The 2000s were a crazy time, especially for consumers buying TVs – as screens got flatter, designs got more and more outlandish. Giant glass edges, physical representations of sunsets and clouds, and other kinds of weirdness—something that culminated. However, as TVs grew in screen size, bezels became smaller and designs became more conservative. It’s this conservatism that has rubbed off on TV’s now-ubiquitous companion, the soundbar. The current trend is something that you don’t even notice is there – that “blends into the living space”. In reality, it means: “lots of black and gray”.
The Vizio M-series All-in-One matches the briefs in that it’s gray, and although it’s trapezoidal in shape, this detail is easy to miss. As with previous “Toblerone” soundbars the company has released, this model’s “drab” appearance belies its considerable sound chops.
- It sounds great for its size and price
- Excellent bass response
- Equally capable with music and movies
- Two HDMI inputs offer flexibility
I do not like
- Kind of ugly
- No expansion options
- No Wi-Fi streaming
- No real (or even fake) Dolby Atmos
Compared to other soundbars for the price, it may not have the best features – for example, it lacks Wi-Fi music streaming – but the Vizio instead offers full and rich performance. Yes, it boasts Dolby Atmos, but it is not capable of generating height effects, although this is not surprising at this price.
If you don’t mind the lack of real Atmos performance – or its flashy looks – the Vizio M series packs a lot of punch for the money, and is the perfect way to upgrade a cheap TV for better music and movies.
What’s in the box
they’re the whole thing, and when done well, they literally add a new dimension to your movies… and music too, why not? The M321 is a Dolby Atmos soundbar – logo and all – but don’t read too much into that, as it’s strictly a 2.1-channel soundbar. The Vizio also has DTS:X decoding plus the use of DTS Virtual:X, and this is designed to simulate sound coming from around and above you.
Design-wise, the M213AD-K8 is 36 inches long, 2.13 inches high, and 5.5 inches deep. While it’s primarily designed to sit in front of your TV, it can also be mounted on the wall (using two keyhole brackets) to face out into your room. It consists of a plastic construction and has a gray cloth cover on top. At one end, the bar has a set of controls including power and input selection.
The soundbar features a set of six drivers comprising two woofers, two tweeters and a pair of 3-inch integrated ‘subwoofers’. Unlike the competing Denon DHT-S217 or Sonos Ray, it is not possible to upgrade to more surround channels later. For example, there’s no subwoofer output like the Denon, so you can’t add a separate subwoofer.
The front of the fabric-covered cabinet features a colored LED to indicate input, as well as a row of white LEDs for volume. When the input changes, a friendly male voice reads the name of the connection you’re on. Unlike the glacially slow M-Elevate, I was relieved to find that the input changed instantly.
The Vizio includes an HDMI input plus HDMI eARC and optical audio for connecting to your TV, two 3.5mm analog ports with one for a voice assistant like the Amazon Echo Dot, and a USB port for playing WAVs from a flash drive.
Finally, the remote offers volume control plus a two-band EQ and an input selector. On the back of the remote control there is a useful table of input color codes.
How does that sound?
We’ve heard good implementations of Dolby Atmos without the need for dedicated height controls – the Sonos Beam Gen 2 springs to mind – but it’s really hard to tell any difference between 5.1 and immersive content on the Vizio. But it’s great for almost everything else!
I compared the Vizio with two competing soundbars – the Denon DHT-S217 and— which are also individual bars with “integrated” subwoofers.
I began my testing of the three products with the lobby scene from The Matrix for its combination of fine detail, surround panning and deep bass. It was in this scene that Vizio showed its dominance over Denon and, to a lesser extent, Sonos. The Vizio exhibited a wider soundstage than the Denon and better separation of sound effects. The film’s soundtrack is complex and dense, but the Vizio was able to separate the different types of gunfire from falling shells and rumbling bass. While the Vizio arranged each element in space across the soundstage, the Denon blended everything together.
Meanwhile, while the much smaller Ray couldn’t compete with the others when it came to bass, it was still able to grow beyond the confines of the cabinet for a big Vizio-like sound.
Both the Denon DHT-S217 and the Vizio claim to be able to reproduce Dolby Atmos, so I used the Mad Max Fury Road opening scene to test it out. First, Vizio’s solution to the grinding, rotating Warner Brothers logo was the best of the three. So did the spectral voices that followed. Dialogue was rendered clearly and spread across the room, although it should be noted that there was no hint of height dimension. Everything was spread out in a horizontal plane.
Denon, after disappointing with Matrix, pulled back a bit with Mad Max. The soundstage expanded, helped in part by the excellent sound mix, and when the announcer uttered the words “thermonuclear skirmish,” it felt pleasantly otherworldly. Like the Vizio, the Denon was able to deliver a lot of bass energy in this scene – from the Charger’s engine starting to the explosion that resulted in Max being captured by the War Boys.
Next, I fired up the Sonos Ray – and while it struggled most with dynamics during this scene, Max’s dialogue had a satisfyingly rich tone. The Ray doesn’t pretend to be able to perform Atmos height effects – it’s not Dolby certified – and it’s no wonder it wasn’t.
Disappointingly, none of the compatible devices could convince me of the height dimension in this scene – showing that the Atmos checkbox is not a performance indicator.
Although the Vizio can’t stream over Wi-Fi, you can still use music apps on your TV or switch tunes over Bluetooth. In the first case, it did quite well against both Denon and Raya. One thing I noticed is that the Vizio will let you keep increasing the volume until it’s distorted enough, and this is most noticeable with music. Denon and Sonos, meanwhile, were sensibly closed before reaching this point.
In the Denon’s hands, the thunderous keyboards of Talking Heads’ Girlfriend is Better sounded like they were coming from outside the cabinet. The song had a huge soundstage that the Vizio couldn’t replicate. I kept cranking the Vizio up and it solidified pretty quickly, though the bass didn’t distort. Being the smallest of the three, the Sonos still sounded solid on this track, and while it wasn’t able to extend the bass of the other two, it was still relatively solid and didn’t distort at top volume.
Next up with Yulunga (Spirit Dance) by Dead Can Dance, I found this epic track had a nice deep bass on the Vizio. However, it made it difficult to present the music with the wide range of material required. By comparison, the Denon was able to define shakers at the extreme left and right while offering better overall clarity.
In short, I find that there isn’t much to separate the Denon and especially the Vizio in terms of performance, but the Vizio is ultimately cheaper and easier to use. The Sonos Ray, with its expandability and streaming capabilities, is for a different type of user who values music above all. It may not have the bass response of others, but it’s a perfect set and forget about a smaller TV/music streaming system.
Should you buy it?
Don’t be fooled by the Vizio M213AD-K8’s Dolby Atmos certification – this is a stereo soundbar and it performs very well in that capacity. It could pretty well turn to music or movies, and it’s fairly affordable and easy to use.
The only real “problem” with the Vizio is that it’s pretty ugly, especially for the money. That gray fabric might be all the rage right now, but it’s really, really dull. Although some other soundbars, such as the Klipsch Cinema 400, offer glimpses of a return to attractive design, most soundbars at this level are pretty bland.
Overall, it’s great, if just a little flawed. If you want even more bang for your buck, you can try the cheaper Vizio V21, which offers a wireless subwoofer that makes it even better for movies.