Let's start with a clarification: Don't confuse the Zvox Z-Base 550 Low-Profile Single Cabinet Surround Sound System ($500) with any of those seriously svelte sound bar speakers crowding the market. It's not even comparable with Zvox's previous single-speaker soundbars, the 415 ($400) and 425 ($600). Those speakers were designed to either sit on a shelf in front of a TV, or wall-mounted under a flat-screen display. Instead, the Z-Base 550's style harkens back to Zvox's original (and still available) "console" designs, the 315 ($200) and 325 ($300). The difference is that the 550 is specifically designed to double as a stand for the TV itself, sandwiched between the furniture and the TV. The caveat: the TV needs to weigh less than 90 pounds, so those with flat-panel TVs with screen sizes larger than about 46 inches will want to carefully verify their TV's weight before investing in the 550.
Design and features
The Zvox Z-Base 550 is 26 inches wide by 3.6 inches high by 14.5 deep. Its medium-density fiberboard cabinet is a good deal more solidly constructed than your average plastic single speaker system. A black perforated metal grille covers the entire front baffle, and we think the high-gloss black side "cheeks" add an upscale flair to the otherwise no-frills look of the black vinyl covered speaker.
There is one bass port on the speaker's rear panel; blocking that port will result in less bass. If you must place the Z-Base 550 within a larger cabinet don't put it up against the rear of the cabinet.
The Z-Base 550 doesn't have any buttons or controls at all on its front or rear panels; so if you misplace the small credit card-style remote, you're stuck. The remote is a straightforward affair, with power, volume, mute, subwoofer volume, treble, and PhaseCue controls. That last one needs some explanation: think of it as a "space" control. With the PhaseCue control turned all the way down you just hear the sound of the Z-Base 550's three speakers without any processing, turn up the PhaseCue and the apparent soundstage width increases to create a bigger, more room-filling sound.
The subwoofer volume, treble, and PhaseCue controls are each adjustable in nine discrete steps. A blue LED behind the grille blinks in response to the remote's commands, and blinks continuously when the Z-Base 550 is muted. One caveat: You have to take care and aim the remote directly at the Z-Base 550 or the remote won't work.
Power is rated at 60 watts total for the five 2-inch drivers and the built-in 5.5-inch subwoofer. The Z-Base 550 uses Zvox's Infinite Compliance system for the outer two main speakers--they're connected to each other with an acoustic tube. According to Zvox, the system helps create big sound from a small cabinet.
Connectivity covers just the bare basics: two stereo RCA analog inputs and a subwoofer output. That's it, Zvox doesn't include digital inputs of any kind, which is annoying for a product at this price range. An auto-on/off circuit senses sound from your cable box, player, or TV and turns the Z-Base 550 on two seconds later. Three minutes after it receives no signal the speaker automatically shuts itself off.