Zvox SB380 review: Rock-solid build and clear dialog, but not much excitement

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The Good The Zvox SB380 offers excellent build quality and a relatively easy setup process. Dialog sounds clearer than most competitors with or without its AccuVoice feature.

The Bad No Bluetooth. Competing sound bars are more dynamic and cost less money.

The Bottom Line The Zvox SB380 offers one-box convenience and excels at making dialog clearer, but some cheaper 'bars sound better.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

How much should you spend on a sound bar? In the last couple years the sweet spot between sound quality and value has been about $300, and that's exactly where the Zvox SB380 sits. 

Zvox's sound bars have been consistently well-built and belt out a lot of sound from a compact box. Its specialty is enhancing dialog, making it easier to hear the actors' voices -- as opposed to sound effects -- in TV shows and movies. The SB380 continues that trend and adds good looks and solid overall sound.

Unfortunately for Zvox, "solid" is no longer sufficient. The new budget superstar, the Vizio SB3621, easily eclipses the Zvox in sound quality and costs half as much. So does the Yamaha YAS-106, which just like the Zvox doesn't have a separate subwoofer.

If you really crave clearer-sounding dialog in TV shows and movies, the Zvox SB380 is still worthy of consideration. But also consider the cheaper SB400, which includes Bluetooth and should sound very similar.

Design and Features

Sarah Tew/CNET

The SB380 is a sleek, brushed-aluminum sound bar which is itself a shrunk-down version of the SB500 at a little over 35 inches. In many ways it's identical to the similarly priced SB400. The only difference is that the SB400 has Bluetooth while the SB380 doesn't.

Like most Zvox designs, the SB380 is a 3.1-channel system with a trio of 2-inch drivers, and a 4-inch bass woofer. The long aluminum tube is buffeted by attractive rubberized stoppers, with controls on one end and a bass port on the other. The front is covered in a metal grill and underneath this lives an orange four-character display, which offers information on volume or input selection.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Processing features include Zvox's Intellivoice feature for better dialog for the hearing-impaired, as well as a bass-limiting circuit which promises to give full bass without distorting at high volumes. Like the SB500, the SB380 lacks a subwoofer output jack, so you can't add a powered sub to the system.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We were disappointed by its more expensive sibling's relative lack of connectivity, but the SB380 has a decent number of inputs. Though it does lack Bluetooth -- the company said this was designed to keep the price down -- the Zvox includes two optical connections and stereo RCA.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is the same credit card model we've seen on previous Zvox speakers. It's functional but we'd advise you to program in your TV remote instead.

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