If regular soundbars aren't discreet enough for you, maybe you want a "mini" soundbar. Zvox, JBL and Polk have all released feet long speakers this year, designed to improve your TV's audio. Think of them as the missing link between Bluetooth speakers and full-strength sound bars.
The Accuvoice tries to separate itself by targeting people with hearing loss. The result is sound that's less well-rounded than its competitors, especially for music listening. The Accuvoice focuses primarily on the human voice, and does it well.
If you're frustrated by trying to hear the tinny voices coming out of your television, a speaker like this might be just what you're looking for. If you crave excitement from your small sound bar, however, better choices are available.
To use a "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" analogy, if the Zvox SB500 is Mike Teevee at the start of the movie, then the Zvox Accuvoice is what he becomes at the end -- the same cowboy, just shrunk to an almost impossibly small size (oops, spoiler).
The 17-inch-wide Accuvoice TV looks almost identical to its larger self, with an understated but attractive brushed aluminum chassis and a black steel grille. The large orange LED display is the same, and the right side still houses rubberized controls and a bass port. In a world of plastic competitors, the Zvox's build quality is second to none.
The remote control is the same that ships with other Zvox speakers, a little credit card that isn't especially ergonomic. Most people will just use it for setup however, then use the TV remote to control volume, so it doesn't really matter.
The AccuVoice uses the same "hearing aid technology" found in larger Zvox speakers, which "mimics the function of a hearing aid by isolating voice frequencies and lifting them out of background sounds."
The Accuvoice comes with a number of sound modes apart from the eponymous dialogue-boosting feature, including virtual surround. If you want more bass than the small unit can generate the speaker comes with a combined headphone/subwoofer output.
Unlike competitors, the speaker lacks Bluetooth capability, but it does come with two other inputs, a 3.5mm analog minijack/optical combo and a full-sized optical port. The latter is the one most likely to be connected to your TV.
Switching the AccuVoice processing on and off, we certainly heard a difference. Dialogue in the middle of the battle scenes on the "American Sniper" Blu-ray, for example, was easier to follow. Voices were louder and crisper, but on the other hand sounded distinctly less natural. So if you have a hard time following dialogue, turn AccuVoice on, otherwise leave it off.
The separate "Output Leveling" (OL) feature also improves dialogue intelligibility by reducing the dynamic range of soft-to-loud movies, so the sound doesn't suddenly get loud.
We were less impressed by the AccuVoice's overall sound quality. Not surprisingly in a speaker this small, deep bass is in short supply, and dynamic impact is likewise limited. Though it's not billed as a music speaker its shortcomings are most obvious in this regard.
Even with "OL" turned off the speaker still audibly limits louder passages. According to Zvox this limiting is designed to prevent distortion, but when listening to music the effect can be bizarre, at times actually making louder sections softer than quiet ones. On "R U Mine?" by the Arctic Monkeys, for example, the band dropped out entirely at one point, leaving Alex Turner's voice to go it solo. When the backing band came back in again, the level of the music dropped by about half instantly -- and we hadn't touched the volume control.
The JBL Boost TV sound bar is even smaller than the AccuVoice TV Speaker, and sounds it. The Zvox was more natural, less bright, and when we turned on the surround effect, the soundstage opened up.
We enjoyed the AccuVoice TV Speaker most when we played quiet movies like the gothic romance "Crimson Peak". There, the speaker's limitations were no longer an issue, and the creepy sound effects of rain and thunder were reasonably convincing. Adding a subwoofer might help with movies, but we found the bass in music was already too dynamically compromised to gain much from adding more bottom end.
The sound bar's overbearing compression was even more noticeable when we compared the system against the $50-more-expensive Polk MagniFi Mini. The Polk put in a performance with Scene 12 of "Crimson Peak" that was genuinely thrilling, but the Zvox compressed each of the jolts into a little, un-scary lint ball. While the Zvox was able to give voices more lift, the Polk's Voice Assist feature is able to bring dialogue to the fore in a similar, if not as successful, way.
How does the Zvox compare to an even larger soundbar at the price? Propped up alongside the much-larger Fluance AB40 sound base, the Zvox was trounced in every way.
The Zvox sits exactly between the JBL Boost TV and the Polk MagniFi Mini in terms of price and feature-set. It is the least flexible of the three in terms of what it can do: it's a one-trick pony. But that trick, boosting dialogue, is really good.
While the Zvox AccuVoice TV Speaker wouldn't be our top all-around choice for a $249 soundbar, its AccuVoice feature might put it over the top for users who have trouble hearing dialogue in movies and TV shows.