Zvox Z-Base 555 review: Zvox Z-Base 555

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.4
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 6.0

Average User Rating

5 stars 9 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Zvox Z-Base 555's pedestal design is our favorite for a sound bar, looking more like furniture than home audio equipment. Zvox has also added several oft-requested features, including a front-panel display, digital audio inputs, and true input switching. The Z-Base 555 also excels at dialogue clarity, with several adjustment options to dial in the sound to your liking.

The Bad The Z-Base 555's overall sound quality won't impress audiophiles, especially on music and dynamic action movies. And at $400, you're paying a premium over other budget sound bars, although their design isn't nearly as nice.

The Bottom Line The Zvox Z-Base 555 has a nearly perfect sound-bar design and a solid feature set, but it won't please critical listeners.

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Editors' note: The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace. The review has not otherwise been modified.

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 the 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 555 fell a little short of our (admittedly high) expectations. That's largely because of its sound quality, which isn't bad, but it 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 at competitors like the Harman Kardon SB 16 or Vizio VHT510.

Design
Editors' note: The Zvox Z-Base 555 and 580 have largely identical designs and features, so these sections of the reviews are very similar.

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 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 555 is designed to hold TVs 26 to 50 inches, up to 110 pounds.) The result is that the Z-Base 555 looks more like a piece of furniture than an obtrusive home audio system.


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.

The front panel is also surprisingly well-designed. At first glance there appears to be no front-panel display, but it lights up from behind the speaker grille when needed, letting you know how the volume is or which input you're using. It's also large enough to be easily read from the couch, which isn't always the case on sound-bar systems. There are just enough front-panel buttons along the bottom edge (in case you can't find the remote), as well as a minijack input for quickly connecting an iPod.

The worst you could say about the Z-Base 555's design is that it looks bland. While the ends are capped with glossy black plastic, the rest of the cabinet is made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) with a matte-black finish. It's a muted look, which we like, but buyers looking for something more flashy will be disappointed.


The remote could be a lot better, but it will do.

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.

Features

Key features
Subwoofer No Remote Yes
Front-panel display Yes Virtual surround Yes

The Z-Base 555 has most of the key features we expect at this price, including a front-panel display, included remote, and virtual surround mode. The lack of an included subwoofer may seem surprising, especially when so many cheaper competitors include a wireless sub. However, the Z-Base 555 has a built-in woofer on the bottom of the unit designed to handle the low frequencies.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Aug 15, 2011
  • Color high gloss ebony
  • Speaker System Type Sound bar system
  • Nominal (RMS) Output Power 70 Watt
  • Speaker Type Sound bar
  • Amplification Type active
  • Connectivity Technology wired