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 (the 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 remains by far our favorite sound bar design.
Still, the Zvox Z-Base 580 ($600 street price) fell a little short of our (admittedly high) expectations. That's largely because of its sound quality, which isn't bad, but didn't impress us as much as previous Zvox units. We also didn't think the Z-Base 580 sounded that much better than the smaller (and cheaper) Z-Base 555, although the 580 does get louder thanks to its size and an additional subwoofer on the bottom, making it a better choice for large rooms.
If you're not picky about sound quality or are just looking for an upgrade over your built-in TV speakers, the Z-Base 580 is an excellent choice for large rooms, especially since the Z-Base 580 gets just about everything else right. 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.
Zvox's Z-Base design is so superior to the design of other sound bars, it's shocking that it hasn't been copied yet. Most sound bars have a tubelike 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 580 is designed to hold TVs 37 to 72 inches, up to 160 pounds.) The result is the Z-Base 580 looks more like a piece of furniture than an obtrusive home audio system.
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 with the more thoughtfully designed Z-Base unit.
Connectivity is above average on the Z-Base 580, 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.
On the upside, Zvox offers true switching between all its inputs. That may seem like an obvious feature to point out, but previous Zvox systems only offered "mix" inputs--meaning that all the inputs were active at the same time.