Vizio M512a-H6 review: The best Dolby Atmos soundbar for the money

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Dolby Atmos surround audio may have been with us for a while, but it’s only streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus have come on board that manufacturers eventually took the format seriously. There is a lot of Atmos sound bars on the market now, many of which are quite affordable, but just because they support the standard doesn’t mean they can take full advantage of them. Take the Sonos Beam Gen 2 for example, it can now decode Dolby format, but it can only emulate pitch effects using digital processing.

If you want “real” Dolby Atmos sound in a soundbar, you have to look to systems with dedicated overhead speakers. One of the cheapest is the Vizio M512a-H6. This $ 500 speaker system delivers full 5.1.2 surround sound and looks great while doing it, borrowing a bit of high-end bling from the superb. Vizio Elevation.

As

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Excellent build quality
  • Perfect sound with movies and music

Do not like

  • Lacks support for Chromecast and AirPlay
  • No dedicated voice preset

The M512a-H6 fulfills the great shoes of its predecessor, the SB36512, admirably: it sounds great for music and movies, lets you enjoy Atmos soundtracks as they’re meant to be heard, and doesn’t cost a fortune. This Vizio is the new “must auditioner” if you are looking for a high performance and affordable Dolby Atmos system.


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What it is

The Vizio M512a-H6 is a surround system consisting of a main sound bar, a 6-inch subwoofer and two wired rear speakers. Notable additions over the SB36512 include the ability to handle competitors DTS: X format, Atmos’ main competitor, as well as the latest HDMI eARC connectivity.

The soundbar itself is 40 inches wide and 2.68 inches tall relatively tall, while it extends back 4 inches on an AV mount. The main grille, which hides three sets of mid-range speakers and tweeters, is made of fabric, while the one that hides the two ascending speakers is made of perforated plastic. These two speakers are closer to the center than most Atmos speakers, but still work well for delivering Atmos effects from your ceiling and down into the room.

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The system includes separate rear speakers for surround effects.

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Vizio offers four different types of physical connectivity: HDMI in / out (with eARC), optical, USB (for WAV playback, of course!) and two 3.5mm analog input jacks (headphone size). The second of these two 3.5mm connections is designed to connect a smart speaker as the Amazon Echo Point, and the volume of the soundbar will be muted if you issue a command to it.

Unfortunately, the system’s wireless connections are limited to Bluetooth. This is fine for many uses, but it’s a shame that the M512 loses one of the best features of the Vizio SB36512-F6 – its ability to stream music. from a wide variety of phones via Wi-Fi using Google’s Chromecast system, which also enabled control via the Google Assistant. Currently, the $ 999 Elevate is now the only Vizio soundbar to offer Wi-Fi connectivity with Chromecast built-in and Spotify connection, while Apple AirPlay can be found on Sonos speakers, among others.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The system offers a number of sound modes including Movie, Music, Game and Live, but it does not have a dedicated voice mode for make televised dialogues more understandable.

One of my main criticisms of the recent SB36512-F6 and Vizio soundbars is that they use a series of LED dots instead of a sensitive display. This was dispensed on the M512. Not only does each input have its own colored LED, but the soundbar will verbally read which input you are on when you change.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

There are a limited number of controls at the top of the bar, including power, volume, input, and Bluetooth, but most people will likely use the remote. The control is a proper wand rather than a plastic credit card, and it even includes its own one-line LCD display, which is very useful for initial setup and changing advanced settings.

21st century digital box

As of this writing, there are only two soundbars that offer “real” Dolby Atmos for under $ 500: the Vizio and the Monoprix SB-600. Both have dedicated heights and rears as well as wireless subs. Monoprice has built a reputation as a great value brand, so naturally I wanted to compare the two.

In testing, there were clear similarities between the two – both were generally excellent for TV and film – but I found the Vizio to have the upper hand. Those voice prompts and greater tuning of each channel helped the Vizio in the usability department. Additionally, the Monoprice would mute intermittently and also lose some sound settings if you turned it off, which the Vizio simply does not do.

I started with musical tests and Caroline Rose’s soul No. 5. His surf guitar and distorted voice can trip any bar tuned for home theater rather than music. Surprisingly, however, it wasn’t the mids that were the problem with the Monoprice. He just wasn’t able to reduce the volume of his larger subwoofer enough so that the bass didn’t dominate the song. Even after slide the sub in different parts of the room it was still too noisy.

The Vizio also offered louder-than-normal bass, but it was better integrated into the package. The sound was more fun and even more dancing than the Monoprice could make. The same thing happened with a song best known for its bassline: Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand. The bass simply exploded (like a bird of doom) on the Monoprice, but managed to complement Cave’s growling tenor on the Vizio system.

“What does the Vizio Atmos soundbar look like with real Atmos content? I swear I heard you ask. Well, much better than I expected for the money. The very beginning of Mad Max Fury Road, for example, offers excellent Atmos effects as ghostly voices from Max Rockatansky’s past appear from everywhere and even above him. The Vizio faithfully captured this effect. At 1:10, a little girl’s voice says “Hello”, and on a well-tuned Dolby Atmos system, it should come directly above you. This was exactly where the Vizio put him, while his placement on the Monoprice was more indistinct, coming from a spot in front of the screen.

The Vizio’s submarine was also more articulate, a difference that manifested in the lobby scene of The Matrix. I was able to select all the notes in the bassline, and the surround speakers provided better immersion, like the bullet casings falling with more, uh, ringing. Poor Monoprice just couldn’t keep up with the synth bass, which sounded muffled, so the movie was less exciting.

There was one small victory in Monoprice’s name, however: the Voice preset gave it an edge when viewing hard-to-decipher dialogue. The Monoprice was able to add clarity to the muttered words at the start of Batman Begins, for example, by removing the prisoner’s dialogue from the distant strangled screams and drops of water from the film’s damp prison. It would be nice if the Vizio offered such a mode, but it doesn’t.

Should we buy it?

If you’re looking for the most economical way to get true Dolby Atmos playback, nothing beats the Vizio M512a-H6. Because of shortage of electronic chips it is no longer even possible to buy a entry-level Atmos AV receiver for less than the price of the Vizio, and after that it would still add speakers and a sub.

If you already have a banner, and do not need Chromecast built-in audio, the Vizio delivers excellent performance in movies and music. The M512a-H6 deserves our warm recommendation both for home cinema fans and for those looking to listen to their favorite album (whether in Atmos or not).


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