Zvox Z-Base 420 review: Zvox's bar sounds big, but isn't perfect

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MSRP: $299.99

The Good The Zvox Z-Base 420 costs significantly less than competing pedestal sound bars. Its sound is rich and powerful for the price, and a huge step up from the built-in speakers on a TV. The Dialogue Emphasis mode is a great option for boosting speech over background noise. There's also a built-in front-panel display, cleverly hidden behind the speaker grilles, which many competitors lack.

The Bad The cabinet of the Z-Base 420 can sometimes vibrate enough to make certain TVs buzz. And at higher volumes, it occasionally distorts. The included remote also has a cheap feel and mediocre button layout.

The Bottom Line The Zvox Z-Base 420 offers an uncluttered look and solid sound at a budget price, but its quirks might give some buyers pause.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6

Zvox is the company that pioneered the "pedestal" sound bar design, allowing you to place the sound bar under your TV, rather than in front of it. The Zvox Z-Base 420 is priced well below its competitors ($300), but the trade-off is a "rough-around-the-edges" feel. Part of that feel is because of the literal sharp edges on its boxy design, but also the fact that at loud volumes, the Z-Base 420 will occasionally distort. The unit also vibrates more than other pedestals, which is occasionally enough to cause some TVs to audibly buzz.

Those gaffes aside, the Z-Base 420 has a lot going for it. It sounds undeniably richer and louder than the pricier, albeit more polished, Bose Solo ($400). It also has a wonderfully hidden front-panel display, which its competitors -- even the $700 SpeakerCraft CS3 -- completely lack. And that budget price is awfully tempting for the Z-Base 420's performance, unless you're willing to go for a more traditional two-piece sound bar like the Haier SBEV40-SLIM or Vizio VHT215.

Higher-end pedestal sound bars are safer choices, but the Zvox Z-Base 420 offers the allure of "a deal." If it works in your setup and you like its rectangular looks, the Zvox Z-Base 420 is an excellent value. And if you don't like it, Zvox has a 30-day money-back guarantee as long as you purchase it direct from the company's Web site.

Design: The boxiest sound bar box
Compared with a typical sound bar, the Zvox Z-Base 420's pedestal design has a major advantage. Since it sits directly on as opposed to in front of it, the pedestal doesn't block your TV's remote sensor or interfere as much with its aesthetics. The wires are also a lot easier to hide.

Z-Base 420, Bose Solo and SpeakerCraft CS3 stacked
The Zvox Z-Base 420 (middle) doesn't look quite as nice as the Bose Solo (top) or the SpeakerCraft CS3 (bottom). Sarah Tew/CNET

However, the Z-Base 420 isn't the only "pedestal"-style sound bar on the market (anymore) and the competitors look a bit nicer. The Bose Solo is much smaller overall with sleek rounded corners that mute its boxiness. The SpeakerCraft CS3 is similarly sized, but also features rounded corners and a more refined look from the front. The differences aren't huge, and aesthetics are subjective, but by our count the Zvox is a step behind in the looks department.

Zvox Z-Base 420's front-panel display
Sarah Tew/CNET

The Zvox does outdo the competition by including a front-panel display. It's ingeniously hidden behind the speaker grille, so you won't actually see the display until you're making an adjustment. It's definitely reassuring to get visual feedback when adjusting the volume or bass/treble levels; with the other two, you're left in the dark.

Zvox remote compared to others
Zvox's remote (left) is cheap-feeling and cluttered compared with the Bose Solo remote (center). Sarah Tew/CNET

Zvox includes a cheap-feeling, mushy-buttoned remote with the Z-Base 420. At this point, we're accustomed to sound bars coming with subpar remotes, but it's still frustrating, especially when the Bose Solo provides a noticeably better clicker. To be fair, you do have the option of programming your TV's remote to control the Z-Base 420, although you'll likely lose direct access to buttons like "Dialogue Enhancement." Luckily at the Z-Base 420's relatively low price, you can take your savings and buy a quality universal remote.

Features: Packed with inputs, but no Bluetooth
The Z-Base 420 has a few more inputs than its main competitors. One the back, the input selection includes two analog, one optical, and one coaxial digital audio input; there is also a minijack input on the front panel. It's nice to have the flexibility, but you really only need one input if you end up using your TV as a switcher. (However, if you have an older HDTV with just a few inputs, the Z-Base 420's extra ports will go to good use.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Zvox has quite a few physical ports, we'd happily sacrifice most of them for the convenience of Bluetooth, which would enable wireless audio streaming from just about any smartphone, any iPad, and many other tablets. Bluetooth is slowly creeping into more sound bars, including the competing SpeakerCraft CS3, but with the Zvox, you'll need to use a third-party add-on like the $40 Logitech Wireless Speaker Adapter if you're looking for that functionality.

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