VIZIO 5.1 Sound Bar Speaker System M51a-H6 Review
By Olin Coles
Manufacturer: VIZIO, Inc.
Product Name: M-Series 5.1 Home Theater Sound Bar with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
Model Number: M51a-H6 (2021 Release)
Price As Tested: $299.99 (Costco | Sam’s Club)
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by VIZIO.
Like most people in 2020, I retreated indoors during the global pandemic. It has been a constant challenge to entertain and distract, but thankfully streaming services have helped with plenty of shows and movies. This past year has given the term ‘Netflix and chill’ new meaning, and with some help from VIZIO, 2021 could have some added thrill. Boasting eleven total speakers across four components, the new 2021 revision VIZIO M-Series 5.1 Home Theater Sound Bar with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (model M51a-H6) might just shake you out of this long hibernation.
Over the past several years, home entertainment has undergone a transformation: slowly replacing bookshelf style box speakers for robust sound bar systems. While many enthusiasts still cling to their large speaker systems, others have seen the wisdom in downsizing. With nine speakers (woofers, drivers, and tweeters) built into the actual sound bar, it would be difficult to replicate that level of fidelity with individual units within the same footprint.
Arriving into stores priced at $299.99, the 2021 VIZIO M-Series 5.1 Home Theater Sound Bar with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X receives a few updates, including a revised model number: M51a-H6. Similar to the 2020 release (model M51-H6), this speaker system includes the powered sound bar, a pair of satellite speakers, and a powered subwoofer. Accessories include the remote control with two AAA batteries, stereo RCA-to-3.5mm audio cable, 3.5mm-to-3.5mm audio cable, HDMI cable, digital audio (SPDIF/TosLink) cable, two surround speaker cables, two power cables, and wall mounts for sound bar and surround speakers.
VIZIO M-Series 5.1 Sound Bar Overview
Known for their value-packed home theater products, this VIZIO 5.1-channel speaker system includes a 36-Inch sound bar with nine internal speakers (model M51a-H6), two surround speakers, and a 6″ powered subwoofer. Connect a source to the sound bar and it transmits wirelessly to the subwoofer, which connect to surround speakers via cables. This M-Series 5.1 home theater kit has everything needed to reproduce Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio.
The M51a-H6 sound bar measures 36.0″ wide x 2.2″ tall x 3.5″ deep. The subwoofer is 8.3″ wide x 9.9″ tall x 11.7″ deep, and each surround speaker is 5.7″ wide x 2.2″ tall x 3.5″ deep. There are two wall mounting brackets included for the sound bar, and wall mounting brackets for the surround sound speakers. The sound bar’s power cord measures 8-feet long and the subwoofer’s power cord is 5-feet, although they are interchangeable if needed, while surround speaker cables reach 26-feet each, allowing considerable flexibility in their placement location.
On the back left side of the VIZIO M51a-H6 sound bar is a HDMI input with HDMI (eARC) output, digital optical audio input (SPDIF/TosLink), and USB input for connected storage containing .wav, .mp3, and .flac file formats (.mp4 was also tested, but not detected). Alternatively, the USB port provides 5 volts power at 0.5 amperes. Pairing a Bluetooth device to ‘VIZIO M51a’ enables streaming directly to this sound bar.
The VIZIO M-Series 5.1 Home Theater Sound Bar is also backwards-compatible with plenty of older audio outputs. At the back right side of the sound bar is the power cable connection (75W), and AUX analog audio input for 3.5 mm stereo along with AUX VA 3.5 mm stereo input for Voice Assistant connected electronic devices.
The satellite surround speakers utilize one driver per unit. A threated mounting point is at the back for attaching to a wall or speaker stand, along with a RCA connection input that draws from the powered subwoofer. Using either the remote control or sound bar buttons, the levels of center, sub, and these surround speakers can be adjusted, along with balance and tone levels for bass, treble, dialog.
VIZIO’s M51a-H6 allows for direct configuration from the button controls atop the sound bar, or the included remote control that makes the process more efficient with dedicated buttons for specialized functions. If you don’t want one more remote cluttering the coffee table, VIZIO adds the ability for the sound bar to “learn” other brand remotes. If you already own a VIZIO television, then that remote is likely to automatically work with this sound bar without pairing.The included M51a-H6 remote control (part 10223-0000236) comes supplied with Duracell AAA batteries, and is an upgrade over the 2020 version. VIZIO adds an LCD display to the top of this remote, which it much easier to navigate and configure this 5.1 speaker system. There are also feature settings such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X that are explained within the user manual.
VIZIO SB362An-F6 Experience & Conclusion
I typically use a 5.1 configuration for my home theater system that use a dual 6″ driver center channel, along with two large tower speakers with 12″ woofers for the front channels, a pair of 6″ satellite speakers for side channels, and a 12″ subwoofer. While this arrangement is space consuming and expensive, it does faithfully recreate the theater experience. So how well did VIZIO’s 5.1 channel sound bar system compare? Quite well, actually.
Setup and configuration were surprisingly simple, especially since VIZIO added the LCD display to the M51a-H6 remove control. Not everybody has a lifetime of experience with home theater equipment, so the plain-English labels and descriptions make customizing the sounds and settings incredibly easy.
Admittedly, the 6-inch powered subwoofer was no match for my trio of 12″ speakers that frequently work at shaking my house off its foundation… but it certainly added a level of bass you can feel. Built-in crossover circuitry prevented the separate surround speakers and sound bar from reproducing sounds that might cause distortion, even at very high volume. Every song and movie I tested was clear, without muddy lows or crackling highs.
I connected to the M51a-H6 speaker system four different ways, for comparison: TosLink optical digital, HDMI, analog 3.5mm, and Bluetooth (which compresses data). HDMI was the cleanest of them all, with perfect transmission. Optical digital followed closely behind, but can introduce millisecond delay with some equipment. I played music from my phone with analog 3.5mm and Bluetooth connection, and both were surprisingly clean.
While I could not detect any quality difference between the various input choices, digital connections will always faithfully reproduce the audio signal more accurately than analog, which can introduce noise from interference.
VIZIO M51a-H6 Conclusion
After testing music and movies totaling over a dozen hours, I was astonished with how well the 2021 model M51a-H6 sound bar system performed when compared to my more expensive (and vastly larger) 5.1 speaker system. Most impressive is the big sound coming from a relatively small speaker package.
In terms of appearance, VIZIO’s 5.1 sound bar system strikes the ideal balance of design and features. I like my speakers to blend in with their surroundings, and not stand out like a centerpiece. As such, one small concern is the power button on the subwoofer unit that lights up bright and can be distracting if faced towards viewers.
VIZIO has given special consideration to the construction of this sound bar, and it shows. Especially durable, I expect it could survive the prying fingers of young children as well as careless adults. Surround sound cables should hidden, ideally. If this speaker system fails, there is one year of warranty coverage and lifetime technical support.
Functionality is the one area where this VIZIO 5.1 sound bar system really sets itself apart. There is already plenty of utility in having control over separate treble, dialog, and bass tuning, as well as center speaker and subwoofer level controls, yet there are also many other features embedded to help you fill the room with accurate sounds. Among these is DTS TruVolume, which flattens the various sound levels, DTS Virtual:X for simulated overhead sound, and Night Mode for reducing sounds that carry to other rooms.
In conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised by the clean performance by VIZIO’s M-Series 5.1 Home Theater Sound Bar with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (2021 model M51a-H6). Sound reproduction was incredibly faithful to the original frequency tones, and the drivers were tight enough to avoid distortion at very high volume. Priced for less than $300, you absolutely cannot go wrong. Recognizing outstanding quality and value, I strongly recommend this 5.1 system.
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