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Zvox Z-Base 555 review:

Zvox Z-Base 555

HDMI inputs 0 Coaxial inputs 1
Optical inputs 1 Minijack input Yes
Analog audio inputs 2 Max connected devices 5
Other: Subwoofer output

Connectivity is above average on the Z-Base 555, although there are no HDMI ports. The lack of HDMI is more of a convenience issue than anything else; you're not going to be missing any of the subtle (or even negligible) benefits high-resolution soundtracks offer via HDMI on a system like this. In short, you'll either need to run all your HDMI components directly to your HDTV, then use the HDTV's audio output; or you'll need to run separate audio cables from each device directly to the Zvox.

On the upside, Zvox offers true switching between all its inputs. That may seem like an obvious feature to point out, but previous Zvox systems only offered "mix" inputs--meaning that all the inputs were active at the same time.

As we've come to expect from Zvox sound-bar speakers, the Z-Base 555 is supereasy to setup. Hook up your analog and digital sources--Blu-ray, DVD, cable box, games, etc.--and you're good to go. No calibrations or setup procedures are required, and since it's a self-powered speaker, you don't have to hook it up to an AV receiver.

We expected that the Z-Base 555's analog and digital inputs would sound about the same when we hooked up both connections from our Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, but the analog connection was a little louder. Adjusting the bass and treble tone controls "on-the-fly" via the remote, without having to delve into menus, makes it easy to get the sound balance you want when changing movies or music selections.

The Z-Base 555 is a big speaker, so it shouldn't need the assistance of a subwoofer to supply a decent amount of bass. We played a variety of DVDs and Blu-rays and were satisfied with the bass, but if you want more, you can hook up a separate subwoofer to the speaker. Of course, Zvox's larger Z-Base 580, with its dual built-in 6.5-inch subwoofers, makes more bass than the Z-Base 555, which has just one 5.25-inch sub. We can't say the larger Zvox's low-end sounds a lot more powerful, but it plays louder, and while there are sound-quality differences between the two models, they weren't huge.

Blasting through the car chase scene that kicks off the "Quantum of Solace" Blu-ray, we were treated to the sounds of machine-gun fire, screeching tires, breaking glass, metal-grinding-against-metal collisions, and the mayhem was all reasonably well played by the Z-Base 555. The stereo soundstage with PhaseCue II turned up to "2" was broad and deep, but no match for the room-filling sound capabilities of a true 5.1 speaker system, like the Energy Take Classic.

Like we said, the Z-Base 555 is powerful enough to play fairly loud, but the "Quantum of Solace" Blu-ray's dynamics and bass energy were in short supply. Turning on Zvox's new Output Leveling (dynamic range compression) feature immediately boosted the overall volume, and the volume remained at a consistent level throughout the film. So if you need to turn down the volume for late-night listening, with the Output Leveling engaged you'll still hear the quieter scenes, and when you're watching action movies like this one you won't have to turn down the volume for the big explosions or special effects. We didn't detect any muffling or sound-degrading problems caused by the Output Leveling feature--it worked quite well. The Dialogue Emphasis feature was fairly subtle, but was also effective.

Moving on with the Rolling Stones' "Ladies and Gentlemen" Blu-ray, we felt the Z-Base 555 inhibited the band's music too much. The music felt constricted and somewhat "canned," sounding closer to what we'd get from a table radio or iPod dock than a good subwoofer/satellite system. The Z-Base 580 was a step up from the sound we got from the Z-Base 555 with the 'Stones; there the sound was more rock and roll. Bass oomph and finesse aren't performance strengths of either Zvox.

Straight dramatic films like "Good Night, and Good Luck" sounded excellent. The film is set in the offices at CBS Television in the early days of broadcast journalism in the 1950s. It chronicles the real-life conflict between television newsman Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Sen. Joseph McCarthy (the filmmakers used stock footage of McCarthy). The sound of the dialogue, typewriters, and ringing telephones in the smoke-filled offices was excellent.

Sound bars rarely sound great with CDs, and so it was with the Z-Base 555. The speaker sounded small and the bass lacked definition. We preferred the sound of the Z-Base 580, but that's a $600 speaker, and for that much money, Harman Kardon's SB 16 sound bar is even better. (The SB 16 also includes a large separate wireless subwoofer).

The Zvox Z-Base 555 has a nearly perfect sound-bar design and a solid feature set, but it won't please critical listeners.

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