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Vizio SB36512-F6E 36in Soundbar review: The best affordable Atmos soundbar

Mark White
14 Nov 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
599
inc VAT

With great sound quality and loads of features, the Vizio SB36512-F6E 36in is an absolute bargain

Pros 
Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD support
Excellent sound quality
Easy setup
Cons 
Only one HDMI input
No digital assistant
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As the US’s number one soundbar brand, Vizio, has over the years made its name for creating high-quality soundbars at affordable prices and the 36in SB36512-F6E is no different. It’s among the first products to be officially launched by the company in the UK and, at £599, it’s comfortably one of the cheapest full-surround, Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar systems we’ve seen.

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Vizio SB36512-F6E 36in Soundbar Review: What you need to know

The Vizio SB36512-F6E is a semi-wireless 5.1.2 audio system that comes with a soundbar, wireless subwoofer and rear speakers in the box. It’s also, unusually at this price, Dolby Atmos compatible and has two upward-firing drivers on top of the soundbar to add height to the surround-sound image.

It’s fairly basic when it comes to physical connections but wireless features are impressive, with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi based Chromecast audio streaming for playing music back from your phone. The Vizio SB36512-F6E is also impressively simple to set up and supports pretty much every surround-sound audio standard going.

Vizio SB36512-F6E 36in Soundbar Review: Price and competition

The Vizio SB36512-F6E is £599. That’s an excellent price for an Atmos-compatible soundbar system that also includes a wireless subwoofer and rear speakers.

The closest comparison in terms of price, certainly that we’ve reviewed recently, is the LG SL8YG. Also Dolby Atmos compatible, the LG costs £499 and can be upgraded with wireless rear speakers for £130 bringing it up to a similar level when it comes to features.

If you’re not bothered with rear speakers, Samsung’s £579 HW-Q70R is another superb choice at around the same price. It comes with a wireless subwoofer and supports both DTS-HD and Dolby Atmos, comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming and has superb sound quality.

Vizio SB36512-F6E 36in Soundbar Review: Design, features and connectivity

The Vizio SB36512-F6E is a modest presence in your front room, especially if you’ve got big TV. It measures a narrow 36in in width and it’s fairly nondescript in appearance, covered in black, stretchy fabric and capped with metal plates at either end. The subwoofer and rear speakers are similar in appearance.

The included remote is fairly basic-looking too but it’s easy to use and has a simple LCD display at the top to indicate the setting that you’re currently adjusting. Should you misplace it, you can use the buttons along the top of the bar to switch input and adjust the volume.

Setting up the SB36512-F6E is made pretty easy by the way everything is connected together. Once you’ve plugged your soundbar into the mains and hooked it up to your TV, setting up the rear speakers and subwoofer is a simple matter of plugging the sub in and connecting the rear speakers to the sub via the included wires; the audio connection from the subwoofer to the soundbar itself is wireless.

This arrangement might sound a little Heath Robinson – it is certainly unusual – but it does mean you don’t need to run wires under the carpet or around the skirting boards and it keeps the number of potentially unreliable wireless connections to a minimum.

Elsewhere, the SB36512-F6E has all the connectivity basics covered. There’s a pair of HDMI ports – one input, one ARC-enabled output, optical and coaxial inputs for S/PDIF digital audio, a 3.5mm jack for analogue connections, plus USB and Ethernet. As for wireless connectivity, that’s good, too, with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Chromecast streaming provided.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Vizio SB36512-F6, however, is the wide array of audio formats it supports, including (impressively at this price) both Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio. Something to bear in mind, however, is that to experience overhead Atmos audio effects at their best, Vizio’s recommendation is that your ceiling is between 2.2m and 3.6m high.

Vizio SB36512-F6E 36” Soundbar Review: Sound quality

The soundbar itself has five drivers in total, each measuring 1.89 x 2.99in: there are forward-firing drivers for each of the left, centre and right channels, with an additional two upward-firing drivers for the left and right height channels.

The rear satellite speakers each employ a single 1.8in full-range driver and the subwoofer is equipped with a 6in driver. Should you wish to annoy your neighbours, Vizio says the SB36512-F6E can reach a top “sound level pressure” of 101dB – although we wouldn’t recommend listening at this level for long because you’ll end up damaging your ears as well.

At more reasonable volume levels, however, the SB36512-F6E sounds great and it delivers Atmos height effects with surprising authority. I used the official Dolby Atmos test disc to put it through its paces to start with and was immediately impressed with how convincing the various clips sounded, in particular the 747 takeoff, which sounded – as it should do – as if the plane was roaring immediately overhead rather past at ear level.

And despite the small stature of the Vizio SB36512-F6E, the sound doesn’t feel restricted or narrow. The soundbar and the supporting speakers produce superbly balanced audio that’s clear and crisp for dialogue and powerful enough to deliver big effects such as explosions with drive and scale. The 4K Blu-ray of the Revenant, which has a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, sounded superb, with the bear fight scene crackling with atmosphere and menace.

Switching to Avatar, which has a DTS-HD soundtrack, and it sounds just as good, if not more so, with aircraft sounding as if they are actually flying overhead; in the jungle scenes, effects don’t just sound like they’re emanating from specific speakers, they often sound as if they’re coming from the space between speakers.

And the good news is that, although powerful, the subwoofer rarely overpowers the mids and treble at all, leaving different elements in movie soundtracks plenty of room to breathe. In fact, it’s easy to forget that the subwoofer is even there; it contributes subtle rumbling to the experience but never threatens to over-dominate things. That may well depend on your room though, so it’s good to see that you can adjust the levels of the various speakers, including the sub, in addition to more coarse bass and treble adjustment.

The SB36512-F6E is more than adept at handling music playback too. Simply connect your device to the Bluetooth – or connect via the Google Home app for Chromecast streaming – and the soundbar handles even the most cluttered production with clarity. This is a bar built for cinema first but it’s a perfectly capable music playback device, too.

Vizio SB36512-F6E 36” Soundbar Review: Verdict

There aren’t that many genuine rivals for the Vizio SB36512-F6E, simply because so few soundbar systems offer the breadth of features, surround-sound audio format support and sound quality at such a reasonable price.

Quitely simply, the SB36512-F6E is superb. If you’re looking to turn your living room into a cinema on a comparatively low budget, you can’t go too far wrong with this soundbar.

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