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Easy TV Speaker Upgrade: Vizio SB4021M

Updated January 17, 2015: edited for clarity

We are often distracted by shiny objects, and in the world of home theater, it's the display system that garners the majority of people's attention. For home theater at any budget, audio quality is just as, if not more, important than the visual experience. A decent sound system draws the viewer into the content through the sounds that are heard and felt, and it should be no secret that the speakers build into most HDTVs cannot come close to the sound quality of even a modest external speaker setup.

Better than built-in
Not everyone has the budget or desire to upgrade their home theater audio with an audio/video receiver (AVR) and separate speakers, but that should be the eventual goal! Until then, there are a terrific class of affordable amplified speakers known as soundbars that will please your ears while keeping the up-front investment reasonable.

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A soundbar I tested recently is the Vizio 40" 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer - aka the SB4021M. Vizio has since released an updated version of this soundbar package.

Input selection
The SB4021M is designed for people who may have a newer HDTV but older gear connected to it, or they are mostly using a TV's built-in features such as an over-the-air digital tuner or apps like Netflix, Pandora, or Amazon Instant Video. The first thing I'd point out about the SB4021M is its lack of HDMI ports - input options include optical and coaxial digital audio ports and an 1/8-inch jack that can be used with an included stereo adapter cable. There is also a USB port that supports MP3 playback from a connected storage device.

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Easy setup
Setup is simple! Plug in your gear to the available inputs, plug in the power to the soundbar, find an outlet for the wireless subwoofer...done! Included wall-mount brackets provide an additional installation option. Most HDTVs feature an optical audio output that would feed directly into the SB4021M, and a 6-foot optical cable costs about $6. The Vizio SB4021's digital inputs are compatible with Dolby Digital and PCM signals - feeding the bar a DTS-encoded signal resulted in an error as this format is not supported.

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Wireless sub
The 40-inch soundbar features 2.75-inch full-range stereo drivers, and the sub’s 6.5-inch driver helped fill in the low notes but it provided no level adjustments  of its own save for a wireless link button. The soundbar's widely-spaced removable feet proved ideal for straddling a HDTV table stand allowing the bar to blend in below the screen. Placing the soundbar on a flat surface also added a bit of resonance that warmed up the default sound quality. Full-range signal tests revealed a consistent, hiccup-free, performance from the SB4021M. The sub's output was on the weak-side, but bumping up the bass level on the soundbar's menu helped - this is a neighbor-friendly subwoofer for sure!

SRS-enabled sound processing options include TruVolume and TruSurroundHD - the former could prove useful to hard of hearing listeners as it helps keep various programs and content at a constant volume level.

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The bottom line
Everyone should own and enjoy speakers beyond those built into the TV they are watching. The Vizio SB4021 is a good fit for someone on a budget who has older AV devices or who are utilizing a TV's integrated features such as a digital tuner or steaming apps.

I continue to strongly encourage everyone to eventually make the investment in a decent AV receiver (AVR) and set of quality loudspeakers. The immersive quality of lossless audio tracks like DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD that are featured on Blu-ray movies is best appreciated with the capable decoders and amplifiers found in today’s AVRs.

Reader Comments (3)

I have the same setup at home. It works well enough and I like the small package.

Is there any way to have the speakers automatically turn on when the Vizio TV is turned on?

It's kind of a pain to have to use two remotes everytime to turn the two on and off.


Hi Thayne! You need a universal remote. Check my Favorite Gear section for some great options.

November 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThayne

I have the Vizio VHT510 5.1 (with wireless subwoofer and wireless rear speakers). I am really impressed with the sound (using digital TOSLink) . It is about $200 at walmart. It's easy to setup, lots of adjustment settings and best of all - no poking hole's in the walls and running wires.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElgordo

Im a bit confused about what would be the optimal way to connect your source devices (tivo, ps3, apple tv) to the soundbar and the TV respectively.

Connecting all the devices directly to the TV - and then connect the TV to the soundbar - seems like a clean and easy solution. I however understand that TVs usually only can put out stereo sound rather than surround sound. Or is the difference between the two insignificant?

Would connecting the devices directly to the soundbar - and then connecting the soundbar to the TV - enable the soundbar to put out surround sound rather than stereo sound? And if so - would it be possible to put a hdmi switch (1 in -3 out) between the soundbar and the TV, so that various source devices could be allocated to designated hdmi inputs on the tv (to enable picture calibration for each individual source)? Just very curious on the optimal way to set it up.

Hi Martin! Most TVs will pass audio from connected HDMI devices to the optical audio output. This allows the TV to act as a hub for the soundbar and keeps the setup simple.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

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