Vizio’s newest mid-range soundbar caters to discount hunters who need immersive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio with out breaking the financial institution, and with out the necessity for upfiring drivers that require flat ceilings at simply the proper peak.
Provided that it makes use of virtualization as an alternative of bodily drivers to ship peak cues, it comes as no shock that the 5.1-channel M51ax-J6 can’t match the precision of pricier soundbars that do have upfiring drivers. You’ll additionally need to do with out Wi-Fi connectivity and audio casting assist, though that’s no huge shock given the M51ax-J6’s price ticket and have set.
Regardless of these shortcomings, the 5.1-channel M51ax-J6 affords loads of worth, together with wealthy, punchy, and thrilling sound, eARC assist, and a devoted audio jack for connecting a sensible speaker, similar to an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot.
This evaluation is a part of TechHive’s protection of the very best soundbars. Click on that hyperlink to learn evaluations of competing merchandise, together with a purchaser’s information to the options you must take into account when purchasing.
The Vizio M51ax-J6 is a 5.1-channel soundbar with a complete of 9 drivers. The primary soundbar unit comes geared up with three oval-shaped (1.66 x 3.48-inch) full-range drivers and three 0.79-inch tweeters, which provide sound for the left, middle, and proper channels. Augmenting these drivers is a pair of passive radiators that shore up the soundbar’s bass response. The encompass audio system get one full-range driver (1.61 x 2.22 inch) every, whereas the wi-fi subwoofer has a five-inch driver.
The M51ax-J6 helps Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, a pair of object-based audio codecs that ship peak in addition to encompass results (you possibly can examine these audio codecs on this different story). As a substitute of upfiring drivers that bounce peak cues off the ceiling, the M51ax-J6 employs virtualization—particularly, DTS Digital:X—to trick your ears into pondering they’re listening to peak results. Whereas virtualized peak channels gained’t sound as exact as these you’ll get from upfiring drivers (or, higher but, in-ceiling drivers), they’ll really be preferable for these with ceilings which might be vaulted, too excessive (above 14 ft) or too low (beneath 7.5 ft).
Measuring 36 x 2.2 x 3.5 inches, the M51ax-J6 arrives with a pleasingly low profile. Certainly, the highest of the unit simply barely clears the underside fringe of my low-slung, 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV, a welcome change from soundbars that block a sliver (or extra) of the LG’s display screen.
In the meantime, the wi-fi subwoofer is comparatively compact at 8.25 x 8.25 x 10 inches (WxDxH)—and that’s factor, given that almost all customers will seemingly be positioning the subwoofer close to their sofas. Likewise, the 5.6 x 3.4 x 2.25 inch (WxDxH) encompass audio system might simply be positioned on a small shelf or (even higher) mounted on the wall, ideally a foot or two above your head when seated.
Talking of mounting, the wall-mountable M51ax-J6 comes with mounting brackets, screws, and a template, together with a quartet of cable ties.
Inputs and outputs
You’ll discover the M51ax-J6’s varied ports and connectors in two rear cavities on the left and proper. The soundbar’s two HDMI ports are on the right-hand aspect: an enter and an output. Not solely does the HDMI output assist ARC (or Audio Return Channel, which permits TVs to ship audio again to a soundbar), but it surely additionally helps eARC, an enhanced model of ARC that boasts sufficient bandwidth to ship lossless audio codecs similar to Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Grasp Audio. (Click on right here to be taught extra about ARC and eARC.)
These HDMI ports provide you with a few choices by way of setup. You’ll be able to both join a video supply (similar to a streaming participant, a gaming console, or a Blu-ray participant) to the HDMI enter after which join the HDMI output to certainly one of your TV’s HDMI ports (4K HDR passthrough is supported), or you possibly can join the soundbar’s HDMI-ARC port to the matching HDMI-ARC connector in your TV, after which join video sources to your TV’s HDMI inputs. If you happen to go together with the latter possibility, you’ll have the ability to change between extra video sources with out swapping cables, and also you’ll additionally have the ability to pipe audio out of your TV’s tuner and sensible TV apps via the soundbar.
If you happen to personal an older TV that doesn’t have HDMI ports, you possibly can join it to the M51ax-J6 through its optical enter, and in case your TV doesn’t even have an optical output, you possibly can fall again to the soundbar’s 3.5mm auxiliary enter, which sits within the unit’s left rear cavity. (A stereo RCA-to-3.5mm Y-cable is included within the field.)
Just under the M51ax-J6’s 3.5mm auxiliary jack is a second 3.5mm enter, which is reserved for plugging in a sensible speaker just like the Amazon Echo Dot; you too can join a sensible speaker (together with the Google Nest Mini, which lacks a wired output jack) through Bluetooth. Both approach, should you join a sensible speaker to the M51ax-J6, the speaker’s audio will probably be ported via the soundbar’s audio system, and the soundbar will even decrease the quantity of no matter’s enjoying so you possibly can higher hear your voice assistant if you wake it.
A closing interface value mentioning is the M51ax-J6’s USB-A port, which sits in the proper rear cavity together with the HDMI and optical connectors. The USB port can each add firmware updates to the soundbar in addition to entry media on USB storage drives; sadly, the port can solely learn MP3 and WAV recordsdata, not FLACs or video recordsdata.
As I discussed earlier, the principle M51ax-J6 soundbar unit might be both positioned in entrance of your TV or mounted on the wall beneath your TV—and once more, mounting provides are included. The soundbar’s roughly five-foot energy wire terminates in a normal two-prong plug, so there’s no chunky, outlet-blocking AC adapter to take care of.
The M51ax-J6’s compact encompass audio system connect with the wi-fi subwoofer (which, given its energy wire, isn’t really wi-fi) through a pair of 30-foot cables, providing you with some latitude by way of the place the subwoofer will go. One possibility could be to place the sub in a standard spot behind the TV and off to the aspect, however that may require stringing the cables for the encompass audio system throughout your flooring (hopefully underneath a carpet). Another choice is to maintain the subwoofer nearer to your couch, though if the subwoofer is too shut, it’ll begin to sound overwhelmingly boomy.
Now, should you’d fairly not take care of encompass audio system throughout the room from the soundbar, there’s a 3rd possibility: putting them proper subsequent to the soundbar, so that they’re flanking the principle soundbar housing. The M51ax-J6 comes with a pair of encompass sound settings for this very objective: a “Entrance” mode designed to ship digital encompass results whereas the satellite tv for pc options are within the entrance of the room, and a “Twin” mode that directs audio from the left and proper entrance channels to the surrounds, basically widening the soundstage. You can even flip the encompass audio system off solely. Now, I wouldn’t advocate shelling out for a 5.1-channel soundbar should you’re not planning on putting the encompass audio system nearer your couch (or in any respect), however the possibility is there if you need it.
The M51ax-J6 comes pre-paired with its wi-fi (effectively, largely wi-fi) subwoofer. As soon as I powered each items up, they robotically related to one another, with no effort on my half. That mentioned, if there are any connection issues, you possibly can all the time pair the soundbar and subwoofer manually.
Given its sub-$500 price ticket, it’s little surprise that the M51ax-J6 lacks Wi-Fi connectivity. Which means you gained’t have the ability to solid audio to the soundbar through Apple AirPlay 2 or Chromecast, nor will you have the ability to stream tunes natively through Spotify Join or one other streaming music service. On the intense aspect, the dearth of Wi-Fi means you gained’t need to take care of connecting the soundbar to your wi-fi community, an annoying course of on different Vizio soundbars I’ve examined.
Controls, distant, and indicators
5 buttons sit atop the M51ax-J6’s most important housing: an influence button, an enter button that cycles via video and audio sources, a Bluetooth pairing button, and quantity up/down controls.
Vizio’s new soundbar distant (which I beforehand mentioned in my evaluation of the 5.1.2-channel Vizio M512a-H6) has a leg up over its rivals because of its backlit show, though the buttons themselves are not backlit. In any other case the distant is a cluttered affair, with a four-way navigational keypad within the middle, together with separate EQ, audio degree, setup, and audio impact buttons beneath the navigation wheel. Fortunately, the buttons you’ll probably use at the hours of darkness—quantity up/down and mute—are straightforward to seek out by contact.
If you happen to dig into the Degree menu utilizing the distant, you possibly can trim the M51ax-J6’s treble and bass settings (I left them each flat), and alter the extent of dialogue (in lieu of a one-touch “voice enhance” mode) or of the middle channel typically. You can even enhance or dial again the encompass quantity and tweak the encompass steadiness as effectively. Final however not least, you possibly can fiddle with the subwoofer degree, which might come in useful if you find yourself putting the soundbar near your couch.
As with Vizio’s different current soundbars, the M51ax-J6’s indicators include a column of 10 LEDs on the left aspect of the entrance panel. The column of lights rises and falls in response to the quantity degree, in addition to if you trim the soundbar’s varied audio ranges. There’s additionally a secondary LED on the base of the column that glows totally different colours relying on the detected sound format; for instance, the sunshine glows inexperienced for Dolby Atmos, amber for DTS, and white for traditional Dolby Audio. Just a few seconds after you cease urgent buttons, the lights fade and switch off fully, so I by no means discovered them distracting.
Crisp, punchy, dynamic, and thrilling: These are a few of the phrases I’ve used to explain Vizio’s newest soundbars, together with the pricier M512a-H6 (which provides upfiring drivers to the combo), and the M51ax-J6 earns the identical reward—effectively, up to a degree.
As I discussed earlier, the M51ax-J6 employs DTS Digital:X to realize the peak results for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. (Dolby used to frown on third-party DSP applied sciences getting used on prime of its personal audio codecs, however in response to Vizio, Dolby has since dropped its objections. I’ve attain out to Dolby for extra particulars.)
I began my listening exams with the UHD Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Again, which boasts a remastered Dolby Atmos soundtrack. As I watched the Millennium Falcon performing barrel rolls with three menacing Imperial Star Destroyers in pursuit, I used to be struck by the crisp sound of John Williams’s thrilling rating and the deep roar of the Falcon’s engines—a tad boomier than I’d like, however nothing a tweak of the subwoofer degree settings couldn’t repair. (I additionally stored the subwoofer about three ft away from my couch.) It’s an thrilling scene, and the M51ax-J6 made for a powerful pairing.
So far as peak results go, DTS Digital:X can’t be anticipated to match the sound of peak cues from upfiring drivers, a lot much less in-ceiling audio system. However the virtualization know-how did a fairly good job, delivering the hiss of frozen snow particles spilling down from the ceiling on the hidden Insurgent base on Hoth, in addition to the peak cue of the groaning Imperial Walker foot because it practically stomps on Luke. And whereas I’ve complained up to now concerning the shrillness of DTS Digital:X in older soundbars, DTS’s virtualization sounded much more pure this time round.
Shifting on from Empire, I cued up the noodle-bar scene close to the start of UHD Blu-ray model of Blade Runner, when Gaff summons Deckard to police HQ with a impolite poke of his cane. As a soaked Deckard dives underneath the protecting awning of the noodle bar, the regular, pelting rain ought to really feel prefer it’s coming down throughout you, or at the least it does in my (upfiring) 5.1.2-channel dwelling theater. On the M51ax-J6, the rain nonetheless looks like it’s coming from above, however the person raindrops didn’t sound fairly as exact—not an enormous shock, but it surely does present what you lose when utilizing virtualization for peak cues.
Lest I sound too vital concerning the peak results, I ought to add that Deckard’s journey to the police headquarters with Gaff was a deal with, full with Vangelis’s well-known, glittering rating and the whoosh of spinners zipping round and beneath the body.
Switching to the UHD of Apollo 13 and its DTS:X soundtrack, the launch sequence sounded fairly spectacular, from the encompass cue of the gurgling gasoline pumps to the rumble of the Saturn V rocket the spacecraft rose off the launchpad. I additionally appreciated the clear pop of the escape tower jettison, in addition to James Horner’s rousing rating. Once more, the virtualized peak results lacked the precision you may get with upfiring drivers, however given the M51ax-J5’s worth vary, my ears have been fairly pleased.