If you're looking for the simplicity of a sound bar, but still want the immersive experience of surround sound, the VIZIO SB3851-D0 may be the perfect compromise. It offers full 5.1 channel surround sound. Three of those channels are stuffed into a convenient soundbar, two of them are in wired satellite speakers, and there is also a wired subwoofer. The other 5+ channel soundbar system we tested, the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro, does produce slightly better sound than the VIZIO. However, it is much more difficult to set up and costs nearly twice as much. Because of this, the VIZIO earned our Top Pick for 5.1 Channel Award.
VIZIO SB3851-D0 Review
Pros: Good sound quality, true surround sound, easy to install, inexpensive
Cons: Subwoofer slightly weaker than other external subwoofers
Our Analysis and Test Results
The VIZIO SB3851-D0 manages to both be easy to install and setup while also consisting of four separate speakers. This makes it perfect for those that want full surround but doesn't want too much complexity.
The VIZIO SB3851-D0 earned an above average overall score in our testing, which you can see in the table above. Below we run through all of the different tests we used to calculate those overall scores, and discuss how the VIZIO fared in each.
We would describe the VIZIO's sound quality as good but not great. This earned it a score of 6 out of 10 in this metric.
This represents a huge step up from the sound quality of your TV's built-in speakers with deep bass, a wide dynamic range, and great clarity. Sure, top scoring models like the Sonos Playbar perform better in almost all of these respects, but the VIZIO gets close. If the Sonos is 100% better than average built-in TV speakers, we'd say that the VIZIO sound about 60% better, and costs a third of what the Sonos costs. The VIZIO also offers true 5.1 surround sound, something the Sonos does not, and its external subwoofer actually gives it slightly better bass than the Sonos.
When compared to the other 5+ channel model we tested, the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1Ch, the VIZIO is just slightly inferior in terms of sound quality. The VIZIO actually has slightly better dynamic range and clarity than the Nakamichi, but the Nakamichi's subwoofer is much more powerful, which can make music sound a bit more full. However, we don't think this slight upgrade is worth the Nakamichi's added price and complexity.
Ease of Use
Thi is where the VIZIO shines. It earned one of the highest scores in this metric, an 8 out of 10, despite the added logistics of 2 satellite speakers and an external subwoofer.
The subwoofer is wireless, and we had absolutely no issues getting it to pair with the soundbar in our testing. The wired satellite speakers also installed quite easily. In comparison, we had to attempt pairing multiple times for both the subwoofer and satellite speakers of the Nakamichi before everything was working properly.
The VIZIO also has a well-designed remote, and LED indicators to let you know what settings have been selected. There is also a VIZIO app available that lets you further customize the speaker system, and even let you stream some content via wifi rather than Bluetooth. If you'd rather go the Bluetooth route, we found the connection to be very strong in our testing.
The VIZIO picked up an 8 out of 10 in our sound customization testing, one of the top scores in the metric.
The remote lets you adjust bass and treble levels. Via the app you can adjust surround sound volume and balance. It also offers multiple sound modes: music mode movie mode, a truvolume mode that dampens loud noises, and a night mode that lowers bass frequencies so you don't annoy your neighbors. The Nakamichi does slightly better in this metric because it has 9 different sound modes (including ones for sports gaming, and others), but the VIZIO still offers just as many EQ adjustments.
The VIZIO earned one of the highest scores in our design/style metric. All of its speakers have a subdued, all black, cubic design that makes them fit in with almost any decor.
The VIZIO lists for $300, but can often be found online for a bit less. This makes it nearly half the price of the $500 Nakamichi. If you're looking for a simple, effective surround sound setup, the VIZIO is one of the best deals around.
The VIZIO SB3851-D0 gives a full surround sound experience with most of the convenience of a soundbar. Considering all that it offers, it's pretty inexpensive as well.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata