While we're big fans of the Zvox Z-Base's pedestal design, the 430 HSD has a more traditional sound-bar look, intended to sit in front of your HDTV or be mounted on a wall. It features an MDF cabinet with a black matte finish and the speaker grille covers nearly the entire front panel. There's no display on the front panel, save for a blue LED in the speaker grille that lights up when it receives a remote command. While we liked the minimalist look, the lack of display means you never quite know if the volume is maxed out or not.
Compared with inexpensive competitors like the Samsung HW-C450 and the Sony HT-CT150, the Zvox is considerably larger (30.4 inches wide, 5 inches deep, 5.7 inches high) and boxier, but that's not surprising considering Zvox's focus on performance over style. If you're just looking for a decent sound-bar system that stays out of sight, the 430 HSD probably isn't for you, but those who value sound quality will tolerate its bulkier design.
The included remote gets the job done, but could use improvement. There are only 11 buttons total, but they are bunched together and similarly sized. While we longed for some button rockers and even a basic red button for power, the 430 HSD is simple enough that the uninspired remote is only a minor setback.
Setup and features
Around the back of the 430 HSD, you'll notice three audio inputs: optical, coaxial, and analog. It's easy to assume that you can connect three separate devices directly to the 430 HSD, but it's not quite that simple.
Instead of traditional input switching, the 430 HSD has all three inputs "live" all the time. That's not a problem if you diligently turn off each of your devices when you're not using it, but with always-on DVRs the design is more problematic, since you'll be mixing TV audio when you're trying to watch a DVD. The alternative is to connect all your devices to your HDTV, then connect your HDTV's audio output to the 430 HSD. For most basic home theaters, that arrangement should work fine; just remember to turn off your TV's speakers in the TV's setup menu.
The other way to connect a device to the 430 HSD is the minijack input on the front panel, which is especially useful for making a quick connection to an iPod or other digital audio player. As soon as you connect a minijack cable, the 430 HSD mutes all other inputs, which is better than keeping all of the inputs live, but it means you can't leave a cable permanently connected to the port. We'd still prefer true input switching.
The 430 HSD has a big and dynamic sound. While the speaker doesn't feature extravagant faux-surround processing modes or a separate subwoofer, the 430 HSD can produce a spacious soundfield and impressive bass response.
Thanks to the 430 HSD's adjustable treble, subwoofer, and PhaseCue controls we could easily tweak the sound to our liking on the fly with each Blu-ray, DVD, and CD we played. The PhaseCue control spreads the 430 HSD's stereo soundstage in nine steps from narrow to wall-to-wall wide. No other sound bar we know of offers that much tweakability.
Play a decent rock record with a strong rhythm section, like the "ZZ Top: Live from Texas" Blu-ray, and the 430 HSD will let you feel it. Bass oomph and definition were above average for a sound bar that doesn't come with a separate subwoofer. The 430 HSD's volume capabilities, bass, and dynamic punch easily bested what we heard from Onkyo's new HTX-22HDX--impressive, considering that Onkyo's 2.1-channel system comes with a sub. The only area where the Onkyo was better was stereo imaging. That's not surprising, as the HTX-22HDX's left and right speakers are 6 feet apart, so, sure, its stereo image was larger and more clearly defined than the 430 HSD's.
We expected the 430 HSD's analog and digital inputs would sound about the same when we hooked up both connections from our Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player, but there were differences between the two. For example, the optical digital audio input sounded a little more detailed than the analog connection with the "Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall" Blu-ray. We heard a little more of Radio City's hall ambience over the digital connection. That's great, but when we played the "Quantum of Solace" Blu-ray with the volume set to the maximum level, the 430 HSD didn't get loud enough to fully communicate the excitement of the opening car chase. Over to the analog connection, the 430 HSD could play a lot louder; there appears to be more gain available over the analog inputs. With either connection method the 430 HSD produced average dialogue clarity, as long as the PhaseCue control was at a low setting. Higher settings made the front soundstage wider, but dialogue then sounded recessed and hollow.
Robert Plant's recent "Band of Joy" CD sounded good enough, but we were more aware of the 430 HSD's limits when it came to music than we were with movies. That is, the 430 HSD sounds more like a large table radio than a good pair of stereo speakers. As long as your main listening focus is movies rather than music, the Zvox 430 HSD is a winner.