PROS / It provides great sound quality for both music and movies.
CONS / The display lights are confusing and unintuitive.
VERDICT / The Vizio SmartCast 38 2.1 sound bar is one of the most affordable and best sounding sound bars we reviewed.
Few sound bars offer great sound quality and tons of connectivity options, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and analog connections. The Vizio SmartCast 38 2.1 is one of the best sound bars we reviewed, providing impressive audio quality and a number of different ports and wireless connectivity – and it's affordable. These are a few of the reasons why the Vizio SmartCast 38 2.1 sound bar earns our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.
There are two listening modes on the Vizio sound bar: Movies and Music. We tried out both settings in our tests and were not disappointed.
The audio performance from the Vizio excels in every way. It offers clear dialogue, good bass performance and effective surround sound simulation. One of the first movies we watched with the Vizio sound bar was “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The audio sounded big and wide. It didn’t matter if you were right in front of the sound bar or standing up in another part of the room – the sound projected well and sounded full everywhere.
There are a lot of explosions and car chases during “Mad Max,” and the wireless 4-inch subwoofer did its part to help create the big, booming bass that helps submerge the listener into the action. It wasn’t the loudest subwoofer, or even the most powerful out of our group, but it added balanced low-end that made the audio sound full.
During “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” we got a taste of the dialogue clarity and surround sound capabilities. During car chase scenes, you could hear sound effects going from left to right and vice versa, and the sound effects spread out wide, stretching across the room.
The balance between action scenes and dialogue-driven scenes was superb. It didn’t matter if the scene was quiet with lots of dialogue or in the midst of all the action, the volume would stay consistent and the dialogue could always be heard loud and clear.
We flipped the sound bar over to music mode and listened to “Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes. The sound was big and wide. There is a lot of panning between all the different instruments in the song. The guitars sounded like they were on opposite sides of the sound bar with the vocals directly in front. Everything was sharp, bright and clear.
As we listened to “Airbag” by Radiohead, we noticed the clarity of all the instruments. The Vizio TV sound bar has a brighter tonal quality than many of the other sound bars, so a song with bright instruments like “Airbag” shines. In the instrumental bridge of the song, you could hear all of the guitar work as well as the string arrangements and bass loud and clear. Nothing was lost in the mix. We noticed with other sound bars that guitar parts would almost disappear in the soundscape, but the Vizio made a space for all the instruments.
During “Madison Square” by Lettuce, the bright tonal quality made the ride cymbal sound washier and louder in the bridge section of the song compared to other sound bars. This made a slight white noise effect in the song that we felt shouldn’t have been there, but overall we were impressed with the sound quality of the Vizio.
The SmartCast 38 2.1 is one of the few sound bars we reviewed that is Wi-Fi enabled. Using the downloadable SmartCast app, you can connect the sound bar to your home Wi-Fi network to stream music and other content from your phone or tablet to the sound bar. It is also Google-Cast enabled. With a Google-Cast, you can use a number of different music streaming apps to stream audio to your sound bar using your Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi provides better range than Bluetooth and streams higher-quality audio.
Connecting to the sound bar via Bluetooth is easy. Once you pair your phone, it will automatically reconnect when you turn your Bluetooth on. This means you don't have to go into the phone’s settings to find the Vizio sound bar and activate it every time you turn the sound bar off and on again.
On the back of the Vizio you will find an optical port, aux port, digital coaxial input as well as analog (red and white) RCA inputs. Unfortunately, HDMI inputs aren’t present. HDMI is preferred over optical because HDMI can transmit higher-resolution audio. This is one of the few downfalls we found from this sound bar.
The Vizio remote is one of the most comfortable remotes to hold and use. It has practical button spacing and size. You can reach all of the buttons on the remote with one hand, and it has rounded edges so it feels comfortable in your hand.
One thing that we didn’t like about the Vizio sound bar is the light display on the left side of the speaker. When you use the remote or buttons atop the sound bar to change inputs, volume or adjust the bass or treble, a series of lights appear on the left side of the unit. They are just lights without any other markings. Unless you consult the manual and read up on what the different series and combinations of lights mean, you’ll remain in the dark. An actual display on the front of the sound bar would be a welcome feature.
Help & Support
This sound bar is covered by a one-year warranty on parts and labor from the date of purchase. Vizio offers live chat support for immediate contact with customer service. You can also contact technical support via email and phone.
This is not only the best-performing sound bar in our bunch – it is also one of the most affordable. The Vizio SmartCast 38 2.1 sound bar is great for both music and movies. It provides clear dialogue, powerful bass response and simulated surround sound like a home theater system. It also provides Wi-Fi to stream music and other content over your home network. You will enjoy the sound quality upgrade this Vizio provides for your home entertainment center.