Zvox Z-Base 525 review: Zvox Z-Base 525


The Z-Base 525 comes with a single stereo analog audio cable in the box.

The Zvox's connectivity options are simple; there are two analog stereo RCA inputs inputs on the back. Whether that's enough depends on your own setup, but it's certainly on the skimpy side (although it's more than the single input on the competing Polk SurroundBar SDA IHT).

Zvox did make a strange design decision with its audio inputs: the second audio input is described as a "mixing" input, which means you'll hear sound from two connected devices if they're playing audio. That's not a problem for most devices, which are turned off after use, but if you have an always-on DVR, it will be constantly feeding audio to your Zvox. We're guessing Zvox wanted to keep things simple by not offering the capability to truly change inputs, but it seems like an oversight when DVRs are so prevalent.

(There are a few ways around the problem. If your HDTV has stereo analog outputs, you can use it as a "switcher," which also may allow you too connect more than two devices. Secondly, if your DVR has a dedicated mute button or volume control (separate from that of the TV), you can manually lower it each time you're done watching TV).

Performance
It was immediately apparent that Zvox's Z-Base 525's ample size endowed it with a bigger and more dynamic sound than your average svelte sound bar. Smaller speakers are popular for their looks, but size still matters for sound.

Take a movie like "Master and Commander," which makes big demands on sound systems. The Z-Base 525 not only handled the cannon blasts with ease, it preserved a lot more of the dynamic fury than your average sound bar. That's a key "problem" with most sound bars: when confronted with highly dynamic soundtracks, they can't reproduce the sudden, really loud sounds nearly as well as a decent satellite/subwoofer would when partnered with a good-quality receiver. The Z-Base 525 gets a lot closer to that sound. On the other hand, when we put it head-to-head with the Polk SurroundBar SDA IHT, the Polk's dedicated subwoofer delivered more bass punch than the Z-Base 525, and the Polk's surround effect was better.

We loved the Z-Base 525's sound with the "Perfume" DVD. The film's lavish orchestral score emerged with a rare sense of scale and weight, and with the Phase Cue control turned up two or three steps, the soundstage occupied nearly the full width of the CNET listening room. Zvox's sound bars don't promise faux-surround sound, just a wider, bigger-than-stereo projection. It does just that.

With "Perfume" and other movies, the Z-Base 525's dialogue was fairly clear, but in densely mixed, high-impact movies like "Black Hawk Down" it was sometimes hard to hear what the actors were saying. We found that turning the Phase Cue down (or off) improved intelligibility.

The Z-Base 525's CD sound was adequate for quiet, acoustic music, but less adept with rock 'n' roll. That's true for most sound bar speakers, though.

We mostly listened to the Z-Base 525 on its own, without a separate subwoofer. Bass, supplied by the speaker's 5.25-inch woofer was fairly deep and clearly defined. We imagine that most buyers will be perfectly satisfied using the speaker that way. The low rumbling sounds of the underground caverns on the "Journey to the Center of the Earth" Blu-ray sounded ominously deep. When we added an Atlantic Technology SB-800 sub, we did hear an improvement to the movie's subterranean sounds, but a dedicated sub takes away a lot of the 525's simple design strengths.

Z-Base 525's sound quality also benefited from its adjustability. Between its treble, subwoofer, and Phase Cue controls, we could easily tweak the sound to our liking with each Blu-ray, DVD, and CD we played. That kind of adaptability is a rarity in the sound bar market.

Zvox's larger Z-Base 575 sound bar goes for double the Z-Base 525's price, and sounds very similar overall, but the smaller model produced less bass and can't play as loud. If you're planning on using the speaker in a large room, or really like to crank the volume for movies we recommend spending the extra money for the Z-Base 575.

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    Zvox Z-Base 525

    Part Number: 4005251 Released: Sep. 15, 2009
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Release date Sep. 15, 2009
    • Color high-gloss black
    • Speaker System Type Sound bar system
    • Amplification Type active
    • Connectivity Technology wired