Let's start with a clarification: Don't confuse the Zvox Z-Base 550 Low-Profile Single Cabinet Surround Sound System ($500) with any of those seriously svelte sound bar speakers crowding the market. It's not even comparable with Zvox's previous single-speaker soundbars, the 415 ($400) and 425 ($600). Those speakers were designed to either sit on a shelf in front of a TV, or wall-mounted under a flat-screen display. Instead, the Z-Base 550's style harkens back to Zvox's original (and still available) "console" designs, the 315 ($200) and 325 ($300). The difference is that the 550 is specifically designed to double as a stand for the TV itself, sandwiched between the furniture and the TV. The caveat: the TV needs to weigh less than 90 pounds, so those with flat-panel TVs with screen sizes larger than about 46 inches will want to carefully verify their TV's weight before investing in the 550.
Design and features
The Zvox Z-Base 550 is 26 inches wide by 3.6 inches high by 14.5 deep. Its medium-density fiberboard cabinet is a good deal more solidly constructed than your average plastic single speaker system. A black perforated metal grille covers the entire front baffle, and we think the high-gloss black side "cheeks" add an upscale flair to the otherwise no-frills look of the black vinyl covered speaker.
There is one bass port on the speaker's rear panel; blocking that port will result in less bass. If you must place the Z-Base 550 within a larger cabinet don't put it up against the rear of the cabinet.
The Z-Base 550 doesn't have any buttons or controls at all on its front or rear panels; so if you misplace the small credit card-style remote, you're stuck. The remote is a straightforward affair, with power, volume, mute, subwoofer volume, treble, and PhaseCue controls. That last one needs some explanation: think of it as a "space" control. With the PhaseCue control turned all the way down you just hear the sound of the Z-Base 550's three speakers without any processing, turn up the PhaseCue and the apparent soundstage width increases to create a bigger, more room-filling sound.
The subwoofer volume, treble, and PhaseCue controls are each adjustable in nine discrete steps. A blue LED behind the grille blinks in response to the remote's commands, and blinks continuously when the Z-Base 550 is muted. One caveat: You have to take care and aim the remote directly at the Z-Base 550 or the remote won't work.
Power is rated at 60 watts total for the five 2-inch drivers and the built-in 5.5-inch subwoofer. The Z-Base 550 uses Zvox's Infinite Compliance system for the outer two main speakers--they're connected to each other with an acoustic tube. According to Zvox, the system helps create big sound from a small cabinet.
Connectivity covers just the bare basics: two stereo RCA analog inputs and a subwoofer output. That's it, Zvox doesn't include digital inputs of any kind, which is annoying for a product at this price range. An auto-on/off circuit senses sound from your cable box, player, or TV and turns the Z-Base 550 on two seconds later. Three minutes after it receives no signal the speaker automatically shuts itself off.
Also note that both inputs are active simultaneously as one mixed output--if you have your DVD player and cable box plugged in and playing concurrently, you'll get a jumbled up version of both. What you'll want to do is just use the TV's audio outputs directly to the Z-Base, and then perhaps hook up an audio-only product (iPod dock, CD player, satellite radio) as well, and just be sure to only have one powered on at a time.