is where the sub comes more into play, for sure).
Returning to the sound bar, I took the slightly larger than a credit card remote and turned it on. What is done isn’t mirrored on the sound bar because there’s no visual panel — although a series of LEDs light up at the lower left to indicate increase/decreasing volume. But since there’s a small LCD panel on the remote, you actually see what you are doing through text. As to what I could do, it basically fell to controlling the volume, selecting from audio modes (or muting), enacting stereo or surround sound and varying the levels of the audio speakers, including that of the subwoofer. I put on the TV, switched to a movie playing on HBO in 5.1 and made my adjustments.
The S5451w-C2 has a fair amount of power, although it doesn’t have to be driven up as high when it’s in surround mode. This is due to the combination of the speakers in the sound bar working in tandem with the surround speakers to create a “louder” environment or sound-field than would otherwise occur. Music being played through the sound bar (via Bluetooth) requires a few minutes of conventional pairing and sounds best to me without surround. But definitely I left the bass up and running to give the music a more “deeper” feeling. I also liked the visual fact of the dull black on all but the remote — there’s no reason for a glossy finish that calls attention to itself because audio’s to hear, not look at. The grills are an off-gray and aren’t removable, but best is that they’re unobtrusive.
Bottom line: A sound bar shouldn’t be shorter than the TV if possible because it can’t provide the kind of stereo separation that should occur. Vizio’s S5451w-C2 54-Inch 5.1 Home Theater Sound Bar takes care of that and even goes the distance with a wireless sub for real bass and satellite speakers for true surround. I’d say that’s worth $499.99 retail.
Real surround sound,
Remote panel doesn’t light up
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.