Vizio 5.1-Channel M-Series Soundbar Is a Way to Get Low-Cost Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos on a surround sound soundbar for $330? That's the compelling proposition with this M-Series soundbar—the M51ax-J6 to be exact. Vizio is offering up a soundbar with two wired rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer on the cheap. On first listen, it sounds perfectly decent. So, what's the catch? There are two primary considerations. The first is that the speaker configuration requiring a wire to connect each rear speaker. The second is whether the sound is high enough quality, including the bass from the subwoofer, to be worth spending a few hundred dollars on.

Vizio M-Series Soundbar
The Vizio M-Series soundbar is sleek and low-profile. It features Dolby Atmos and retails for $329.99. TYLER HAYES

Is this the sound upgrade your TV needs, or should you look somewhere else?

Wired Surround Sound Speakers

On this system the subwoofer is wireless, but the rear speakers connect to it with wires. It's a hybrid solution of sorts. Having surround sound speakers connected with a wire isn't a foreign concept—it's been the norm since the inception of 5.1 speaker setups. But wireless options are quickly becoming more readily available and cheaper.

The convenience of having all the speakers be wireless is so nice that even having to plug two rear speakers into this system's subwoofer feels a bit unfortunate. The bundle of wires left by the rears could be very easy to hide behind a couch, or it could be a big jumble with no cover. In my room, it was a wiry mess exposed to anyone entering the area.

Vizio M-Series Soundbar
This is a top view of the subwoofer and the excess wire from two rear speakers. TYLER HAYES

In terms of actual performance, the rears were noticeable and provided all the volume they needed to. Instantly, lions were roaring and animals were scurrying in all directions when I turned on the Earth at Night in Color documentary series on Apple TV+ streaming service.

The sound, in general here, is a little mediocre. At times, dialogue could be subpar and the overall front soundbar was hollow and lacking. As a whole unit, though, it mostly passes the test in day-to-day use and provides a satisfying enough experience.

Vizio M-Series Soundbar
The soundbar includes Bluetooth connectivity to stream music when not using it for home theater sound. TYLER HAYES

The weakest link in the sound system is probably the 5-inch subwoofer. It can muster up a small rumble and fill out a bassy suspense scene when it needs to, but it never made me think I should turn it down. Its sound was never engulfing. You can adjust the level of bass from the subwoofer, but turning it up still didn't add much. Part of its limitation almost certainly comes from its physical size. It's a small cube. Its size, in terms of sound and dimensions, is great for a bedroom or small living room, but in a cavernous room, its volume is largely overwhelmed.

That kind of gets at the heart of this system. It shines in small areas but becomes less impressive outside of that use. The cost of $329.99 makes this system a worthy value. From my hands-on experience, I think it provides enough features and sound quality to easily justify its price, but if you're looking to fill a main room and attach it to a large TV set, this probably isn't the specific soundbar system for you. Vizio has plenty of other options at regular price point intervals.

Vizio M-Series Soundbar
The remote control can be difficult to use because of its small screen, limiting the amount of information it can display at one time. TYLER HAYES

For as good of a value as the speakers are, the remote and its controls are a low point. Settings are displayed across a small LCD screen and usually don't completely fit across, length-wise. If you use the remote regularly, some of the settings will become second nature, I'm sure. But even after a week, I found the organizational tree of the nest settings to be constantly difficult to navigate. Plus, since all the buttons are on the top half of the remote, it feels unnecessary to have such a small screen. More visual space could have alleviated some of the pain points.

Dolby Atmos

This M-Series soundbar doesn't have up-firing speakers, and that's not required for Atmos, but it still supports the sound format for a wider, more spatial, audio profile. There are plenty of movies that support this feature, but I turned to the What Hi-Fi? list of 10 best Dolby Atmos movie scenes in an attempt to give the speakers their best shot.

Pixar's Soul has a great example of spatial audio when the main character, Joe, goes to the Great Before. More than just left and right, front and rear, there is a real sense of audio space and atmosphere during this part of the movie. The sound, fittingly, fills in the in-between to make you feel like you are in the middle of it. The soft and ethereal tones match the onscreen visual ambiance perfectly. If you want to give this one a spin, try starting at the 26 minute mark. There's also the beginning of the movie Baby Driver, which features a swirling sound that makes for a good example.

Vizio M-Series Soundbar
The two rear speakers connect to the subwoofer via a wire. They can sit on a shelf or mount to the wall. TYLER HAYES

The underlying question is, Is the Vizio M-Series soundbar good for Dolby Atmos spatial audio? It does a decent job. Does this feature alone make it worth buying this soundbar? Probably not. More appropriately, it's nice to have on this budget-friendly sound system.

I compared this soundbar with the much more expensive Sonos Arc with Dolby Atmos that does feature up-firing speakers. The Sonos Arc is more detailed and provides a better experience, as would be expected.

Should You Buy the Vizio M-Series Soundbar?

At the full retail price of $330, the M-Series (M51ax-J6) soundbar is a good value and overall solid sound system. It's not exactly entry level, but it's close enough for a system with dedicated rear speakers. It probably won't blow you away or impress an audience in a great room, but it will certainly be an upgrade over the speakers residing in your TV set and pull you into a movie better than could be done without front and rear speakers.

Buy at Best Buy and Amazon.

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