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.
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.
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 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.
|Front-panel display||Yes||Virtual surround||Yes|