When it comes to the best budget sound bar, the Vizio SB3621-E8 is right at the top of the list. Popular opinion has it that you have to spend a chunk of cash to get a high-performance soundbar. This ‘rule’ doesn’t always hold true. The proof is in a recent trend in the soundbar market: The economy product line that packs a powerful punch.
In the quest to create the best budget sound bar, companies like Pioneer and Elac have soundbars that render excellent sound for an attractive price. So does Vizio, which has a product line of entry-level soundbars: The SB3621n-E8. We review this 36-inch, 2.1 channel soundbar to find out if Vizio succeeds in striking the balance between pricing and performance.
Best budget sound bar part 1: What’s in the box?
The main package holds a soundbar and a wireless subwoofer. Inside the package is an accessory box that holds a remote, a pair of AAA batteries and a selection of cables that connect the soundbar to the TV.
Vizio provides a 3.5mm audio cable, a SPDIF cable and an optical audio cable. You will also find two power cords and a user manual that’s a little light on details.
The design people at Vizio went for an understated aesthetic that allows the SB3621n to disappear into your entertainment setup. At only 2.1 inches high, this 36-inch soundbar is low enough to sit right under the TV, without obstructing the IR sensor.
At first glance, the Vizio SB3621 is a low, rectangular device that is all-black, except for the aluminum end caps that bear the Vizio logo. The front and top surfaces of the Vizio SB3621 are covered in a black mesh that could become a dust magnet in certain environments. The bottom and back surfaces are made of black plastic.
Because the SB3621 is a budget soundbar, it doesn’t have much in the way of a display. You’ll have to settle for a column of LEDs at the left-hand side of the device. The top surface of the soundbar holds a few controls, namely power, input, Bluetooth and a pair of volume buttons.
The 5.3-inch wireless woofer is slim and compact, allowing it to fit in snug spaces. It has a power port, a power button and a Bluetooth pairing button. The front of the woofer is a plain aluminum surface with black trim, a vent and the Vizio logo.
There are rubber pads on two of the woofer’s surfaces and this allows you to choose a vertical or horizontal configuration for your setup. It’s little things like these that make it the best budget sound bar.
Inputs and outputs
The soundbar has Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to pair an extra audio device as well as an input source. All you need to do is hold down the pairing button at the top of the soundbar and the soundbar appears as a pairing option on your phone or PC.
The Vizio SB3621 also has a nice selection of inputs that match the ones on most TV sets. These go with the cables that ship with the soundbar. At the back of the SB3521, you will find an optical audio port, a 3.5mm audio jack, a digital coaxial/SPDIF input and a power port. If you can, connect the TV and the soundbar via the optical ports. This way you get to enjoy the best possible sound quality.
Lastly, the soundbar has a USB port that you can use to play .mp3 and .wav sound formats directly from a connected device.
Because the SB3621 will automatically detect a TV and its woofer, setup is simply a matter of powering the soundbar and connecting it to the TV. You can use any of the input ports listed above to do so. As for the woofer, you only need to switch it on and enable Bluetooth. It’s worth noting that the optical cable that comes with the soundbar is fairly short, so you’ll need to keep the soundbar close to the TV.
Once you’ve hooked up the soundbar, the sound will channel from the TV to the internal speakers of the sound bar. The low-frequency sound goes to the woofer, which takes care of the bass.
Ease of use
We’re used to digital displays that tell you the input port that’s currently in use, or the volume level of the soundbar. The Vizio SB3621 does not have one of those. Instead, you’ll need to learn the meaning of each LED on the soundbar. You will also have to learn what different combinations of flashing LEDs mean.
The user manual will help a little, but you may have to go to the internet to supplement the instructions that ship with the soundbar.
Another factor that will pose a challenge is the buttons on the remote and the soundbar itself. They are level with the surfaces they sit on, which could take some getting used to. This design choice becomes more noticeable as you try to change input sources or adjust the volume in a dim room.
The remote has useful shortcut buttons that make it easy to navigate the soundbar. The top row has the power, input and Bluetooth buttons. Right below it is a navigation pad that’s fun to use. Below the navigation pad are shortcut keys to different sound modes and equalizer options.
The best budget sound bar has two 3.5” forward-facing internal drivers. Together with the 5.3” rear-firing driver in the subwoofer, the whole setup has an output of 100 Watts, which is impressive. The soundbar decodes basic Dolby and DTS content to render something close to crisp surround sound.
For an affordable soundbar, the Vizio SB3621n packs a powerful punch. The soundbar manages to bounce sound off different surfaces, giving you the impression that the TV is generating sound from several places at once.
The subwoofer can render sound that goes as low as 50Hz. It can deliver the blasts and thumps from your favorite action scenes without breaking a sweat. That said the bass does get muddled at high volume, so you will need to find a sweet spot in order to enjoy clear, defined sound.
- The soundbar and woofer have the build and aesthetic of far more expensive devices
- The soundbar ships with a collection of cables that will fit with any inputs available on your TV
- Setup is super easy
- Great sound quality for video content
- Good sound quality for music content
- The soundbar is Bluetooth enabled, allowing you to play music from any paired device
- The sound quality is excellent for video, but it is no substitute for a full home theater
- Lacks an HDMI input
- The display comes down to a column of LEDs. You will have to memorize the different combinations of LED as you perform basic tasks like volume control or input selection
- The buttons on the remote, the soundbar and the woofer are not raised
- Combined with the lack of a backlight, the design of the remote buttons makes it hard to navigate the soundbar in the dark
Best budget sound bar review verdict: Excellent performance at an unbeatable price
For less than $200, you will not find a soundbar that will match the Vizio SB3621n. The sound that comes from this compact little device is impressive. You get to enjoy clear, defined sound with good bass levels. Vizio also made sure to create a product that looks and feels like a high-end soundbar.
You will need a little time to get used to the cryptic display of the SB3621n, but the effort is well worth it. To put it simply, the Vizio SB3621n is the perfect device to upgrade the internal speakers of your TV on a budget. Click here to get yours.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
1. Does this soundbar come with an HDMI port?
No, it doesn’t. At this price point, an HDMI port is not guaranteed
2. Can you connect additional external speakers to the soundbar?
The Vizio SB3621 has Bluetooth capability, which allows the soundbar to connect to other Bluetooth-enabled speakers.
3. How do you stop the soundbar from going to sleep when the TV turns off?
To disable energy-saving mode, hold down the power button on the soundbar for five seconds. The soundbar will remain on when you switch off the TV.
4. Can you wall mount the soundbar?
Yes you can, though you may need to acquire mounting gear separately.
5. Can you control the soundbar with a TV remote?
Only if the remote in question is a Vizio remote that controls a Vizio TV.
6. Can you control the soundbar volume via the TV?
No, you cannot adjust the soundbar settings or its volume from the TV.
7. Is this soundbar compatible with Amazon Echo devices?
Echo devices that have Bluetooth can connect to the Vizio SB3621.