Score

9.2

Smart Home
Gear Guide

When it comes to soundbars, home theater enthusiasts will be quick to tell you that most of them aren’t worth the plastic they’re made out of. The soundbar category has forever been plagued with ineffective models that lacked definition, bass response, or any of the hallmarks of theater-quality sound.

Recently, companies like VIZIO have been changing the landscape of this market, and are producing affordable soundbars that manage to provide crisp and impactful sound that was once reserved for much more expensive speakers. Today, we’re going to take a look at the VIZIO SB3821-c6, which is one of the best budget soundbars on the market.

Pros

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    Affordable
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    Performance well above its price range
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    Ease of use
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    Bluetooth audio streaming
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    Wireless subwoofer

Cons

  • No HDMI output
  • Mediocre bass response

Key Features

When it comes to this powerful soundbar from VIZIO, there’s a lot to unpack. Let’s take a look at the most critical features of the SB3821-c6.

Wireless Subwoofer

Perhaps the greatest selling point of this soundbar is the wireless subwoofer it includes. At this price point, very few manufacturers include a wireless subwoofer with their soundbars. If you happen to find one that does, chances are, it will bring limited functionality, poor bass response, and mediocre sound quality.

However, the SB3821-c6 subwoofer offers impressive performance and tight, punchy bass response down to about 50hz. Of course, a more expensive subwoofer will offer greater performance and better bass response. But, for the money, the SB3821-c6 may be unbeatable in this regard.

Up to 100dB of Sound

This thing is LOUD. The SB3821-c6 manages to provide crisp, clear sound up to 100dB, which is far louder than you’re likely to need. Impressively, this model has less than 1% harmonic distortion even at its loudest volumes.

Multiple Mounting Options

Some soundbars fall short when it comes time to figure out where to install them and provide limited mounting options. The SB3821-c6 can mount to the wall, or on top of a table. It can also be built-in to your entertainment center, which ensures that this soundbar can be as versatile as you need it to be when it comes to mounting options.

Wireless Streaming

One of our favorite features of this soundbar is it’s Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to wirelessly stream your favorite music from any connected device when you aren’t watching TV or a movie.

The SB3821-c6 provides an excellent streaming audio experience thanks to its well-tuned drivers and powerful subwoofer.

Dolby Digital and DTS Support

For the dedicated audiophile, this feature is likely to be most important. The SB3821-c6 offers full support for Dolby Digital, which means you’ll be receiving rich, cinema-quality sound from your soundbar.

Perhaps most importantly, this model also offers support for DTS TruSurround and Truvolume, which help deliver the largest, most cinematic sound environment possible through their virtual surround sound technology, specifically designed for soundbars.

Considering the low price of this soundbar, you’ll have a hard time finding a competing model that offers both Dolby Digital and DTS support. This translates to the most bang for your buck as far as the audio experience goes.

Review of the VIZIO SB3821-c6

All of those key features sound great, but how does this soundbar actually perform? We put the SB3821-c6 to the test, and here’s what we found.

Design & Build Quality

Lately, audio companies have focused much of their design resources into producing products with a futuristic or provocative look. Ultimately, this falls flat for most users, who would prefer a simply designed, easy to understand piece of equipment that blends in, and doesn’t stand out.

VIZIO hit the nail on the head with the design of this soundbar. It maintains a low profile and a sleek design that doesn’t command attention but manages to look great wherever you mount it.

The controls are simple and easy to understand as well. On the rear of the soundbar, there are coaxial and optical inputs for connecting the speaker to its source, a USB in and a 3.5mm jack. The USB in plays WAV audio only, which is first, odd, and second, not very useful.

Our only other issue is with the LED display hidden behind the grille of the speaker. If you’re familiar with VIZIO’s soundbars, you probably know all about this useless little display. While the dots it displays are useful for volume control, we still can’t figure out what the other dots on the display mean. Fortunately, this feature is negligible, and it shouldn’t bring you any grief one way or the other.

The included remote allows you to control all of the other aspects of the soundbar, including EQ, Bluetooth, volume, and power. Those same controls appear on top of the soundbar, which is handy should you ever lose the remote.

As for the build quality, most affordable soundbars are made from cheap plastic, and they don’t feel like a high-quality piece of equipment. Meanwhile, the SB3821-c6 manages to feel well built and expensive, which is impressive given the low cost.

The ported subwoofer box which houses the 5” woofer of the SB3821-C6 also feels exceptionally well built and solid, which is especially impressive considering the low price of this soundbar. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was constructed from solid wood instead of plywood or pressboard.

Setup

The setup process of this soundbar couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve unpacked the components and decided on a spot to put them, all you’ll need to do is connect the soundbar to power, and use either the coaxial cable or optical cable inputs to connect the soundbar to its source.

Once you’re ready to go, all you’ll need to do is set the EQ, set the input source, and enjoy your soundbar!

Performance

Performance wise, the sb-3821-c6 is beyond impressive. It offers crisp, bell-like high end, strong and strong mid response from its dual 2.75-inch drivers. The DTS TruSurround helps this soundbar to perform well beyond what you’d expect from a budget-priced solution. At first, the soundbar sounded a bit too bright and tinny with TruSurround on, but once we altered the EQ a bit, we were impressed by the immersive audio quality of the speakers.

Subwoofer

An included wireless subwoofer is virtually unheard of at this price point, so we had low expectations coming out of the gate. We were pleasantly surprised with how well the subwoofer handled bass, even when we used a bass-heavy action movie as our baseline test.

At louder volumes, the subwoofer does struggle a bit to keep up, and there’s a noticeable disconnect between the subwoofer and the soundbar. We were able to solve that issue by moving the subwoofer closer to the soundbar. The results were well-connected, synergistic sound that gave the impression it was coming from a single source.

That said, the range on the subwoofer is fantastic, and we had no out-of-range problems regardless of how far away the subwoofer was from the soundbar. But, the further away the subwoofer gets from the soundbar, the more likely you are to run into the issue described above, where the subwoofer and soundbar sound noticeably disconnected.

How Does it Stack up to the Competition?

The sb-3821-c6 isn’t quite in a league of its own, although there aren’t many soundbars that can stand toe to toe with the sb-3821-c6 at this price point. However, there are a few, and we put them up against this VIZIO model head to head.

VIZIO SB2920-C6

The 2920 is the closely related little brother to the sb-3821-c6, and as you’d imagine, it offers similar performance, but with one major caveat: it doesn’t include the wireless subwoofer.

While it doesn’t include the subwoofer, the other features it provides are virtually identical to the sb-3821-c6, including DTS TruSurround and TruVolume. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include Dolby Digital support. It’s also significantly smaller than the sb-3821-c6 and measures at 29” instead of 36”.

If you’re looking to improve upon the stock sound of your television, but you’re not particularly concerned with bass response, you may want to give this soundbar, which is available for under $100, a closer look.

VIZIO SB2821-D6

The SB2821-D6 is the literal twin of the SB-3821-C6, with the only difference in the two being their size. The D6 measures in at 28” while the C6 measures in at 38”. This translates to the D6 being slightly less loud. With that exception, the specs and features of these two soundbars are identical. The SB2821-D6 may be an ideal choice for anyone looking for a budget soundbar with a wireless subwoofer but needs to accommodate a smaller space than a 38” soundbar can manage.

Samsung HW-M450/ZA 2.1

Perhaps the worthiest competitor from another brand, the Samsung HW-M450/ZA 2.1 soundbar includes a wireless subwoofer and offers similar functionality and performance compared to the VIZIO SB3821-c6.

However, at over $100 more expensive, the Samsung doesn’t deliver any additional features and functionality. If it were up to us, we’d stick with the VIZIO and spend the $100 we saved on some new Blu-Rays and snacks for movie night.

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