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Another alternative to crummy HDTV speakers: The Zvox Z-Base 220

It's not exactly cheap, but it packs tremendous digital-audio power into a compact, unassuming cabinet. I'm head-over-heels in love with mine.

Zvox Audio

I like a lot of gadgets and gear, but it's rare that I fall in love.

When I connected the Zvox Z-Base 220 speaker cabinet to my bedroom TV, it was love at first sound. It's that good.

Allow me to explain. A couple weeks ago I wrote about a cheap and easy fix for the awful speakers built into your HDTV.

My solution? PC speakers plugged into your TV's headphone jack (or an RCA-to-stereo adapter). But let's face it: that's not ideal for everyone.

For one thing, while PC speakers may provide some improvement over what's built in, they're usually pretty small and low-powered. What's more, they might be at odds with your decor, especially if they're that ugly PC-beige.

So, what are your other options for improving TV audio? You can invest in a stereo amplifier and some decent speakers, but now you're talking about serious cash--not to mention a lot of unwanted cable clutter.

Some users opt for sound bars, but those aren't perfect, either. For starters, they can be hard to place (especially if you're working within the confines of a TV stand or entertainment center). And most sound bars offer little in the way of bass response (unless you pair them with a separate, cost-increasing subwoofer).

The Z-Base 220 is a self-contained cabinet that blows away your TV's built-in speakers. It's designed to sit under TVs ranging from 22-37 inches, though it can also sit on its own or slip into a component bay in an entertainment center. That's because it measures 17 inches by 14.5 inches by 3.4 inches--not much larger than an early-model DVD player. (There are bigger, more powerful models built for bigger rooms and bigger TVs--namely the Z-Base 320 and 420.)

I'm going to stop right here and note that audio is a very subjective thing. What sounds great to one person might sound just so-so to another, and vice versa. That said, the Z-Base 220 sounds fantastic.

The cabinet delivers 35 watts of audio power spread out across three main speakers and a subwoofer. If you're into surround sound, you can switch on the 220's PhaseCue II virtual surround technology, which aims to simulate a 5.1-channel system.

I can't say that really bowled me over (never been a big surround-sound fan), but I totally dug the Output Leveling and Dialog Enhancement features, which prevent big changes in volume (like when commercials come on) and boost the volume of voices, respectively. The latter is especially great for DVD and Blu-ray movies, which often have hard-to-hear dialog.

Unlike some of Zvox's earlier Z-Base models, the 220 has an optical input (and comes with an optical cable, a nice perk). It also sports coaxial and analog inputs; two of the latter, in case you want to connect multiple sources. There's even a 3.5mm stereo input in front for connecting, say, an MP3 player.

Also unlike earlier models, this one has a digital readout in front so you can easily see the volume level and various feature settings. But perhaps best of all, the Z-Base 220 can learn from other remotes, meaning you can use your existing TV remote to control volume, muting, and power. It paired up just fine with my Vizio remote.

A lot of people invest a considerable amount of money into a really good HDTV, then settle for the anemic audio it produces. That's criminal. The Z-Base 220 may seem a little pricey at $199.99, but I'm here to tell you it's worth it. Do your ears a favor and grab one.