Zvox's next-generation sound bars boast new features

Zvox has always made great-sounding sound bars, but they were light on features. The new-generation models should change that perception.

The Zvox Z-Base 555 speaker under a TV Zvox

I remember the sound of the very first Zvox sound bar, the 325, for one really good reason: it sounded amazing. Zvox still sells it for just $249. The "secret" to the Zvox sound isn't radical new technology or wildly innovative design; no, Zvox speakers are just a lot bigger than most of the competition's sound bars. The 325 is 17 inches wide, 16 inches deep and 4.8 inches high. Yes, folks, when it comes to sound quality, size is a biggie. Zvox speakers always sounded great, but were light on features, the new models may not be the most feature-laden you've ever seen, but they are no longer minimalist.

Zvox pioneered the concept of single-speaker home theater, aka the sound bar, and has just announced the introduction of the new Z-Base 555 ($400) and Z-Base 580 ($600) speaker systems. They are designed to fit under flat-panel TVs and hookup with just one connecting wire!

Both new Z-Base systems use five high-quality, full-range speakers and built-in subwoofers, housed within real wood cabinets. The new models feature computer-optimized sound to deliver smooth midrange frequencies and deep bass down to 35 Hertz so you won't need to add a sub to these Zvox speakers.

The new Z-Base 555 and 580 have a new feature Zvox calls Dialog Emphasis (DE) that improves the intelligibility of dialog. The new Output Leveling feature uses a sophisticated compression system to boost movies' quieter sounds and reduce the volume of loud sounds.

The new Z-Base systems can be programmed to respond to your TV or cable/satellite's remote control. The illuminated display walks you through an ultrasimple programming cycle. Then virtually any remote control can control volume, mute, power, and input functions of the Zvox speaker. The 555 and 580 have displays located behind their grilles that show the current settings for volume, bass, treble and PhaseCue virtual surround, and also shows when you engage the Mute, Output Leveling (OL) or Dialog Emphasis (DE) features. A few seconds after you stop using your remote (or front-panel) controls, the display disappears.

The new speakers have two analog audio inputs, one optical (Toslink) digital input, one coaxial digital input--plus a front panel 3.5mm analog stereo input for convenient connection to an iPod or other portable audio device. For the first time ever on a Zvox, you can select the input with the remote control or directly on the speaker (older Zvox designs' inputs were "live" all the time).

The 555 and 580 feature hand-built MDF (medium-density fiberboard) cabinets with hand-lacquered high-gloss end panels. The systems are shipping now to retailers throughout the country.

Zvox hasn't cornered the market on big speaker systems; Pioneer's awesome $399 SP-PK21BS satellite/subwoofer system makes the size-still-matters point abundantly clear. The SP-PK21BS is a big system, and proud of it. Look for my upcoming CNET review of the SP-PK21BS soon.

 

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