Editors' note: The rating of the Zvox Mini has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
We were knocked out by the original laptops, portable players, and of course, iPods. The Zvox Web site sells the Mini for $199--the same price as the 315.
The 315 is an unadorned box, but the Zvox Mini has a sense of style to it. The front panel is delicately curved, and the cabinet is medium-density fiberboard (MDF), a step up from the plastic cabinets of many similarly sized iPod speakers. The Mini is 13 inches wide, 3.3 high, 10 deep, and it weighs seven pounds. It's available in three finishes: black or silver suedelike paint, or high-gloss white that'll look nice with your iPod. Our sample came with a plastic remote to control volume level, but in a few months, Minis will ship with a flat credit card-style remote that controls volume and muting functions.
The front panel has volume and PhaseCue controls; the latter determines the spread of the stereo soundstage. Turn it all the way to the left and the sound is almost mono; as you turn it clockwise, the stereo spread gets wider and wider. Go too far with the PhaseCue processing and the sound becomes thin and hollow. We wound up with the control set to the middle position and achieved satisfying soundstage width, projecting a good three or four feet out to the sides from the Mini itself.
A curved, perforated metal grille protects the Mini's three 2.5-inch full-range drivers, and inside the cabinet, there's a 4-by-6-inch oval woofer. The all-metal rear panel serves as a heat sink for the power amplifiers and houses two minijack inputs (the second of which can alternatively serve as a subwoofer output), a woofer volume control, and a master power switch. You don't need to reach back to turn the Mini on or off, however; it automatically comes to life whenever it senses a signal and returns to standby mode after a few minutes of inactivity.
The Zvox Mini can be hooked up to either the fixed or variable outputs of virtually any audio source: TV, PC, laptop, DVD/CD player, iPod, or MP3 player. All necessary cables are included. You won't find digital inputs such as those on the much more expensive Yamaha YSP-800 and Polk Audio SurroundBar, but we never missed them. Zvox offers a rechargeable battery power supply ($50) and a nicely designed PortaParty bag ($50) to protect the Mini when taking it on the road.
The Zvox Mini has the rich, full tonal balance of a much larger speaker; DVDs ranging from War of the Worlds to March of the Penguins sounded fine. The Mini's dialogue was articulate and surprisingly full-bodied. Sure, the rampaging alien tripods in Worlds didn't have the dynamic impact or room-shaking power we experienced from the better home-theater-in-a-box packages, but neither does the Mini have the tangle of cables and higher price tags endemic to those systems. The ($399) single-speaker surround system was on a par with the Mini, but over extended listening sessions, the livelier sound of the smaller competitor made us jump more when we watched The Fog DVD. The little system can play surprisingly loud, but it's best at moderate levels.
With music, the Mini's rich sound outclasses that of most pricier iPod speakers we've heard so far. (And speaking of pricey, our review was conducted before the $349 speaker became available.) We didn't have a Zvox 315 on hand for a direct comparison, but it's safe to say the larger speaker will play louder and produce substantially more bass. If that's what you're looking for, the Zvox 315 would be a better choice, but the Zvox Mini is no slouch, has the remote, and is easier to use.