Sound bars feel like they've been around forever now, but they're still a relatively new product; consider that the groundbreaking Yamaha YSP-1 debuted back at CES 2005. Since then, the exterior design of the units hasn't changed much, with the vast majority still consisting of a long pole-like shape that sits under your HDTV. That design has always been somewhat problematic, as an HDTV's stand is often too short or too wide to comfortably accommodate the sound bar, and even if it fits it still adds clutter to your media area.
The Zvox Z-Base 575 (along with the step-down Z-Base 550 and Z-Base 525) tackles both of these deficiencies in a clever way: the speaker is shaped like a large black box that acts as a second pedestal for your HDTV. That makes the Z-Base "disappear" on your TV stand--a remarkable feat considering the Z-Base's rather large size. That size contributes to the Z-Base's capability to fill a large room with sound; its powerful bass was better than any other sound bar we've tested that lacks a separate subwoofer. The Z-Base 575 does have its shortcomings. For instance, the feature set is minimalist, and competing systems offer significant feature step-ups, like HDMI switching on the YSP-3000 ($800 street price) or digital audio inputs on the Denon DHT-FS3 ($450 street price). However, if you don't need the extra features, dig the Z-Base 575's minimalist design, and need big sound, the Zvox Z-Base 575 fits the bill.
Design and setup
The Z-Base 575's design is almost characterless, and in this case, that's actually a good thing. The Z-Base 575 is a black rectangular box, with the main cabinet constructed of medium-density fiberboard and with a black metal speaker grille on the front. While most sound bars are designed to sit in front of your HDTV, the Z-Base 575 is meant to act as a second "stand" for your HDTV. That's the genius behind the design. Many people have a problem with audio you can see (speakers, wires, stands), but the Z-Base 575 looks like nothing more than an extra block of wood to perch your HDTV on. (Zvox claims it's capable of supporting 140 pounds of weight; for reference, the Panasonic TC-P50G10 weighs 90.4 pounds.)
That's not to say the Z-Base 575 is a perfect fit for every environment. In fact, in our testing environment, we found that the extra 5 inches of height put the TV at a higher-than-desired viewing angle. We're probably more sensitive to this than the average viewer, but if you already have a tall TV stand, the Zvox might not be a good fit. Likewise, if your TV is wall mounted, the Zvox may attract more attention to itself.
It's also worth pointing out the Z-Base 575 is huge--it measures 36 inches wide by 16.5 inches deep by 5 inches high. We'd strongly advise measuring your existing TV stand to make sure the Z-Base 575 will fit without hanging over the edge.
The only visual indicator that the Z-Base is actually on is a small blue LED in the speaker grille that lights up whenever you change a setting with the remote, such as adjusting the volume. This is definitely better than having no indicator light, as on the Polk Audio SurroundBar SDA IHT, but it's still not ideal. We admit that a display on the front panel would have detracted from its design, but we wouldn't have minded at least a small LCD display on the top of the unit so we'd know if the Z-Base is pushed to the max or if there's still room to go.
The included remote of the Z-Base 575 is nearly as basic as the design of the main unit, but in its case that is more of a drawback. There are only 11 buttons total, but they are bunched together and are similarly sized. While we longed for some button rockers and even a basic red button for power, the Z-Base 575 is simple enough that the uninspired remote is only a minor setback. We also noticed that the Z-Base 575's volume ramps up and down a little too quickly, and does so in discrete steps. It was sometimes hard to get exactly the volume we wanted.
The Z-Base 575's sound comes from its array of five 3.25-inch drivers located behind the speaker grille from the front. The Z-Base 525 does not have a separate subwoofer, like some competing models such as the Denon DHT-FS3 and Sony HT-CT100 do. Instead, the Z-Base features two 6.5-inch built-in subwoofers, with a bass port pointed toward the back. If you're looking to add more punch to the Z-Base 575's already considerable power, there's a subwoofer output jack to support a standalone sub.