The Vizio Elevate’s Rotating Speakers Are a Clever Dolby Atmos Solution

The Vizio Elevate’s Rotating Speakers Are a Clever Dolby Atmos Solution
This boy rotates up whenever the soundbar detects Dolby Atmos content. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)
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Dolby Atmos soundbars have a problem: They struggle to simulate height. Regardless of how many drivers a speaker has or how fancy its room-tuning audio is, you can tell the sound isn’t coming from above you. That kind of sucks when you have a fancy home theatre setup but the spaceships on-screen don’t sound like they’re zooming over your head. But the Vizio Elevate is a bit different: Of all the Atmos-compatible soundbars I’ve tested recently, it comes closest to creating the ideal three-dimensional sound bubble.

There are a few reasons for that. First, the Vizio Elevate is a 5.1.4 system. If you’re unfamiliar with home theatre numbering conventions, this means the Vizio Elevate has five ear-level channels (the soundbar itself counts as three, plus two rear speakers), one subwoofer, and four upward-firing channels. Including two upward-firing rear satellite speakers is going to get you more immersive sound than the typical 3.0 or 3.1 soundbar setup, and adding in a subwoofer is also going to give explosions and bass more oomph. But that’s not what’s clever about the Elevate: At each end of the soundbar, the speakers rotate up. They don’t do it all the time, but when you’re playing Atmos or DTS:X content, you can actually watch as they turn to face the ceiling. It’s cool as hell.

Vizio Elevate 5.1.4 Home Theatre Sound Bar with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X P514a-H6

WHAT IS IT?

A 5.1.4 home theatre system with Dolby Atmos and rotating speakers!

PRICE

$US1,000 ($1,355)

LIKE

Good bass. Lots of ports! Does a good job of creating 3D sound.

NO LIKE

Vizio's SmartCast App. Front grille easily dented.

Editor’s Note: The Vizio Elevate is not currently available in Australia. Stay tuned for future pricing and availability.

When I first read about the rotating speakers, it felt gimmicky. However, if it worked, that’d be a neat solution for people in rentals, who might not feel too comfortable asking their landlord for permission to install ceiling speakers — especially if you’re planning to move out in a year or two. It’s also a tempting proposition for anyone who doesn’t want to go through the hassle of installing ceiling speakers, even if they can. And holy guacamole Batman, the Elevate’s “gimmick” is more significant in reality than I thought. Is it better than dedicated ceiling speakers? No. We’re still not at a place yet where audio simulations and upward-firing speakers are on par with ceiling speakers. But as far as cheaper soundbar-based Dolby Atmos home theatre systems go, I was pleasantly surprised.

I’ll dive more into sound quality in a bit, but there are a lot of other things to like about the Vizio Elevate. For starters, aside from the fact that I had to schlepp the enormous box up to my apartment and then engage in a furious duel with packing tape, the Elevate was simple to set up. Plug in the soundbar, hook it up to your TV, plug in the subwoofer, then plug clearly colour-coded wires from the rear satellite speakers to the subwoofer and you’re good to go. The Elevate comes with every cord you could possibly need, and then some. I’m not exaggerating about that, either — you get a Stereo RCA to 3.5mm cable, HDMI cable, optical cable, 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cables, all the requisite power cables, and the audio cables to hook up the rear satellites to the subwoofer. The subwoofer, thankfully, connects wirelessly to the soundbar. You could wall mount it if you’d like — I didn’t so I can’t speak to whether that’s easy to do or not, but the option is there.

The Dolby Atmos logo only shows up when the speaker is rotated up and playing Atmos content. Also you can see where I dented the grille toward the centre. Oopy.  (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) The Dolby Atmos logo only shows up when the speaker is rotated up and playing Atmos content. Also you can see where I dented the grille toward the centre. Oopy. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

The only thing about the setup I was iffy on was the fact the rear satellite speakers need to be hooked up to the subwoofer. On the one hand, the wiring isn’t too complicated and the cables are decently long. On the other, it limits where you might place your subwoofer in relation to the satellites. It wasn’t an issue in my tiny studio apartment, but I could see it being somewhat of a challenge if you have an open concept or large living space.

Other than the rotating speakers, the Elevate’s overall design is similar to what you’d expect from a soundbar. The 8-inch subwoofer is a big black box measuring 10.8 by 15.6 by 13.8 inches (WHD). The driver is underneath — something to think about if you’re in an apartment building — and Vizio says it has a frequency response of 30Hz. In layman’s terms: It big, it go boom. The rear satellites are much smaller, measuring 2.9 by 5.9 by 3.7 inches (WHD). They’re meant to be placed vertically, to shoot sound up as well as forward. The soundbar itself is boxy, black, and, at 48 inches, quite a long boy. The front has a rounded, anodized aluminium grille while the back is plastic. On the left side, there are LED indicator lights, though frankly, I didn’t find them to be that helpful. Meanwhile, on the right side, you can find some physical controls for Bluetooth, volume, input, and power. While the grille looks nice, I’d also be careful while setting it up. I swear I didn’t drop the soundbar, but at some point while flipping the thing up and down trying to plug the right HDMI cords into the right ports, I ended up with a small dent in the front. It’s not super noticeable, but, uh, it does stare accusingly at me whenever I watch TV.

One half of the ports! Two HDMI Inputs! I'm sorry it's upside down but this thing is hard to move once it's set up. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) One half of the ports! Two HDMI Inputs! I'm sorry it's upside down but this thing is hard to move once it's set up. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

The Elevate offers a generous selection of ports. On the left side of the soundbar in the back, you’ll find the AC in, the optical port, an analogue AUX input, and another AUX input for voice assistant speakers. On the right side, you’ll find the USB port for updates, as well as one HDMI eARC/ARC output and two HDMI inputs. The soundbar supports Bluetooth and Chromecast is also built-in, which means you’ve got more options when it comes to streaming music. Oh, and you also get 4K at 60Hz passthrough. This makes the Elevate a decent entertainment hub. Personally, the multiple HDMI inputs saved my husband and I from arguments over whether his gaming PC or the Apple TV would be plugged into the soundbar at a given time.

Lastly, you get a remote. It’s fine and does what it’s supposed to, and thankfully has a display screen so you can see what EQ setting you’re on. You can also set up the soundbar to work with Vizio’s SmartCast app both as a remote and to control settings. But fair warning, Vizio’s software is generally crap. It took me 20 minutes to set up SmartCast, and despite a plethora of instruction manuals and online support sites, the whole experience was a pain. (It worked great once it was set up, though.)

Now, back to sound quality. The Elevate is great for movies, specifically action flicks where lots of things go kaboom. The subwoofer really does rumble, to the point where it spooked my tiny Yorkie as she walked past. The Elevate also makes excellent use of the 18 speakers inside the soundbar itself. Dialogue was always clear, regardless of whether I was watching in regular 5.1 surround sound, stereo, or Dolby Atmos. The one thing I’d say is the Elevate has a very bass-heavy sound profile — much more so than the Sonos Arc or the Sony HT-G700, which also has a subwoofer. In particular, I felt the Sonos Arc sounded more balanced, but when spaceships and cars are exploding in front of you, I prefer the extra rumble. If you’re not a big bass fan, this might not be the system for you, though you can tweak EQ via four Vizio presets.

I had to put the subwoofer here because the rear satellites need to connect to it.  (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) I had to put the subwoofer here because the rear satellites need to connect to it. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

As far as immersive sound, the Elevate is excellent. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, that’s just a given when you have rear speakers. However, the soundstage on the soundbar itself is also impressive. While other soundbars I’ve tested did a good job of recreating where people or objects were in a given scene, the Elevate took that accuracy to another level. For instance, in The Last Jedi when Rey and her 40,000 clones are snapping away in the spooky cave, you can actually hear the snaps echo in a diagonal line. When Rey and Kylo Ren are FaceTiming through the Force, the echo-y effects genuinely are coming from all directions. If you’re a dork who loves audio easter eggs, things like Obi-Wan saying “These are your first steps” in The Force Awakens or a whispery voice calling out “Rey” in the spooky Ach-to cave are also much easier to hear. I may have also caught my husband jumping a few times while playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, as he wasn’t expecting sounds or dialogue to come from behind him.

But do those rotating adaptive speakers do height well? Yes and no. The Sonos Arc also has upward-firing speakers, but the Vizio Elevate does a noticeably better job. During the Canto Bight chase scene in The Last Jedi, you could clearly hear the Space Narcs zooming above. The same is true for any scene where the Millennium Falcon is swooping down or up in space battles. But unless there’s a strong bass component — perhaps a spaceship exploding above a character or engines firing — it feels diluted. The Vizio Elevate doesn’t make use of any fancy room-tuning algorithms, so while the adaptive speakers are meant to bounce sound off your ceiling, your mileage may vary depending on the room you’re in. In my case, sometimes the effect was muted. Other times, it felt very strong. Overall, I’d say it wasn’t consistently mind-blowing, but a step up from soundbar-only setups I’ve tried.

A rear upward-firing satellite speaker. Also pictured: my second TV hooked up a different soundbar. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) A rear upward-firing satellite speaker. Also pictured: my second TV hooked up a different soundbar. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

As a music player, I much preferred the Sony HT-G700’s more balanced sound profile. Don’t get me wrong. If you like EDM, parties, or bass-heavy music, the Elevate is A+. Joji’s entire Nectar album was legitimately thumping. I may have lifted weights like I was in da club to Blackpink’s “How You Like That.” But other, less bass-heavy songs didn’t really compete, even with the specific Music EQ preset. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” sounded crisp enough. Dynamic shifts between quiet and loud were handled well in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” It’s just that if you’re playing music at a reasonable, non-thumping volume, you’re better served by a wireless speaker like the Sonos One or even a good Bluetooth speaker.

At $US1,000 ($1,355), the Vizio Elevate is a relatively affordable Dolby Atmos system, especially because you’re getting a soundbar, subwoofer, two rear satellites, and four upward-firing channels. However, you can find cheaper 5.1 systems out there, like the $US500 ($678) Roku 5.1 Surround Sound System. It might not have Dolby Atmos compatibility, but it is a system that can be built out over time and has solid sound quality. There are even cheaper, very good Dolby Atmos home theatre setups like the aforementioned Sony HT-G700, a 3.1 system that’s $US600 ($813). If price and space is your main concern, and you don’t really care that much about having “true” Dolby Atmos, one of these two might suit you just fine.

The remote is fine. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) The remote is fine. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

If you do care about Atmos, want to upgrade an older 5.1 system, or want a one-and-done type setup, the Vizio Elevate is a good choice. You don’t have a lot of options for adding multiple speakers over time, but it’s also a decent “starter” home theatre for people who haven’t experienced Dolby Atmos and aren’t sure they want to go all out yet. Not only do you not have to figure out where you’re going to stick all the components of a 7.1 or 9.1 system, but you’re also going to get truer immersive audio than with the Sony HT-G700, which uses fancy algorithms to simulate height. It’s also significantly cheaper than getting the Sonos Arc, Sub, and two OneSL speakers — which will set you back $US1,856 ($2,515) for a similar 5.1 setup. Even if you swap out the Beam for the Arc, you’re still paying more at $US1,456 ($1,973).

Are there other Dolby Atmos systems for similar prices that, at least on paper, could give the Vizio Elevate a run for its money? Absolutely. The JBL Bar 9.1 True Wireless Surround with Dolby Atmos is one that comes to mind. However, if you can swing the price, or are entrenched in the Vizio ecosystem, the Elevate is a worthy contender.

README

  • A 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar system that features rotating, upward-firing speakers.
  • The bass is good, fam. Great if you like thumpy music and action flicks.
  • Lots of ports! Can hook up a smart assistant speaker, supports eARC, and has two HDMI inputs.
  • Great immersive sound, and decent at simulating height. However, the rotating speakers aren’t as good as dedicated ceiling speakers.