| November 20, 2018 |
| Richard De Jong, Editor |
Over the years, I have written about numerous generations of VIZIO sound bars and I have constantly been impressed by their stellar performance for a competitive price. When the SB3651-E6 sound bar was introduced in 2017, VIZIO again showcased a feature-rich product with notable audio for a great price.
As I write this review - pre-Black Friday 2018, this SmartCast™ 36” 5.1 Sound Bar System still holds up well in the current crowded sound bar marketplace. And to make the value proposition even more enticing, VIZIO is offering a Black Friday deal that snips $80 off the $250 MSRP to $170. (Available from 11/15 - 11/26 at Costco, Target, BestBuy and Walmart,)
For that bargain, you get a full-bodied surround sound system that easy to set up and can fill a medium sized room. Now if your TV is over 50-inches wide, then the 36-inch sound bar might look dwarfed when mounted under a larger screen and even though this unit is up to the task, you may wish to consider a better matched, larger 45-inch sound bar.
An excellent 5.1 surround sound system that will definitely upgrade your flat screen TV speakers, this SmartCast enabled unit with its ability to integrate with Google Assistant also makes a wonderful speaker system for playing back streaming audio from a variety of sources.
Without a doubt, the VIZIO SB3651-E6 sound bar earns our Ultra HD Central Highly Recommended award.
When I unpacked the box and I pulled out the small (2.5” x 5.5” x 2.5”) satellite rear surround speaker, I was skeptical. I couldn’t imagine how this lightweight component would perform.
Even the 36-inch sound bar didn’t engender faith that its three front speakers would deliver. But once hooked up with the comparatively statuesque (7” x !0” x 8”) subwoofer, all misgivings were vanquished after sampling a number of audio sources.
The audio quality of the VIZIO SB3651-E6 is quite exceptional for a $250 5.1 surround sound system – even better at $80 less. With more refined music passages, the subwoofer’s deep bass character serves as the foundation to the well-rounded audio emanating from the clear front speakers and responsive rears.
With an action-packed source like Guardians of the Galaxy, the subwoofer can rumble as the SB3651-E6 effortlessly fills a medium sized room with “immersive” audio.
For a more spacious room and a bigger than 50-inch TV, consider a bigger sound bar system. Of course, if you are dreaming of a 5.1 surround system to power your big screen home theater, you would be more appropriately served with a dedicated AV receiver/amplifier and a matched set of speakers. Then again, you could easily pay 3 or 10 or even 100 times more for such a kit.
In the parlance of audio systems, 5.1 means the unit provides five surround sound speakers (front left, front center, front right, rear left and rear right). The 1 indicates a separate subwoofer. With the VIZIO SB3651-E6, the three front speakers are integrated into the 36” sound bar.
The hefty subwoofer communicates to the sound bar through wireless Bluetooth. You need to plug it into a wall outlet to power it. The two rear speakers plug into the subwoofer for their power and audio signals.
This VIZIO sound bar has Chromecast built-in. Once you connect the sound bar to your home network, you can use any app (Pandora or Spotify, for example) to directly cast audio content to the sound bar.
Or you can download the VIZIO SmartCast Mobile app, which conveniently can compile all your favorite audio apps under one roof.
With Wi-Fi Streaming, you can playback higher quality audio over your home’s Wi-Fi network. The system can even be linked to Google Assistant on devices like Google Home, allowing you to use voice commands to control streaming music sources like Google Play Music, Pandora and Spotify.
Also, you can use the Google Home app to add this VIZIO sound bar system to an Audio Group of other speakers, allowing for multi-room playback capability.
When connecting audio sources to the SB3651-E6, if you want to go old school, the sound bar provides two digital audio inputs (optical and coaxial), and one stereo analog audio input (via a stereo RCA to mini-plug cable).
To connect HDMI devices such as a game console, set top box or Blu-ray player, the sound bar supplies one HDMI input. It also offers an ARC (Audio Return Channel) compatible HDMI port, which allows you to connect to an ARC HDMI out on your TV and transmit video to the TV and audio back to the sound bar. Therefore, the TV (with the appropriate number of inputs) can act as your hub for switching between sources.
The SB3651-E6 can playback these audio formats: DTS TruVolume™, DTS TruSurround, DTS Digital Surround™, DTS Studio Sound™, and Dolby® Digital. If you are looking for a sound bar that handles DTS Virtual:X, then consider VIZIO’s 2018 model, the SB3651-F6.
And if you are ready to step up to Dolby Atmos, then VIZIO offers three new candidates, the SB36512-F, the SB46312-F6 and the SB46514-F6 (with nine surround channels + subwoofer and a $1000 price tag).
VIZIO has not upgraded the palm-sized remote control that ships with the SB3651-E6. I have trouble reading the remote’s tiny, low contrast display. I reckon that VIZIO figured that most people will download the SmartCast Mobile app and use their more eye-friendly mobile device as their remote.
If you are smartphone-less (Heavens, forbid) and the palm-sized remote is eluding you, on the top of the sound bar is a group of operational buttons for Power, Input, Bluetooth Pairing and Volume. o
Your first setup task is deciding where and how to place the sound bar. If your TV is not wall mounted, you could set the sound bar on the stand in front of the TV. Unless you have a low-rider TV, the SB3651-E6's 2-inch height should not interfere with your TV's remote control IR receiver. If it does, you can mount the sound bar below the TV using the wall brackets and a mounting template that VIZIO includes.
As you can see from the diagram, VIZIO suggests placing the satellite speakers not far behind your seat and at ear level. (Of note, those speaker stands [pictured in the photo] do not come in the SB3651-E6 box.) VIZIO does package two wall mount brackets for those satellite speakers.
The subwoofer is wirelessly paired to the sound bar out of the box. In your planning, remember that the subwoofer must be within 60 feet of the sound bar, if they have a clear line of sight to each other. If you're pondering hiding the subwoofer behind a piece of furniture, the distance will be less.
In addition, the subwoofer needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Finally, the satellite speakers need to be wired to the back of the subwoofer. VIZIO gives you 25-foot cables with ends that are color coded to match the inputs on the speakers and subwoofer.
Once everything is connected – and I recommend that you read the User’s manual for VIZIO’s guidance – it's time for you to do a little fine tuning. The SB3651-E6 does not supply a microphone and audio calibration software, therefore you will need to make these adjustments the old-fashioned way, by ear.
To begin, press the Menu button on the remote and scroll to Speaker Test. A voice will start identifying each speaker, followed by white noise. While you are confirming every component is working, you can listen to hear if the volume balance between the speakers needs to be adjusted.
To be thorough, you should step through all of the menu items like Treble, Bass, Surround Balance, Equalizer Mode and Eco Power. If you are using the small remote, VIZIO displays visual cues on the lights on the front of the sound bar, which you can read about in the manual.
You’ll find that making these adjustments are easier with the SmartCast Mobile app on your smartphone. It should only take you a matter of minutes to tweak to your room. You can always come back to these features and readjust them later.
For its features and performance, the SB3651-E6 5.1 sound bar at $250 is a great value. For the Black Friday deal of $170, VIZIO makes this unit a real bargain for anyone looking to upgrade to a medium-sized 5.1 surround sound system.
The combination of high performance and low price earns the VIZIO SB3651-E6 sound bar our Ultra HD Central Highly Recommended award.
The VIZIO SB3651-E6 sound bar is an excellent 5.1 surround sound system that will definitely upgrade your flat screen TV speakers. But this SmartCast enabled unit with its ability to integrate with Google Assistant also makes a wonderful speaker system for playing back streaming audio from a variety of sources.