Sleek, innovative design
Detailed, cinematic sound
Plenty of connection options
Aggressive attack lacks musicality
Steep learning curve for novices
The highlight of the Elevate is the feature that brings the bar its uncharacteristically simple name: rotating speakers that “elevate” from their front-facing position to bounce sound off the ceiling and back down to the listening position when fed a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X audio signal. While the vast majority of Dolby Atmos-ready soundbars use the ceiling-bounce effect with permanently mounted speakers, this is the first bar to cleverly utilize these upfiring height speakers when the still-rare Atmos or DTS:X content isn’t available.
The Elevate delivers more than just spinning speakers, of course. Like the rest of Vizio’s Atmos lineup, it comes with surround sound speakers that plug into the subwoofer, in this case allowing for a fully immersive, 5.1.4-channel surround sound experience at a cost that meets or beats nearly all similarly outfitted setups. And while the Elevate has its drawbacks, including the need to fine-tune it manually for best results, you’ll have a hard time getting this much home theater performance for under $1,000 anywhere else.
About the Vizio Elevate
Before we dig in further, here’s a quick look at the Elevate’s main specs:
- Height x Width x Depth: 2.64 x 48 x 6.5 inches (bar), 15.6 x 10.83 x 13.7 inches (sub)
- Weight: 12.39 pounds (bar), 2.28 pounds (sub)
- Speakers/drivers: 18 total drivers; 13 in the bar, two in each surround satellite, and an 8-inch woofer in the sub cabinet
- Wireless Connection: WiFi with Chromecast streaming, Bluetooth
- Wired connection: HDMI eARC/ARC input/output, two spare 4K/HDR HDMI inputs, optical input, 3.5mm analog input, USB input
- Smart features: Google Assistant, Siri, and Amazon Alexa (requires separate smart speaker)
- Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital+, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, DTS Virtual: X
- Video support: 4K/HDR passthrough including Dolby Vision
While there’s plenty new here, opening the Elevate is reminiscent of the rest of Vizio’s soundbar solutions, right down to the thin cardboard box laden with every connection cable you’ll need. As a 5.1.4-channel system, the Elevate's massive L-shaped box includes a hefty subwoofer, dual surround satellites with both front and upfiring drivers, and of course, the massive bar itself that stretches 48-inches across and packs 13 individual drivers.
The included remote with its Casio-style screen for navigating settings calls back to the old-school Vizio design but, like all other design elements, it’s been snazzed up with a rounder, all-black casing along with backlighting.
Putting the system together is somewhat arduous, but it's simple enough if you follow the instructions. That includes making sure you’ve properly aligned the color-coded surround cables so that the left and right channels input properly to both the wireless subwoofer and the speakers themselves. A quick note: I was blasted by nearly full volume when connecting, so make sure your TV is off first. Also, you'll need to tap the volume key on the bar while setting up WiFi and the app still thinks it's on the top—the new design places it on the right side.
What we like
Stylish, innovative, and rugged new design
I actually quite liked the black and silver gleam of Vizio’s old rectangular bars, predictable as they may have become. There’s no doubt the new design looks better though, especially the tubular, anodized aluminum grill on the Elevate’s front face. As massive as it is (and this thing is massive), the bar pairs well with an equally massive TV—particularly aimed at integrating with Vizio's new OLED TV—and looks both futuristic and sleek.
We really can’t go much further without talking about the spinning speakers because, honestly, it’s rare to see anything new under the soundbar sun. I confess to thinking they were a shade gimmicky at CES 2020 (how naive we all were then). But in practice—apart from the ability to utilize all speakers at all times—there’s something exciting about hearing the smooth electric whir of the speakers turning upward when an Atmos signal comes in. In this age bereft of movie theaters (and most other such niceties), any new entertainment ritual is welcome. With each spin, I found myself bracing for action with the promise of revved-up performance, like watching the automatic spoiler on a supercar dovetail upward.
Whether or not this reduces the lifecycle of the system remains to be seen, and it was odd that the speakers would roll down and then back up again as I smashed through Mandalorian episodes. But the accompanying app does offer an option for keeping them forward or upward at all times, alongside the Automatic adjustment mode.
Ample input set with the future in mind
At the Elevate’s back cubby you’ll find ample connection ports, including optical and 3.5mm inputs, dual HDMI inputs for plugging in a pair of 4K/HDR-ready outboard devices (two more than Sonos’ Arc soundbar), and HDMI ARC/eARC connection. The latter is something we expect in all new premium bars, allowing you to control the bar’s volume and power with your TV remote when connected via HDMI ARC on your TV. And, if you’ve got a new eARC-ready TV, you can also source fully uncompressed audio directly that auto-adjusts for any sync issues (not that there were any of note).
Deep details deliver a premium flavor
While Vizio’s bars have always been in the plucky-yet-impressive camp when it comes to their sound performance, there’s nothing budget about how the Elevate performs. I’ll get to the big show—the Elevate’s sheer cinematic might—in a moment. But first it’s worth reveling in how well the bar delivers the goods in the subtler scenes of quality content.
Once you get the settings locked in (which included raising the center channel a few notches for me), you’ll get premium detail, whether it's the surprisingly sumptuous clunk of a plastic telephone receiver in Ricky Gervais’s Extras or the ambient whoosh of sound as Liz Lemon moves from the halls of her 30 Rock studio to the busy thoroughfare of New York City streets. While sometimes a bit sharp, dialogue is especially noteworthy in many scenes, to the point where you can easily tell the quality of a show’s sound mixing; Seinfeld is fine, but The Office borders on exceptional, pushing the bar’s performance in equal measure.
A wall of sound
You don’t buy a 48-inch bar for its subtlety, of course, and with a boasted 107 dB of ear-bleeding velocity (of which I accidentally got nearly the full force during setup), this bar is anything but subtle when you crank it up with some hearty action. I can't remember at this point the last time I've actually sat in a movie theater, but regardless, the first time I threw on an action film I felt that theater thrill I’ve been jonesing for.
Like Billy Joel, the Elevate’s sound signature goes to extremes to some degree, with bass that needs to be heavily ramped down for fear of taking over the whole venture, and a topside that is shimmery and taut to the point of near sibilance at its most unfurled. You’ll miss out on some of the ruddy richness of the midrange that I loved so much in the Sonos Arc. But letting this sucker loose with the right content pounds your couch with sound, and in these times, it’s an absolutely joyous experience.
The Mandalorian in Dolby Atmos was my favorite Elevate experience. When we’re introduced to the (SPOILER ALERT) Jedi in episode 5, I was on the verge of chuckling with home theater nerdery as the crunchy sparks of her dual lightsabers lit up the solemn, leafless landscape. The judicious touch of the mix engineer let the overhead sounds envelope me in atmosphere, rather than hitting me over the head, which only added to the immersion as Ahsoka Tano battled her way through blasters and, eventually, sliced open the alarm bell like an apple.
Speaking of Atmos, the system was similarly fun with my go-to Atmos demos, bringing thunderous bass and swirling wind and rain to life in scenes like Amaze and Leaf.
With speakers rolled forward for regular 5.1 content, I realized why having this many speakers in use at all times could be an asset. The tight boom of sound from all 13 speakers at once in His Dark Materials, such as the moment when the Witches are bombed by the Magisterium, was a poignant experience, as the heft of the bass and crack of the upper register brought more emotion to the already devastating scene.
At times the bass can feel a little tubby and sluggish—this isn’t a top-tier cabinet or woofer and the accuracy it lacks is proof—but it does its job well when properly constrained, holding down the foundation of the biggest scenes as the rest of the bar does its work.
What we don’t like
It puts the “Metal” in Metallica
For all Vizio chatted up the musical prowess of the bar with its height speakers rolled forward, the Elevate's most lackluster moments came with music streaming. It’s not bad, by any means, but because of the heavy emphasis at the two extremes of the frequency spectrum, the system is less musical than some of my favorites, including the aforementioned Arc, as well as Samsung’s HW-Q800T. Snares are too snappy, guitar strings too jangly and bass, even when constrained, can get too bold.
Finding the Direct EQ mode (my usual go-to with Vizio bars) only exacerbating some of the sharpness in the upper midrange and treble, I ended up spending most of my time listening in Movie mode. Music mode is perhaps a little less bassy, but regardless the balance between registers can lead to some tracks sounding less natural than I’d like. It gets the job done, and it gets darn loud so your next house party (whenever that comes) will be a banger, but you’ll need to trade some of the balance and musicality for theatrics in this case. I did find it fun to let the system spread the music around in surround, though, enveloping you in your stereo mix.
The interface is still a bit clunky
Vizio’s bars have always asked you to give up some intuitiveness in the interface for performance that punches above their weight. While things have improved there in most ways, in at least one, it’s actually gotten worse. I used Movie mode most often, not only because it seemed to work the best for TV/movies, but also because changing the mode, for some mind-bending reason, pauses all sound while an off-putting male voice tells you the mode you’ve just chosen, “Music Mode.”
I know he’s not really mocking me, but his slow reply feels like it, and I ended up almost fearing to change the mode when someone else (my wife) was in the room. It’s obvious that this is in place of a visual display. But even though the only visual interface on the bar itself is a line of LEDs, the remote and the app already let you know which mode you’re in, so it seems wholly unnecessary to have it spoken back.
Speaking of the Smartcast app, it’s improved quite a bit over the years, offering a quick view of all your settings, including basic EQ, but you can also delve into channel levels, inputs, and more. It’s a bit sluggish, though, sometimes failing to sync to the bar. Frankly, I’ve been spoiled by the snappy response of Sonos’ app, but Vizio’s is still a welcome inclusion.
You’ve got to work for the sound
One feature Vizio is still missing is any form of auto-calibration for its Atmos systems. I’ll be the first to admit these systems, which essentially fire frequency sweeps at a cheap mic, aren’t perfect. But they’re a starting point, allowing you to fine-tune from there.
While I actually enjoy futzing, without calibration it took me about a week of messing with levels in a casual way before I really felt the Elevate was fully locked in. It will sound fine without tuning, but moving both bass and the subwoofer down, raising the center and height channels (a lot actually) were all necessary to get the fluid, swirling effect I wanted, while still keeping dialogue clear and present. If you’re not up for the challenge, you may want to look at simpler systems, such as the oft-mentioned Sonos Arc or other one or two-piece sound setups.
It’s freaking massive
The pictures tell the story, but it's worth saying that not only is the bar long and deep, so is the subwoofer. You’ve also got to account for running wires and finding speaker stands (or shelves or couch cushions) to put up the surround speakers. This is less of a con than a PSA, but again, if you want something simpler that’s still cinematic, you may want to look for a one or two-piece setup that also includes Atmos.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if you’re ready to bring the theater back, this is a great option
Vizio’s new Elevate is fun, powerful, stylish enough for the average living room, and equipped with all the features you need (and more) for a full-blown, future-ready cinematic setup. Its interface is a bit clunky and you’ve got to mess with the levels a fair bit to get things rocking, but once you do, you’ll have a hard time finding this much theatrical punch elsewhere without spending a good deal more.
If you’re not sure you absolutely need a full surround setup, spinning Atmos speakers and all, you may want to look at the Sonos Arc or the Samsung HW-Q800T, both of which allow you to add wireless surrounds later should you decide you need them (though they’ll still need to be plugged into a power source, of course). Both are more musical, though the Arc lacks a subwoofer meaning you’ll miss out on the lowest, spaciest bellows of your favorite action. You can usually get either bar for less, too, meaning you lower upfront costs. However, neither allow for upfiring surround speakers, so you’ll still be missing two height channels.
Vizio still sells its more affordable, if less powerful, Atmos systems like the SB36512-F6, as well. While the company has got a lot better at naming things, it hasn’t improved on its value proposition, as that 36-inch setup can be had for under $500, and packs an impressive wallop of its own.
Still, if you’re missing the theater as much as I am, and you’ve got a grand to spend, the Elevate makes you work for it, but it does not disappoint.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor - Electronics@ryanwaniata
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2012. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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