What is the Vizio SB36512-F6?
The Vizio SB36512-F6 is the latest soundbar from a company that dominates this market in the United States. The SB36512 builds on the success of the entry-level SB362, adding Dolby Atmos decoding delivered using a wireless subwoofer and a pair of wired rear speakers.
The model number – while not exactly memorable – tells you what the SB36512 does. It’s a soundbar that’s 36-inches wide and has a 5.1.2-channel speaker configuration. It’s also competitively priced, and can be picked up for £599 as at the time of writing (June 2020).
The Vizio SB36512-F6 certainly isn’t going to win any awards when it comes to its design. This boxy and rather boring-looking soundbar is best described as pedestrian. The cabinet is essentially just a rectangular box with a wrap-around black fabric grille and metallic grey end-plates. There are logos on these end plates and screws in the corners, giving the SB36512 a somewhat industrial aesthetic overall that's matched by the subwoofer and rear speakers.
The build quality is reasonable, reflecting the soundbar’s price point, and along the top of the soundbar there are some basic controls for power, input, Bluetooth and volume up/down. At the front, down the left-hand side, are a series of LED indicators, but interpreting them will take a degree in codebreaking. There are numerous pages in the manual explaining what the different colour combinations mean, but there’s no way you’ll remember them all.
The 36-inch wide soundbar has three forward-firing speakers, and a pair of upward-firing speakers for the overhead effects. It’s ideal for TVs with screen sizes up to 65-inches, and in metric terms it measures 914 x 64 x 81mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 2.54kg. The active wireless forward-firing subwoofer measures 177 x 290 x 290mm (WxHxD), while the passive wired satellite speakers each measure 68 x 145 x 65mm (WxHxD).
Connections and Control
The Vizio SB36512-F6 houses its connections in a pair of recesses located at the rear of the soundbar. In the first there’s an HDMI input and an output that supports ARC (audio return channel). Both can pass 4K and high dynamic range, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but not HDR10+.
Related: What is Dolby Vision?
The inclusion of ARC allows you to send audio back from a compatible TV (including Dolby Atmos from supporting apps), which is just as well because you can only connect one HDMI device directly to the soundbar. Unfortunately, the lack of eARC means you can't send lossless audio back from the TV.
There's a decent set of connections, but only one HDMI input and no eARC or HDR10+ passthrough
The first recess also includes Ethernet and USB (MP3 and WAV) ports, while the second contains an optical digital input, an auxiliary 3.5mm analogue input and a two-pin power connector. There’s also built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless streaming.
Vizio has included a well-designed remote control that includes a small LED screen at the top, allowing you to scroll through the settings in the menu system. There's a main navigation and playback control, along with power, input and menu buttons above, and volume up/down and mute buttons underneath.
You can also set-up and control the SB36512 with Vizio’s SmartCast Mobile App (freely available for iOS and Android). This intuitive and graphically clean app not only turns your smart device into an effective controller, but also makes set up easier thanks to a clearly laid out interface that lays out all the key controls and options.
Features and Specs
The Vizio SB36512-F6 is relatively limited in terms of its features, which means no multi-room capabilities or smart assistant functionality. However, this helps keep the cost down and Vizio has concentrated on including features you might actually use on a day-to-day basis. This package is designed to quickly and easily create an immersive Dolby Atmos system in small- to medium-sized rooms.
The system is based around a soundbar with three forward-firing speakers for the front left, right and centre channels, along with two upward-firing speaker for the overhead channels. All these speakers are composed of 76 x 48mm full-range drivers, and in the case of the upward-firers, they literally bounce sounds off the ceiling, creating the illusion of speakers overhead. There’s also a pair of passive radiators to give the soundbar an added bass kick.
The low frequencies are delivered by a separate active subwoofer, which uses a forward-firing 6-inch driver that goes down to 40Hz. The sub should automatically connect wirelessly with the soundbar although, if not, this can be achieved manually.
The system is completed with a pair of wired rear speakers that each use a 46mm full-range driver. They physically connect to the subwoofer, which handles the amplification, and are vital for adding a genuinely immersive experience through actual surround channels.
The SB36512 can decode Dolby Atmos object-based audio, but can also handle less immersive formats like Dolby Digital and DTS. There are handy EQ presets such as movie, music and night modes, as well as a useful volume leveller to mitigate loud advert breaks, along with a surround mode that up-mixes certain sounds to the overhead channels for non-Atmos tracks.
Related: What is Dolby Atmos?
There's support for Dolby Atmos, along with EQ presets and a surround mode that up-mixes non-Atmos tracks
Unfortunately, it doesn’t support DTS:X, which is a shame because it certainly has sufficient speakers to effectively deliver this format. This lack of DTS:X support is increasingly common in mid-range soundbars, and reflects the overall dominance of Atmos. However, if you have a large disc collection and specifically want DTS:X support, this might not be the soundbar for you.
Setup and Operation
The Vizio SB36512 comes with everything you need in the box. So you get HDMI, optical digital, and 3.5mm to stereo phono cables, a wall mounting template and brackets for the soundbar and rear speakers. The latter use colour-coded 8m long cables (limiting the system to smaller rooms), and should be installed just behind the main listening position at roughly ear height.
The fact the rear speakers are wired might be slightly off-putting, after all no-one likes running cables around their living room, and it also limits the distance from the subwoofer to the rear speakers. However, you don’t have to put the sub at the front of the room, and a wired connection won’t suffer from drop-outs, which sometimes happens with wireless surrounds.
Installation is relatively straightforward: simply place the soundbar under your TV (either stand or wall mount) and make sure the top drivers aren’t blocked. That’s because the upward-firing drivers bounce acoustic beams off the ceiling, creating the illusion of overhead speakers and, for this to work properly, you need a low, flat, and reflective ceiling.
Setup is straightforward and is best done with the app, which makes setting the channel levels easy
Once everything is in position, you can set the levels for the speakers and woofer. Make sure you use the app to set the levels, because making sense of the display is nearly impossible. You’ll need test tones and an SPL meter to correctly set the levels, but at least Vizio gives you this option. There are plenty of more expensive Atmos soundbars that don’t let you set the channel levels independently.
Finally, a Panasonic DP-UB820 was connected to the soundbar using the available HDMI input, while a Manhattan T3-R Freeview set-top box was connected directly to the TV and its audio sent back via HDMI ARC. The soundbar's ARC capability with Atmos was tested using the built-in Netflix and Amazon apps on an LG 77C9.
If your TV doesn’t support ARC, you can use the included optical digital cable to send audio from your TV back to the soundbar. The SB36512 is easy to operate, and will detect incoming audio signals from whichever input you have selected and decode automatically. For audio signals apart from Dolby Atmos, you can apply the various sound modes that Vizio includes.
The Vizio SB36512-F6 is definitely worth setting up properly, because the results are genuinely impressive. There’s an expansive front soundstage that seems considerably wider than the soundbar itself. The left and right speakers deliver some decent stereo imaging, and the dedicated centre speaker ensures dialogue remains clear and focused. The rear speakers provide plenty of surround activity behind you, and the subwoofer lays down a solid foundation of bass.
The effectiveness of the upward-firing drivers will largely depend on your ceiling, and the lower and more reflective it is the better. Vizio recommends a flat ceiling with a height of between 2.2 and 3.6m for the best overhead effects. When you combine these upward-firing drivers with the rear speakers it makes all the difference, ensuring you’re actually enveloped in an acoustic hemisphere, rather than simply faced with a front-heavy wall of sound.
The result is an enjoyably immersive sonic experience, particularly with Dolby Atmos. A highly directional soundtrack like Gravity really benefits from the rear speakers, allowing effects to be seamlessly steered around the room. The use of similar drivers also ensures there’s a tonal balance to the overall presentation, resulting in a greater sense of cohesion. The upward-firing drivers also play their part, allowing effects to be precisely placed in three-dimensional space.
The inclusion of upward-firing drivers and rear speakers makes a big difference, creating a sense of genuine immersion
Thanks to the inclusion of rear speakers the SB36512 has genuine surround channels, something much of Vizio’s competition is audibly missing. The company is suspiciously tight-lipped about the amplification power in this system, but it has no trouble hitting unsociable volume levels without distorting. This soundbar might struggle in larger rooms, but it’s ideal for the average living space, and its muscular delivery lends itself to action movies.
This is evident during the scene in Kong: Skull Island, where Samuel L. Jackson faces off against the titular ape. There’s an inferno of flames at the front of the room, which is enhanced by the overhead channels. These also give Kong added height, while the woofer injects plenty of low-end depth to Kong’s guttural roar. Explosions hit with seismic force thanks to the well-integrated sub, but no matter how cacophonous the soundtrack, dialogue remains clear and focused.
There’s also a pleasing sense of scale, thanks to the three-dimensional nature of the system's soundstage. This is best evidenced during the opening scene of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. As huge spaceships break through the atmosphere, there are powerful thumps overhead, and, as a giant battleship flies over you, it’s quite intimidating. However, careful set-up ensures no one channel dominates, and also allows the sub to add bass without swamping the overall system.
The full-range front left and right speakers render music with a pleasing clarity and some nice placement of instruments, although the Vizio doesn’t have the sonic width of larger soundbars. However, the overall frequency response is excellent with a clean and sibilant-free treble, combined with an un-congested midrange. The sub adds a well-timed low-end kick to drums, and the mid-range is very solid thanks to the built-in passive radiators.
The system is tonally balanced, and while better suited to smaller rooms, the overall soundstage has a feeling of scale
The SB36512 is equally as accomplished with non-Atmos content, and offers a choice of direct, movie, music and night modes – all of which are self-explanatory. There's also a useful volume leveller to mitigate loud advert breaks. The surround mode up-mixes non-immersive material, using all the available channels to give regular soundtracks a more open and expansive presence that creates the illusion of greater immersion.
- Genuinely immersive experience
- Well integrated bass
- Rear speakers included
- Dolby Atmos
- Everything you need is in the box
- Competitively priced
- Limited HDMI connections
- No DTS:X
- Rears are wired
- Design is rather pedestrian
Vizio SB36512-F6 Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The Vizio SB36512-F6 is an impressive Dolby Atmos soundbar that delivers a genuinely immersive soundstage thanks to its upward-firing drivers and wired rear speakers. It's a compact, well-engineered and competitively-priced system. The looks might be considered pedestrian but the performance is anything but, with a fantastically engaging delivery that creates a believable hemisphere of sound. Whether it's a TV show, movie or music, this multi-channel system is sure to please with precise steering and nicely integrated bass.
The features aren't as extensive as some of the competition, but it helps keep the price down and all the important stuff is present and correct. There's Dolby Atmos, a handy controller, and an intuitive remote app – plus everything you need to quickly and easily setup the system is included in the box. It’s not perfect of course: the system is better suited to smaller rooms, there's no DTS:X or eARC, the wired rears might put some off and the front LED display is infuriating. However, in all other respects, the Vizio SB36512 delivers some serious bang for your buck.
What are my alternatives?
There are plenty of soundbars in this price range, but many like the Denon DHT-S516H don't support Dolby Atmos. There are some that do support Dolby Atmos like the Sharp HT-SBW800, but this soundbar has no rear speakers, which results in a soundstage that's very front-heavy. In fact there are very few soundbars that actually come with rear speakers included at any price, which emphasises the value of the SB36512, even before you consider its performance.
The Samsung HW-Q90R is one such example, but this flagship soundbar costs over twice as much at £1,199. On the plus side, you get a lot for your money, with forward-, upward- and side-firing drivers, along with a wireless subwoofer and wireless surround speakers. There's decoding for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, s proper display on the front, two HDMI inputs that can pass Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and thanks to a recent firmware update there's even support for eARC.
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