We keep buying bigger and bigger TVs. What you paid for a 50” flat screen a decade ago now can easily get you something that is 70” in size. No matter how large you go, one thing doesn’t change: the sound cannot keep up with the image. Weak, thin speakers that bounce off the wall sound bad and leave you with only half the experience.

The Vizio S5430W-C2 is a sound bar wide enough to pair with your big screen and has the audio quality to match. Without a subwoofer it can’t hit those ultra-deep notes but movies and music sound wonderful. Considering the low price it sells for and that it produces some of the best music I’ve heard from any sound bar, it comes highly recommended.

A long time coming

Manufacturer: Vizio
Model: S5430W-C2
Outputs: 1x HDMI with ARC, 1x Subwoofer
Inputs: 1x HDMI, 1x 3.5mm Analog, 1x Stereo RCA, 1x Coaxial, 1x Optical, 1x USB
Subwoofer: No
Bluetooth: Yes
Airplay: No
Review Date: February 8, 2014
Price: $298
Company Website

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Vizio first let me listen to the S5430W-C2 at CES in 2013. I had listened to far fewer sound bars then and expected very little from it. After all, it was a sound bar? But I left that demo room impressed and wanting to hear it again. I’ve heard the 42” version of it, which I picked as the best overall budget sound bar for The Wirecutter, but the S5430W-C2 wound up being quite different from its siblings.

The size of the S5430W-C2 matches up almost perfectly to my 60” Panasonic VT60 plasma. Standard size sound bars look small in comparison and don’t get near the edges of the screen. If you use a TV smaller than 55” the Vizio might look a bit strange since it will extend past the edges of the display. With wall mounting hardware and a template included in the box, placing it on the wall is simple.

Unlike most sound bars there is no subwoofer. Because of the larger size of the Vizio S5430W-C2, it includes what Vizio calls Deep Bass Modules. Like the racetrack shaped subwoofers on my Definitive Technology Mythos STS speakers, these passive radiators are tuned to provide low-frequency response. As low-frequency response requires moving more air, the larger size of the S5430W-C2 is a real advantage. Smaller sound bars lack the space to pull off this design.

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There are three distinct channels in the S5430W-C2 with left, center and right channels. Each has their own full-range, 3” driver to pair with those passive radiators. To deliver signals to these speakers there is a full selection of inputs. There is a single HDMI input but the HDMI output also supports Audio Return Channel. Optical and Coaxial digital inputs are provided along with two stereo analog inputs. Digital media can play from a USB thumb drive (.WAV only) or using the Bluetooth input that supports AptX. Finally, there is a subwoofer output if you want to add some additional bass.

Vizio does a nice job with their included remote. The LCD screen makes it easy to figure out what you are adjusting and reading the LEDs on the bar is easy even from the couch. Since it is IR and not RF you still need to point it to the bar for it to work, but it works well. Programming it to respond to my TV remote only took a couple of minutes and I didn’t even need the manual. The remote will walk you through it

Clear, Detailed Sound

For music I use my favorite test tracks on USB drive to take advantage of the Vizio’s USB input. The most surprising aspect is how large a soundstage it provides. Most sound bars fall well short here with a thin, narrow soundstage that makes you want a pair of bookshelf speakers. The Vizio S5430W-C2 has one of the larger soundstages I have heard in a sound bar. Even with the surround modes disabled, sounds came from far beyond the edges of the bar and it does a wonderful job of putting musicians in their place.

Beck’s “Lost Cause” from Sea Change lets you hear the pinpoint placement of Beck and his band, and the Vizio delivers that. Beck is clearly anchored in the center of the mix while instruments surround him. Despite having a single driver for each channel there is remarkable clarity with the instruments. Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” from Stop Making Sense has dynamic drums and guitar throughout the song. The Vizio S5430W-C2 perfectly conveys the thumping drum beat as well as the strain in David Byrne’s voice. It throws a wide, deep soundstage that makes you feel like you are part of the concert audience.

“Hoppipolla” from Sigur Ros presents a different challenge with a sound that swells as the song goes on. This manages to expose a pair of flaws in the S5430W-C2. With a single full-range driver for each channel, vocals on this track are lost in the rest of the music. I have to adjust the controls to hear what is being said. When it gets to the very loud, crashing drums at the end I found myself missing a dedicated subwoofer as well. While the bass response of the Vizio suited Beck and Talking Heads well, here the song is missing its impact. Of course you can add a sub quite easily if you want to.

Watching episodes of Breaking Bad, everything is far better with the Vizio than through my VT60. The width of the sound bar matches up almost perfectly but the audio is far better. Connected over HDMI the Vizio S5430W-C2 is able to take the 5.1 channel soundtrack and convert it to 3 channels. Vocals are clear as the dedicated center channel handles those and frees up the left and right channels for the rest of the soundtrack. The simulated surround effects work reasonably well as the sound stage from the Vizio is very large. Gunshots and explosions have depth and more impact than from a TV.

Watching the Seahawks crush the Broncos in the Super Bowl this year, the Vizio kept up with the game without an issue. From the impact of hits to the inane commentary from the announcers, everything is clear with the Vizio. Sending audio from the TV over HDMI using Audio Return Channel works perfectly and your TV remote will control the Vizio volume.

Little Things to Fix

Even with all the Vizio S5430W-C2 does right there are things to improve upon. At really high volume levels you start to hear the cabinet. Vizio rates it for 103dB at 1% THD+N but does not specify the test tone they use to measure that. With a 10 kHz tone I believe this number but when you push the volume with deep bass you can hear the plastic cabinet.

I’d also like to see a wireless option for a subwoofer be built into the S5430W-C2. I used an SVS PB-1000 to reinforce the bottom-end but it has to be connected directly with an RCA cable. While the Vizio produces enough bass for most people, having to use a wired subwoofer with it means few people will add one on later.

The USB input needs to support more file types than just WAV. FLAC would be nice but MP3 is essential. With how few people actually store WAV files I don’t see the USB input being used much.

I’d also like to see a more advanced version of the S5430W-C2 that uses separate midrange and tweeters for the three channels. On Sigur Ros the vocals are buried in the sound mix but on the Vizio S4221 they are not due to the separate drivers. With how well the S5430W-C2 performs for everything else it would really make it the head of the class.

Technical Measurements

I measured the Vizio S5430W-C2 sound bar using a UMIK-1 calibrated microphone and RoomEQ Wizard software. Six different positions are each measured 8 times to reduce any measurement anomalies. I average all 48 measurements to reduce room effects using the method described by Brent Butterworth.

Without a subwoofer, the Vizio S5430W-C2 has usable bass response down to 70 Hz and then it drops off steeply. Based off the 1 kHz measurements, the frequency response of the S5430W-C2 is + 3.0 dB / -7.8 dB from 75 Hz to 15.3 kHz. There is both a steep roll-off in the bass and one in the treble, possibly from the use of a single driver for all frequencies. There is also a noticeable dip at 3 kHz where it is around 3.5 dB below other frequencies.

vizio s5430w-c2 in room average

The flatness of the overall frequency response is good but the steep roll-off is the trade-off from using a single driver for all frequencies and the lack of a subwoofer.

Another great sound bar

At this point I’m no longer surprised by the performance of a sound bar from Vizio. Instead of just expanding an existing sound bar to make it fit a larger TV they rethought it. Eliminating the subwoofer and adding a dedicated center channel has allowed them to produce a bar that destroys the sound quality of built-in speakers but is easy to setup and use. It also provides one of the best music soundstages I have heard in a sound bar to date. If you really need deep bass you can easily add an affordable subwoofer like the Polk Audio PSW10 or BIC F12 to it later. Or you can buy the upcoming 5.1 channel version, the Vizio S5451W-C2, that adds a wireless subwoofer and surround speakers for $200 more.

If you have a large flat screen in your house and are still using the built-in speakers I’d highly suggest the S5430W-C2. Movies and TV sound better with it and music playback is good enough to pick it over a pair of bookshelf speakers.

Review Summary
Product: Vizio S5430W-C2 Review
Pros: Great soundstage, every input you need, very good with movies and music, dedicated center channel
Cons: Lacks really low bass, lack of separate tweeter can lead to vocals being obscured
Summary: Matching up well with 55" and larger flat-screen TVs, the Vizio S5430W-C2 provides wonderful sound without the need for a subwoofer.
Value: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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3 Responses to Review

  1. Adam February 16, 2014 at 6:13 AM #

    I have a the 5430 and a VT 60 as well. I’m debating taking the sound bar back and getting the 4221 instead. Have you compared them head to head? If so, which would you go with? I

    • Chris Heinonen February 16, 2014 at 1:01 PM #

      With music I would have to give the edge to the 4221. The tweeters meant those really difficult musical sections sounded clearer and small details didn’t get obscured. With movies and TV I probably give a bit of an edge to the 5430 due to the discrete center channel. The bass on the 5430 isn’t as deep as the 4221 because it lacks the external subwoofer, but it is better when you remove the subwoofer from the equation. If you have room for the sub, I almost lean towards the 4251 because you get the discrete center channel and the subwoofer. You can also use the surround speakers if you want to, but it won’t be the same width as your VT60 of course.

  2. Shylo57 March 3, 2014 at 9:22 AM #

    I love the new technology. Vizo just keeps getting better and better

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