Vizio's new Sound Stand aims to be a simple, cheap ($250) solution for your TV's crappy sound, even simpler and more discreet than a sound bar. But even if it's cheap and convenient, the Sound Stand is less than you bargain for.
What Is It?
A $250 sound system you're supposed to place under a tabletop TV. It's specifically billed for people who don't even have enough space for a sound bar.
Why Does It Matter?
Sound bars have made a lot of headway in recent years in large measure because TVs have gotten so skinny that there's no room for decent speakers in them anymore. Sound bars are also good enough now that they're a perfectly acceptable sound solutions, even for people who would ordinarily buy a five channel home theater system. The sound stand promises to be the same kind of product for an even more space-constrained human.
And if somebody is going to bring a new category to tons of people—especially an affordable one—it's Vizio. The company sells loads upon loads of TVs and sound bars precisely because they're cheap and very high quality. They'll sell you a passable sound bar for $80 and decent sound bar/sub combo for $150. And for $250, you can get a downright convincing 2.1 sound bar system. They don't always have the glitz and features offered by some of their more expensive Asian competitors, but Vizio is impossible to beat on price.
At just 21-inches long, the Sound Stand is considerably shorter than even the shortest sound bars, which usually measure about 30 inches. Theoretically that means the Sound Stand is going to fit in tighter spots than anything else. It is a "stand," so you just plop your TV right on top of it. (Vizio cautions that you shouldn't use a TV larger than 55-inches on it. Which is fine; if you have a 55-inch TV worth of real estate, you should buy a sound bar anyway.)
The plastic enclosure stands three inches high, and it's very bland in appearance, especially when compared to similar new LG ($400) and Samsung ($300), which have a sleek, modern look. This thing looks more like a schlubby cable box than a svelte high-definition panel. And because it's made of plastic and not MDF (wood) like higher-quality sound products, you can expect some rattling and vibration from the get go.
Besides the stereo 2.75 inch drivers in the front, the Sound Stand also has a 5.25-inch down firing subwoofer, which sets it apart from the skinnier stands from LG and Samsung. The back of the enclosure is partially cut away to give the sub a little space to push air.
On the I/O front, the Sound Stand is pretty simple: RCA, 3.5mm mini jack, optical, and RCA coaxial. Yup, no HDMI.
For controls, the Sound Stand is similarly spartan. There are buttons on the side of the enclosure for power, input selection, Bluetooth pairing and volume. In all likelihood, you'll use the included remote, which adds additional controls for treble and bass levels as well as buttons that toggle a couple of DTS digital signal processing modes.
Setting up the Sound Stand takes about one minute once it's out of the box: Connect the included digital optical cable, plug it into your TV, plug in the power and you're ready to go. Because there are no HDMI ports on the Sound Stand, your TV or some other port-rich device will have to serve as the hub for your set-top-box, Blu-ray player, gaming console, etc. Given the price point that makes sense, though, more advanced users often prefer to use sound devices as media hubs.
From there, controlling the Sound Stand is a breeze When you flip it on, it automatically listens to all of the inputs for a signal and selects the one that you're probably trying to use. The Sound Stand communicates levels to you with a series of LEDs across the bottom left of the stand. Sometimes this scheme can be a little confusing. For example, if you've hit the bass button to adjust the low-frequency response, it lingers on that setting until you hit the bass button again to deactivate it. Nothing major, but certainly not the model of intuitive experience. Bluetooth pairing from your smartphone for music playback works seamlessly.
Up until now, we've got what we'd expect from an inexpensive product. Unfortunately, the actual sound of the Sound Stand left me wanting a lot more, even for the relatively low price. The unit is admittedly very powerful, and when watching big loud action movies like The Avengers, it produced enormous roars and explosions. But for the most part, these roars were distorted and crunchy and not at all clear or nuanced. To make matters worse, the down-firing sub annoyingly rattled the TV stand below it. It could really use some rubber feet to stand on. The Sound Stand certainly did its part to make movies sound huge, but like a juiced subwoofer system in the back of an SUV, the sound was all power and no detail. The same was true for music.
The included DTS TruVolume and DTS TruSurround modes are terrible and you're better off leaving them off. The former is supposed to level out the dynamics of what you're watching so that nothing is ever too loud. The latter is supposed to optimize multi-channel sound for the 2.1 system, providing enhancements like vocal clarity and simulated surround sound. Neither is great.
For best results, turn the bass and treble levels down below "0" and never push the overall power past 60 percent. That's right, use this product to only 60 percent of its potential.
Simple, space-efficient design. Easy to setup.
Few advanced features. Sound is subpar, even for a $250 product.
Should I Buy It?
Nope. Get a $250-$300 sound bar with a wireless subwoofer instead. In fact, we recommend Vizio's cheaper products on this front because they've historically done well in our comparisons. Having a separate wireless subwoofer makes sound considerably better, and I don't really understand how it's SO much more inconvenient. Maybe you think it's an eyesore, but if you care about sound, maybe you can teach your eyes to adjust.
In fact, I don't even know that the world really needs the Sound Stand as a product category, even if many different companies have just started producing them. There's a slight argument to be made for its space saving-benefits. But as a New Yorker who lives in a tiny apartment I dispute the number of use cases that both require better sound and can't accommodate a sound bar. I suppose I could maybe see using the Sound Stand in a seriously constrained space, like if you have a tiny set in your kitchen or something. But even then, are you really going to buy an auxiliary sound product? The Sound Stand is definitely designed with living rooms in mind, and your living room is better off without it.
• Speakers: Stereo 2.75" Full Range Drivers. 5.35 inch built-in subwoofer
• Connections: 1x Optical, Coaxial, 3.5mm Stereo, RCA, USB, Bluetooth
• Dimensions: 21 x 3 x 15.5 inches
• Price: $250