Home audio for the minimalists: 3 pedestal sound bars compared

Pedestal-style sound bars are the easiest way to improve on the sound of your TV, with the least intrusion on your living room decor. We compared three models head-to-head.

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Matthew Moskovciak
3 min read
Bose Solo, Zvox Z-Base 420, SpeakerCraft CS3

Pedestal-style sound bars are the latest evolution in the simplification of home audio. Instead of placing a long sound bar in front of your TV, pedestal sound bars are designed to sit under your TV, for a cleaner look with considerably less clutter. It's by far the easiest way to improve on the sound of your TV with the least intrusion on your living room decor.

The trade-off is that these systems generally don't sound quite as good as traditional sound bars, largely because they lack a separate subwoofer to handle the low end. It's yet another compromise of audio quality for convenience, although they still sound much better than your TV's built-in speakers. If you're picky about sound quality or listen to a lot of music at home, these pedestal sound bars aren't a good option for you, but I'd say for most people they tend to sound "good enough."

Zvox pioneered the pedestal design years ago, but now there's competition from the likes of Bose and SpeakerCraft. We compared all three head-to-head, with each model having its merits for different types of buyers.

SpeakerCraft CS3

SpeakerCraft CS3 (4 stars, $600)
The SpeakerCraft CS3 is by far the priciest option, but it's worth it. The CS3 is the only pedestal sound bar that competes with traditional sound bars on sound quality, coming close to matching the best-in-class Atlantic Technology PB-235. It also has a high-end feel, with a refined look from the front and a solidly built cabinet. Built-in Bluetooth only sweetens the deal, especially because it's not yet a common feature on sound bars. If you can afford it, the SpeakerCraft offers the best of both worlds with high-quality sound and handsome looks. Read the full review.

Bose Solo

Bose Solo (3.5 stars, $400)
The Bose Solo is the smallest of bunch, and it sounds like it. Don't expect to be blown away by the sonics of the Solo, but it's still a big improvement over a TV's built-in speakers. (There's nowhere to go but up.) What Bose gets right is design; the Solo's small footprint and sleek design make it the nicest-looking of the three, plus it comes with the simplest directions for setting up. It's also the only pedestal sound bar that comes with a remote you won't hate using. If you're looking for the easiest, best-looking option -- and don't need great sound -- the Bose Solo is the pick for you. Read the full review.

Zvox Z-Base 420

Zvox Z-Base 420 (3.5 stars, $300)
Going into the comparison, I expected that the Zvox Z-Base 420 would come out on top, with its budget price and reputation for solid sound quality. The Z-Base does offer substantially better sonics than the Bose Solo for $100 less, but in our testing we ran into a few frustrations: the Z-Base 420 occasionally distorts at high volumes and the cabinet vibrated enough to sometimes make our TV audibly buzz. Neither of the other pedestal sound bars distorted or vibrated as much in the same testing environment. Those gaffes damper what is otherwise a very solid value, with an ingeniously hidden front-panel display and a handy Dialogue Emphasis feature. If you're looking for quality sound on a tight budget, and you're willing to live with its quirks, the Zvox Z-Base 420 is worth trying. Read the full review.