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.
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.)
The Zvox's connectivity options are simple: there are two analog stereo RCA inputs inputs on the back. This is certainly on the skimpy side, especially considering the Z-Base 575's $700 list price. The Sony HT-CT100 ($300 street price) offers three HDMI inputs, but has less powerful sound; the Yamaha YSP-3000 ($800 street price) has two HDMI inputs and does a better job of creating a surround effect.
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.