Sleek new design
Good overall sound
Great Dolby Atmos for the money
Wired rear speakers
While other companies like Sonos, LG, and Samsung are producing great Dolby Atmos soundbars of their own, no one has minimized the price of admission quite like Vizio. Debuting in 2018, the SB36512-F6 offers a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos configuration—not to mention WiFi, Bluetooth, and support for multiroom audio—for less than some competing 2.1 soundbars.
By essentially owning the $500 Dolby Atmos market, Vizio has created a problem (albeit a good one to have) with the new M-Series. While it's a great option for Dolby Atmos on a budget, for the moment at least, it directly competes with Vizio's own Atmos value leader. Despite being a few years old, the SB36512-F6 bar is an enticing alternative while you can still find it. Whichever path you choose, both of Vizio's entry-level 5.1.2-channel systems are a great way to dip into the wonders of Dolby Atmos on a budget.
Editor's note: This is an early review of the Vizio M512a-H6, and it may not be widely available for purchase until April or May. We've reached out to Vizio for a firm release date and will update this review as soon as we know more.
About the Vizio M Series 5.1.2 Soundbar
Here’s a rundown of the Vizio M-Series 5.1.2 soundbar’s specs:
- Height x Width x Depth: 2.24 inches x 35.98 inches x 3.54 inches (bar), 9.92 inches x 8.3 inches x 11.69 inches (subwoofer)
- Weight: 5.53 pounds (bar), 11.6 pounds (subwoofer)
- Speakers/drivers: three two-way speakers, two rear speakers, two upfiring speakers (bar); one 6-inch subwoofer
- Wireless connection: Bluetooth
- Wired connection: 3.5mm audio, optical audio, USB, HDMI in, HDMI eARC
- Sound formats: DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X, Dolby Atmos
- Video support: 4K, Dolby Vision passthrough
Like all Vizio bar's we've tested, including the affordable M-Series All-in-One soundbar, the M-Series 5.1.2 includes all the necessary accessories to get things up and running, from an HDMI cable to mounting hardware.
As such, setup is simple if a bit more time-consuming than one or two-piece bars. You'll need to connect the rear speakers to the wireless subwoofer and set them up in the listening position. Then plug both the bar and the woofer into power to prompt the devices to automatically pair with each other. There’s no WiFi to set up or firmware to download, just a soundbar that’s effectively ready to plug-and-play.
What we like
A fabulous face lift
Compared to the SB36512-F6, the M-Series 5.1.2 didn’t change drastically in terms of dimensions. It is slightly taller and deeper, but these are similarly-sized soundbars at their core. The M-Series 5.1.2 does have a new aesthetic, however, and it’s a night-and-day difference in appeal.
The SB36512-F6 wasn’t a terrible looking bar. But the sharp edges of its rectangular design and the silver end caps, while being staples of the previous line of Vizio products, look dated. The M-Series sheds the boxy look for something more sleek and rounded, with darker end caps featuring the Vizio logo. A simple set of controls sit on top of the bar, while speaker grilles for the bar’s upfiring drivers flank both sides of the panel.
Even the remote got better. Vizio’s old remote, while functional, feels limited and a little cheap in your hands. The M-Series remote dons an all-black trim with backlighting and dedicated buttons for EQ, Setup, Effect, Level, Bluetooth, and Power. More than anything, it just feels better sitting in the palm of your hand.
Good sound that you can tune to taste
As far as sound goes, the M-Series 5.1.2 is money well spent. I previously enjoyed the M-Series AIO specifically for music, thanks to the detailed, distortion-free sound it produces. The M-Series 5.1.2 builds on that experience, introducing a 6-inch subwoofer to the mix that adds the depth that bass-heavy tracks in music or action scenes in movies were missing. I did have to dial back the bass a bit at different points, mainly because it felt like the sub was trying (unsuccessfully) to serve as the soundstage's star attraction. For the most part, though, it's a capable little woofer that fills out the lower frequencies well.
There’s also a dedicated center channel to go with rear speakers, which combine to create immensely better performance when it comes to watching movies or TV shows. Dialogue doesn’t get lost in the action nearly as much as 2.1-channel setups, and the rear speakers add some excellent immersion that you won't find on many bars at this price.
Out of the box, this bar offers solid audio quality. Should you want to adjust the sound, though, it’s remarkably painless to do so. The M-Series 5.1.2‘s remote lets you adjust blanket aspects of the bar’s sound like bass, treble, or dialogue. You can take things a step further by adjusting the levels of each individual driver, including the bar’s height channels, or you can opt to be a little less meticulous and toggle between Vizio’s Movie, Music, Gaming, and Direct presets.
The M-Series 5.1.2 even has a channel-testing feature to make sure each speaker is appropriately located and functioning properly. It doesn’t quite have all the tuning capabilities that come with some pricier bars or full-fledged A/V receivers, but the M-Series 5.1.2 does a pretty good impression.
Effective Dolby Atmos, dollar-for-dollar
Dolby Atmos is an increasingly hot commodity these days thanks to the addition of "height channel" speakers that combine with traditional surround speakers for incredible immersion. But few want to invest the time and money required to do it properly. Soundbars may never achieve the audio spectacle of a home theater setup outfitted with an array of ceiling speakers handling Atmos responsibilities. However, the bang-for-buck Atmos experience provided by the M-Series is a pretty good stand-in.
To be clear, while Dolby Atmos content is growing, it's still something of a rarity for TV and movies in the home. I tested the soundbar with a healthy amount of Marvel and Star Wars rewatches on Disney+—which, as an aside, is really killing it lately with content that is fun to watch and produced using high-quality formats—and the three-dimensional soundstage created by the M-Series proved impressive. I’ve listened to soundbars with objectively better Atmos renditions, but they almost exclusively cost double (or more) than what this system will run you. For under $500, it’s extremely hard to beat the height element that the M-Series 5.1.2 adds to epic fight scenes in The Mandalorian or magical standoffs in Wandavision.
To be fair, I did find myself boosting the levels of the height channels to give the bar the more pronounced Atmos effect that I was after. And, depending on the environment that the soundbar is working with (e.g., the height of your living room ceiling from which the speakers bounce the sound), your Atmos mileage may vary. But for the average person working on this kind of budget, the M-Series 5.1.2 is capable of delivering tangible 3D sound that most will appreciate.
What we don’t like
One step forward, two steps back
Besides the redesign, the biggest difference in the M-Series 5.1.2 is the inclusion of HDMI eARC—also known as Enhanced Audio Return Channel, which allows for higher-quality audio from eARC-equipped TVs to your soundbar—and support for DTS:X (one of Dolby Atmos' 3D audio rivals). Make no mistake, those are significant additions that expand the versatility of this bar. Unfortunately, though, it comes at a cost.
The WiFi and multi-room audio support in 2018's SB36512-F6 are nowhere to be found in the freshly minted M-Series 5.1.2. In short, that means no seamless music streaming over WiFi, no native voice assistant integration (Vizio touts having a “voice assistant input,” with a separate speaker but it’s certainly not the same), and no over-the-air firmware updates.
Maybe I’m putting more stock into having WiFi than I should, since voice assistant integration and multi-room playback aren't exactly essential features for most folks. Plus, the bar's Bluetooth functionality will probably be sufficient for the average person's music streaming needs. Still, the loss of WiFi damages the appeal of an otherwise impressive soundbar, especially since Vizio made a fundamentally similar bar with WiFi just a few years earlier.
Wired surrounds hurt curb appeal
It’s unfortunate to have to knock Vizio for this, since this soundbar packs so much value into a comparatively affordable package, but wired rear speakers for soundbars are a drag.
Like many of its previous surround sound systems, Vizio’s M-Series 5.1.2 requires its rear speakers to be physically connected to the wireless subwoofer. This limits the sub's placement options, potentially barring it from sitting in the position that it would sound best in. It also forces you, the owner, to find creative ways to hide or conceal the wires protruding from each satellite.
That said, even if the Vizio's rear speakers didn't have to connect to the subwoofer, they still wouldn't be fully "wireless," requiring power cables and sourceable outlets.
Should you buy it
Yes—dropped features aside, it's an unquestionable value
Vizio's M-Series 5.1.2 is a very good sub-$500 Dolby Atmos soundbar. It offers impressive surround sound immersion, a sleek look, and easy usability. It may not be the best sub-$500 Dolby Atmos soundbar ever made by Vizio. But that doesn't mean it's not worth every penny.
The ageless SB36512-F6 is cemented in our list of best soundbars under $500, and can still be found at Amazon or Best Buy for well below the retail price of the M-Series 5.1.2, though that may change soon. If you can find it before it inevitably disappears from retailers, it would undoubtedly be a solid addition to your living room. If you're looking for something even more powerful, Vizio's impressive Elevate soundbar is around double the price, but pumps out tons of sound and a fount of features, while the Sonos Arc is a pricey but elegant way to get Atmos immersion from a singular setup.
The M-Series 5.1.2 may not live up to the somewhat unattainable expectations of its predecessor on all fronts, but it still produces immersive Dolby Atmos sound for far less than any other brand is currently capable of, and adds some handy new features like eARC which will only continue to increase in utility. If you can live with the tradeoff of WiFi for an exciting new aesthetic and the latest inputs and formats, the M-Series 5.1.2 is the way to go.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Nick Woodard is a tech journalist specializing in all things related to home theater and A/V. His background includes a solid foundation as a sports writer for multiple daily newspapers, and he enjoys hiking and mountain biking in his spare time.
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