Zvox Z-Base 555

We've been fans of Zvox's sound bars for years, but we've often griped about a few missing features: no front-panel display, digital inputs or true input switching. Zvox has recently released two new Z-Base units (555 and 580) and there's virtually nothing to complain about on the design and features end. The new front-panel display is excellent, there are two digital inputs plus true input switching, and the Z-Base pedestal design remains by far our favorite sound bar form factor.

Still, the Zvox Z-Base 555 fell a little short of our (admittedly high) expectations. That's largely due to its sound quality, which isn't bad, but didn't impress us as much as previous Zvox units. If you're not picky about sound quality or are just looking for an upgrade over your built-in TV speakers, the Z-Base 555 is an excellent choice, especially since the Z-Base 555 gets just about everything else right. (It's also a standout choice for dialogue clarity, with several useful adjustment options.)

But if you're planning on playing a lot of music or looking for big home theater thrills, you'll want to look competitors like the Harman Kardon SB 16 or Vizio VHT510.

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Design

Zvox's Z-Base design is so superior to other sound bars, it's shocking that it hasn't been copied yet. Most sound bars have a tube-like shape and are designed to sit in front of your HDTV. That arrangement can work fine, but it can look awkward and sometimes the TV's IR receiver is blocked. The Z-Base design gets around all of these issues by acting as a stand for the TV. (The Z-Base 555 is designed to hold TVs 26 to 50 inches, up to 110 lbs.) The result is the Z-Base 555 looks more like a piece of furniture than an obtrusive home audio system.
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Front panel buttons

Only the essential buttons are included on the front panel, giving you a backup option for when the remote goes missing without overly cluttering the front panel.
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Back panel

Connectivity is above average on the Z-Base 555, although there are no HDMI ports. The lack of HDMI is more of a convenience issue than anything else; you're not going to be missing any of the subtle (or even negligible) benefits high-resolution soundtracks offer via HDMI on a system like this. In short, you'll either need to run all your HDMI components directly to your HDTV, then use the HDTV's audio output; or you'll need to run separate audio cables from each device directly to the Zvox.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Remote

The included remote is adequate, although unexceptional. Most of the buttons are the same size and there's not enough button separation to easily control by feel. On the upside, there are larger buttons for volume up/down and mute, which make them easier to locate quickly. Overall, the remote has a generic feel compared to the more thoughtfully designed Z-Base unit.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Side view

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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:
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