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VIZIO M-Series Soundbar and Subwoofer Review: The Best Option Under $200

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $180
A close-up of the M215a-J6 soundbar.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

While I’ll always be a fan of budget audio devices, I’m usually frustrated by cheap soundbars. They tend to skimp on essential features like HDMI passthrough, often with the assumption that buyers on a budget don’t know any better. But VIZIO’s M215a-J6 soundbar and subwoofer combo is a wonderful exception.

Here's What We Like

  • Impressive sound quality with deep bass
  • Solid port selection with HDMI-eARC and HDMI passthrough
  • Dolby Atmos support through virtualization
  • Easy setup, wired or Bluetooth

And What We Don't

  • Lacks detail in upper mid-range frequencies
  • No Wi-Fi, AirPlay, or Chromecast audio options
  • The subwoofer is good for its size, but it won't rattle your bones

At just $180, the M215a-J6 punches far above its price range. It delivers impressive sound and emulates a 5.1-channel surround setup using Dolby Atmos virtualization. But more importantly, this product shows respect for budget-minded customers—it doesn’t skimp on the essentials.

Note: This review is for the M215a-J6, the 2022 model of VIZIO M-series soundbar and subwoofer kit. If you choose to purchase this soundbar, please pay attention to the model number. Otherwise, you may end up with a totally different model.

Simple Design and Installation

The M215a-J6 soundbar mounted to a TV.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

  • Soundbar Size: 2.24 x 36 x 3.54 inches
  • Soundbar Weight: 5.3 pounds
  • Subwoofer Size: 9.9 x 8.3 x 8.3 inches (5-inch sub)
  • Subwoofer Weight: 7.6 pounds
  • Wall Mount Included: Yes
  • Connectivity: Wired or wireless

Like most VIZIO products, the M215a-J6 soundbar features a simplistic and effective design. It’s a bit plasticky, but it feels solid and doesn’t look too cheap. There’s also a handy row of buttons on top of the soundbar, plus a column of tiny LEDs in the grille to show its volume level—you can disable these LEDs if you wish.

Setting up the soundbar is a breeze. You can connect it to your TV over Bluetooth, which takes all but a few seconds. That said, I suggest using HDMI ARC or an optical cable for maximum audio quality (both are included in the box). The only drawback to a wired connection, as you can probably tell from my pictures, is that it’s hard to hide the cables.

Vizio M215a-J6 soundbar and subwoofer on a white background.
Vizio

VIZIO’s subwoofer is equally simplistic, and thankfully, it comes with a long power cable. It only operates wirelessly and automatically pairs with the soundbar. Surprisingly, I’ve had zero problems with the automatic pairing process, or anything involving the subwoofer, for that matter.

And for those who’d like to mount their soundbar, the M215a-J6 comes with the appropriate hardware. You don’t need to buy any extra crap to get this thing on the wall.

But in my infinite wisdom, I chose to hang the soundbar from my TV’s mount so that the two could tilt and swivel together. Yeah, I had to buy extra crap. And since there are buttons on top of the soundbar, I had to leave an oversized gap between it and the TV (well, I didn’t have to leave the gap, I guess). If you plan on getting creative when mounting the M215a-J6, I suggest researching mounting hardware instead of buying the first Amazon listing that claims “VIZIO compatibility.”

Virtualized Dolby Atmos from a Two-Channel Setup

The M215a-J6's Dolby Atmos and DTS:X logos.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

  • Frequency Response: 50Hz — 20kHz
  • Maximum Volume: 100dB
  • Channels: 2.1-channel system
  • Surround Sound: Virtualized Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

Considering the price, I’m very impressed by the M215a-J6 soundbar’s audio quality. It’s obviously a huge upgrade from any TV’s built-in speakers, but it also sounds better than most budget audio systems. The audio is super clear, fills the room, and doesn’t have any harsh or tinny frequencies. It also gets nice and loud, which is awesome when watching movies or playing music.

Now, the soundbar is missing a bit of quality in mid-range frequencies, particularly the upper mid-range. It’s not a huge problem, and it’s only somewhat noticeable when watching movies at a high volume or listening to music. (But if you’ve got golden ears, yeah, you’ll hear that something’s missing.)

Vizio's M215a-J6 wireless subwoofer on the floor.

And while the subwoofer won’t rattle your bones, it sounds great, especially for a small wireless unit. I actually had to turn the sub down a bit, but only because I’m in a narrow room with hard floors. In a larger room with carpeting, you may need to turn the subwoofer up.

Of course, the M215a-J6’s big selling point is virtualized Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. This is just a 2.1-channel sound system; it doesn’t have a center channel or upward-firing speakers. But it sounds great with Atmos and DTS content—there’s an impressively wide soundstage, and it’s all thanks to software that mimics the directionality of a 5.1-channel system.

I’m not saying that the virtualization is perfect. But if you want semi-theatrical sound quality from a 2.1-channel sound system, you won’t regret buying the M215a-J6.

Decent Connectivity Options

The M215a-J6 connectivity routing.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

  • Wired Connectivity: HDMI-ARC with eARC, HDMI passthrough, digital optical, and 3.5mm
  • Wireless Connectivity: Bluetooth
  • Smart Speaker Connectivity: 3.5mm cable or Bluetooth
  • USB Input: Yes, for WAV and MP3 files

When it comes to connectivity, more ports are always better. But I’d say that the M215a-J6’s port selection is acceptable for the price. Along with the standard optical and 3.5mm inputs, you get an HDMI-ARC with eARC support and an HDMI passthrough.

I suggest connecting the speaker to your TV via HDMI-ARC, as it ensures that your TV remote can control your soundbar’s power and volume. Also, digital optical cables don’t work with Dolby Atmos, so if you want the best sound quality, you need to use HDMI-ARC.

While this HDMI-ARC connection will take up one of your TV’s HDMI ports, it’s not a big deal. The M215a-J6’s secondary HDMI input supports 4K video passthrough, so it effectively replaces the HDMI jack taken up by your HDMI-ARC connection. (Note that this HDMI passthrough doesn’t support VRR or 4K 120Hz—if you’re a gamer, connect your console directly to your TV.)

And oddly enough, the M215a-J6 includes a dedicated AUX jack for smart speakers—this lowers the TV volume when your smart speaker is active (you can also connect smart speakers via Bluetooth). There’s even a USB port for music files, but it only supports MP3 and WAV.

While I think that this soundbar could benefit from an extra HDMI input, I’m mostly bummed out by the lack of wireless connectivity for playing music. There’s Bluetooth, of course, but I’d prefer to have Wi-Fi, Chromecast, and AirPlay support. These protocols sound way better than Bluetooth and are incredibly easy to use. (To be fair, modern VIZIO TVs have Chromecast and AirPlay built-in.)

I also have a minor complaint about the HDMI-ARC connection’s reliability. Every once in a while, I’ll turn on the TV, but the soundbar won’t work—turning the power off and on fixes the problem. It’s a minor problem, but people seem very upset about it in the Walmart reviews, so I thought I’d mention it here.

The Remote’s Cool; I Just Wish It Had Backlit Buttons

The Vizio M215a-J6 remote control.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

  • Controls: Volume, EQ, preset modes
  • LCD Display: Yes, backlit

Nobody wants to add another remote to their setup, which is why I suggest connecting the M215a-J6 to your TV via HDMI-ARC. But the remote that’s included with this soundbar is surprisingly great. It offers a ton of options, including presets to boost voices or amp up the bass.

My favorite preset is “night mode,” which lowers the soundbar’s overall volume and curbs the subwoofer a bit. Of course, you can turn off the subwoofer at any time using its power button or the remote.

There are also dedicated EQ settings in the remote, along with all the bog-standard stuff–volume controls, a mute button, and a Bluetooth button. Navigating this slew of options is easy, thanks to a backlit LCD at the top of the remote.

Unfortunately, the remote’s buttons aren’t backlit. I’ve only ever reached for this remote while watching movies in the dark, and I assume that other users will do the same. It’s a missed opportunity, but it’s not the end of the world.

The Gist: You Won’t Find Better at This Price

A close-up of the M215a-J6 subwoofer.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

VIZIO is known for offering great products at an affordable price. Still, I’m impressed by the M215a-J6 soundbar. With its solid audio quality, surround sound virtualization, decent port selection, and simple setup process, it’s clearly one of the best (if not the best) soundbar and subwoofer combos at this price.

To most critics, the only true competitor to the VIZIO M215a-J6 is TCL’s Alto 7+. But the TCL soundbar lacks Dolby Atmos virtualization, has a less impressive remote, doesn’t support eARC, and skips on the passthrough HDMI port. That’s significantly fewer features for the same price as VIZIO’s M215a-J6.

Other affordable soundbar and subwoofer combos, like the Polk Signa S2 and Sony HT-S350, more closely match the VIZIO M215a-J6’s quality and come with larger subwoofers. But they’re $80 to $100 more than what VIZIO is selling. They also lack Dolby Atmos virtualization.

So, I’m happy to recommend VIZIO’s M215a-J6. And the score for this review reflects that recommendation.

Rating: 9/10
Price: $180

Here’s What We Like

  • Impressive sound quality with deep bass
  • Solid port selection with HDMI-eARC and HDMI passthrough
  • Dolby Atmos support through virtualization
  • Easy setup, wired or Bluetooth

And What We Don't

  • Lacks detail in upper mid-range frequencies
  • No Wi-Fi, AirPlay, or Chromecast audio options
  • The subwoofer is good for its size, but it won't rattle your bones

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »