Vizio M-Collection 5.1 Soundbar Evaluation (M51a-H6): The bar to beat

Vizio M-Series 5.1 Soundbar (M51a-H6)

“The Vizio M-Series 5.1 is a knockout figure.”

  • Support for eARC, Dolby Atmos, DTS: X.

  • Impressive subwoofer

  • Seamless surround effects

  • Comprehensive control

  • Excellent fidelity

  • One HDMI input

  • Less suitable for larger rooms

Having recently tested the Vizio Elevate soundbar, which produced excellent Dolby Atmos surround sound (at a high price), I was excited to see the cheaper M-Series 5.1 (M51a-H6) soundbar from Vizio. With virtual Dolby Atmos and DTS: X on board and a compact profile, the $ 300 soundbar system has all the prerequisites for incredible value. But even when I knew all of this, I was surprised. Let’s take a look at it.

Out of the box

At first glance, the M-Series 5.1 might look a little… boring. But that’s what it’s all about. The soundbar isn’t drawing attention to itself, and I think that’s a good thing – you should be able to hear the gears without any visual interference. Vizio did a great job creating an attractive system that would disappear in your room. It’s compact, slides right under most Vizio TVs, and has a sleek, charcoal-gray finish.

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vizio m series 51 soundbar review m51a h6 5 1

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vizio m series 51 soundbar review m51a h6 5 1

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

The system has a 36-inch wide soundbar with six drivers – three mid-range speakers and three tweeters in a configuration for left, center and right – as well as two surround speakers, each with a mid-range speaker and a subwoofer with a robust 6-inch driver Bottom.

The back of the soundbar is pretty simple. There is a power connector and an AUX input connector that can be used for a smart speaker if you want the smart speaker to control the system or to be heard through the surround sound system. There are also two HDMI ports, one for connecting a single device and another that supports eARC for Dolby Atmos and DTS: X surround signals – that’s a pretty impressive take at the price.

Everything you need comes in an incredibly well organized box

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The back of the surround speakers has a single cinch connector that connects the speakers to the subwoofer and a screw hole that allows the speakers to be mounted using the mounting brackets provided.

If you’re familiar with Vizio sound bars, you know that everything you need comes in one incredibly well-organized box. There are two power cords (one short and one long if your subwoofer is farther from an electrical outlet), two extremely long surround sound speaker cords, an HDMI cord, a remote control, batteries, an optical cord, and some analog cords and the the above hardware for mounting the speakers.

Setup options

There are two different setup scenarios for the M-Series 5.1. One is the more conventional configuration, with the soundbar in front, the surround speakers behind you, and the subwoofer in the back with the surround speakers (which wirelessly receive the surround signal and power the surround speakers).

The setup is plug-and-play and fully automated.

The other setup option (which works well for people who may not have that much space) is to have the surround speakers flank the soundbar at the front and the subwoofer also faces the front of the room. Vizio claims that the M-Series 5.1 can achieve some impressive surround sound effects even with this setup.

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

The setup is plug-and-play and fully automated. After you’ve plugged the soundbar and subwoofer into an electrical outlet and turned on the system, the two components will automatically connect and you’re good to go. If you are using the M-Series 5.1 in a huge, cavernous room, problems can arise if the subwoofer is too far from the soundbar and loses some of its signal, which is manifested in a small popping noise. But since this system is not intended for larger spaces, I don’t see this as a problem for most people

Similar to the Vizio Elevate, the M-Series 5.1 system has a comprehensive set of controls, all of which are managed using the supplied remote control. The remote control allows you to manage the independent balance of the surround speakers, the overall level of the surround speakers, the subwoofer level, the bass and treble levels, and a variety of preset EQ options. This type of control is important so that you can choose the sound of the system to work well with various speaker / subwoofer placement and room feature scenarios. With a little tweaking, I was able to use the system exactly where I wanted it.

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Sound quality

But how does it sound? In short, the Vizio M-Series 5.1 sounds great. In this price range, no business sounds as good as it does – even to Vizio, which is known for bringing out some pretty high quality soundbars.

The M-Series 5.1 has created a convincing sound circle.

The system doesn’t produce quite as good Dolby Atmos effects as a high-fire speaker system (like the Vizio Elevate), but the fidelity is impressive and the surround effects are seamless and cohesive.

The surround effects in the intro to Mad Max: Fury Road (one of my favorite Atmos surround test tracks) swirl around you, and if there are holes in the presentation you’ll notice it right away. The M-Series 5.1 has created a convincing sound circle, whereby the mix between the surround speakers and the soundbar sounds excellent.

The virtual Dolby Atmos effects have certainly increased the perceived height of the overall presentation and also improved the depth. I just didn’t feel like there were objects directly overhead like I did with the Vizio Elevate. When the first car chase takes place on Fury Road, a dune buggy flies overhead and on suitable Dolby Atmos systems it sounds like the vehicle is approaching you from behind and flying right over you. With the M-Series 5.1 soundbar, the dune buggy seemed to come through me and not over me.

I find this track to be a good stress test as well, as the narrator’s soft, gritty voice pushes the boundaries of most soundbars, which often rely heavily on the subwoofer at mid-bass frequencies. I’ve often found that it looks like most of the voice is coming from the subwoofer, but in my testing I haven’t drawn undue attention to the subwoofer. It seemed like the voice was anchored in the soundbar, the bass was just ubiquitous – really impressive.

If you want your living room to feel more like a theater, the M-Series 5.1 is for you. Unlike other soundbars I’ve tested, the highs here aren’t too sharp, the dialogue is never muffled, and the midrange is clear and well-defined. And while soundbars aren’t known for being that “musical,” I ran a couple of tracks through the M-Series 5.1 and they produced the same sharp fidelity that they did for movies. There wasn’t much instrumental separation and the soundstage isn’t particularly deep – after all, the M-Series 5.1 isn’t an audiophile product to compete with a dedicated music system – but the bass is rich. Instrumental textures are very good and the system provided a comfortable, room-filling experience.

Our opinion

People go to budget-friendly sound bars with managed expectations. For most, it’s usually fine as long as it sounds better than the TV’s built-in speakers. But the Vizio M-Series X defies those expectations and as such I think listeners will be blown away the first time they listen. For the price, the Vizio M-Series 5.1 is a knockout.

Is there a better alternative?

No. Vizio also offers the SB36512-F6 soundbar, which has two Atmos channels, for the same price. I don’t like the design that much though, and I think the M-Series 5.1’s fidelity is a bit better. The M-Series also supports 5.1 eARC for higher quality audio, while the SB366512-F6 offers standard ARC.

How long it will take

The Vizio M-Series 5.1 appears to be well built and should last as long as it takes you to get the itch to upgrade.

warranty

Vizio provides a one-year warranty on its soundbars when purchased from an authorized dealer. You can find more warranty information here.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The M-Series 5.1 soundbar is tremendous value and offers an extremely entertaining cinema experience.

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