Best Affordable Soundbar: Vizio VHT215
The Vizio VHT21 soundbar provides full sound without being obtrusive.
Soundbars are appealing because they are simple and unobtrusive — a single speaker unit incorporates center, left and right audio channels. With most soundbars, you don't need a separate receiver to power the speakers, either. Fewer components plus fewer cables equals easier home theater sound. Convenience often comes at a price, though — less sound fidelity and fewer features.
Vizio's VHT215 overcomes the pitfalls of soundbars by delivering solid all-around sound, and it packs in the features. Even better, it's a bargain at $270.
Why we like it
The VHT215 hits notes that other soundbars miss, thanks in part to its wireless subwoofer. Soundbars without a subwoofer leave out all the low-frequency effects that help fill out the listening experience — the rumble of a car chase, the resonance of bass in music. The VHT215's subwoofer creates plenty of rumble, and you can put it up to 60 feet away without any wires trailing.
In addition to the low notes, the VHT215 produces clear vocals and bright treble tones. The speaker also creates a wide sound field — the illusion of sound spreading out before you.
The VHT215 serves as your audio-video receiver, too, making it even more convenient. You can connect two audio sources over HDMI — something soundbars that cost twice as much rarely offer. Plus it has two other digital audio inputs. That should be enough to handle a full complement of video sources – cable TV, Blu-ray player, video game console, and a video streamer such as Roku, for example. Few soundbars approach that many inputs.
Keep in mind
No soundbar in this price range can compare sonically with a full-featured home theater system with separate speakers — true 5.1 win outs every time. If you have the space for a full home theater system, you'll get far more mileage out of it.
The VHT215, like most soundbars, is meant to accompany video — it's an accessory for your TV. Music isn't a priority. Though the subwoofer helps fill out the frequencies, guitars lack "crunch" and power, and brass instruments sound thin. But for casual music listening, it will get the job done.
External speakers are becoming a required accessory for HDTVs. As flat panels slimmed, the first thing to go was good sound.
Vizio's VHT215 fulfills the promise of a soundbar: It offers a simple alternative to a full home theater audio system in a streamlined package. AT $270, it delivers above-average sound and packs in more features than most soundbars that cost $500 or more. If you don't want to add a full home theater audio system, the VHT215 soundbar is your best bet.
- Soundbar: two 2.75-inch mid-range drivers; one 0.75-inch tweeter
- Subwoofer: one 6.5-inch driver
- Connections: two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output, one coaxial digital audio input, one optical digital audio input, one analog audio input
- Dimensions (without stand): 40.1 inches (W) by 3.3 inches (H) by 2.1 inches (D)
- Price: $270