Vizio Elevate review: This Dolby Atmos soundbar's swiveling drivers are no gimmick

The front drivers on this high-end soundbar rotate to bounce height audio cues off your ceiling.

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Performance

Overall, I’d put the Elevate’s sonic performance firmly in “thrilling” territory, with the soundbar doing a terrific job of filling a room with sound that’s by turns thunderous and subtle, complete with plenty of head-turning surround and height cues; rarely have I been this satisfied with the audio performance of a soundbar. Still, I have a bone to pick, and it’s all about the bass. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Starting off with the Battle of Hoth from the UHD Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (now with Dolby Atmos audio), I was impressed by the rich, clean sound as the Rebel snowspeeders buzzed around the Imperial Walkers, as well as distinct height cues as debris from a toppled walker cascaded through the air before plopping in the snow. Overall, the Elevate’s audio had a nice balance between clarity and warmth, with John Williams’ driving score sounding lush but not overly juiced.

Next, I queued up the launch sequence from the UHD Blu-ray of Apollo 13, which boasts a DTS:X soundtrack. As the Saturn V rocket roared to life, I could hear the flames billowing above my head, as well the gentle whoosh of the spacecraft’s separating stages as they floated out of the frame. Indeed, the thrilling Apollo 13 launch sequence was rife with clear height cues during my testing, while James Horner’s stirring score sounded clean and crisp.

vizio elevate soundbar Vizio

The 48-inch-wide Vizio Elevate will pair well with most larger TVs. It can be mounted on the wall or placed in front of a TV in an entertainment center.

To test out the Elevate with its height drivers swiveled forward in “Wide” mode, I checked out the standard Blu-ray of 2 Fast 2 Furious, which features a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. With the height drivers augmenting the standard left and right channels, the front soundstage did get a boost, with the fast and furious street race that opens the film sounding appropriately punchy and dynamic. Switching to “Up” mode, with the soundbar upmixing the 5.1-channel audio to 5.1.4, you regain the “airy” sense of 3D audio, although at the expense of those four extra drivers bolstering the left and right channels. Honestly, both modes sounded pretty great to me, and I could never quite settle on one that I liked more.

Now, here’s my criticism of the Elevate’s sound: the bass was a tad heavy, particularly when the subwoofer was close to my sofa. When I initially set up the Elevate, I had the sub (which, remember, acts as a hub for the surround speakers) sitting within a few inches of my sofa, and even when I turned the subwoofer level down to the bare minimum, the Elevate’s low-frequency effects bordered on boomy. During the Hoth battle in Empire, for example, when C-3PO says goodbye to R2-D2 before the little droid heads to Dagobah (“You take good care of Master Luke now, understand?”), there’s a low, continuous, and somewhat distracting rumble, and a little later, the thudding footsteps of the Imperial Walkers were well-nigh overpowering.

My initial solution was to move the subwoofer across the room and behind the TV, and that definitely helped tame the bass situation, but it also meant I had the two surround speaker cables (which are too thick to hide under a carpet) strung across my floor. Ultimately, I opted to move the subwoofer back to the same side of the room as my sofa, but a good three-and-a-half feet away. That turned out to be a tolerable compromise. I also kept the subwoofer level dialed almost as far down as it would go. Helpfully, Vizio designed a customized subwoofer setting to “stick” with the Movie, Music, and Game EQ presets.

In any case, you might need to get creative when it comes to positioning the Elevate’s subwoofer. Personally, I still think the Elevate’s bass response is a bit much, even after moving the sub this way and that, and diehard audiophiles will probably complain. But after several more hours of watching and listening, I believe mainstream users will be pretty happy.

Bottom line

My complaints about bass response aside, Vizio’s Elevate is one of the most exciting soundbars I’ve heard in some time, serving up big, room-filling sound that offered subtlety as well as muscle. Also, the Elevate’s swiveling height speakers mean that none of its drivers are ever wasted, no matter what you’re listening to. Native support for music streaming services would have been nice, but built-in Chromecast makes for a solid substitute, and having three HDMI ports plus eARC support is a welcome touch. As long as you don’t mind futzing with subwoofer placement, the Elevate is a compelling value.

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At a Glance
  • The Vizio Elevate is one of the most exciting soundbars we’ve heard in some time, serving up big, room-filling sound that offers subtlety as well as muscle, even if its bass response is a bit much.

    Pros

    • Thrilling 3D sound
    • Rotating height drivers can also bolster the left and right channels
    • Chromecast built in
    • Three HDMI ports, with eARC support on one

    Cons

    • Bass is a tad heavy
    • SmartCast app frequently disconnected from the soundbar
    • Clunky, non-backlit remote control
    • No native music service support
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