|ZVOX 425 Single-Cabinet Surround Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Jim Swantko|
|Friday, 01 August 2008|
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The ZVOX 425 arrived very well-packaged in a double box surrounded by plenty of padding to keep it safe while in transit. The main unit is relatively small compared to the typical all-in-one speaker systems I’ve had experience with in the past. I was struck with the minimalist approach of ZVOX in regard to ancillary items. What I found was an RCA cable, a mini-cable, the previously-mentioned remote, a power cord and a one-page instruction sheet. Surely I was supposed to receive more than that, right? Nope, that was it and it was honestly all I actually needed to get rocking.
Set-up took all of 30 seconds as I connected the analog outputs from my DirecTV HD tuner to input one and my Esoteric DV-50 analog outputs to input two. I placed the speaker cabinet in front of my television, which shares the same stand. One immediate issue I noticed was that the standard RCA cables I used were slightly sticking out past the bottom of the unit. When the unit was placed on a hard surface like my stand, it put pressure on ends which was transferred internally to the circuitry. Over time, I could see damage occurring from this pressure. The solution is simple, however; use RCA connectors with 90-degree ends. Problem solved.
Music and Movies
Considering the designers’ desire for sonic purity, and their significant experience with music loudspeaker systems, I decided to jump right in and initially forego movies. In my opinion, if the designers could recreate high-quality music from their all-in-one speaker system, then television and movies would be child’s play.
I loaded up one of my favorite discs, which would challenge all aspects of the speaker system’s performance. Pink Floyd’s SACD Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol) covers the audio spectrum and just happened to be recorded with a quadraphonic mix, which makes it one of the very first surround recordings. I began with one of my all-time favorite songs, “Us and Them.” The saxophone through the ZVOX 425 was remarkably smooth and organic. Nick Mason’s kick drum had remarkable weight and impact. It was tight and punchy. Vocals were clear and rich. If I had to find a fault, I’d say that the system was a bit rolled off in the highest frequencies, which was no real surprise since it contains no true tweeters. I didn’t let that fact get in the way of the otherwise superb music it was creating. I used this song to experiment with the PhaseCue feature and found it did a great job at stretching the soundstage in all directions. For my particular room, two clicks of the circuit control were all that was needed to create a full stage. Additional clicks fragmented the sound and started to really hamper the timing of the music.
Next, I moved backwards on the disk to “Time,” primarily to test the surround capabilities. The opening sequence may be one of the most famous ever recorded. It contains several alarm clocks that all ring at the same time. The recording is such that the clocks all occupy a different location in space, including behind the listener. The ZVOX sound was very convincing. It was absolutely clear that there was information coming from behind my listening position. What I found unique was that it sounded completely natural. Other single-cabinet surround systems I have listened to may have provided more surround information, but none as real. This produced a smooth grain-free quality devoid of any digital signature. The accompanying heartbeat was presented in such a way that I felt as if I was inside the heart. The beating occurred in all 360 degrees. Again, the ZVOX created not only a convincing presentation, but a musical one as well. Well, as musical as a beating heart can be. It squeezed the room with a solid thump that speakers with woofers twice the size would have a hard time replicating. Waters’ and Gilmore’s guitars hung in the room while, the background singers’ voices oozed buttery richness.
As the system had passed the musical test with flying colors, I decided to see if it was equally capable as recreating movie dynamics. I cued up Apollo 13 (Universal Studios Home Video) and jumped to the launch scene, which has always left me in awe of our space program. As expected, the ZVOX did a phenomenal job of expressing the violence unleashed by any machine generating 7.6 million pounds of force. Communications between the stricken space capsule and mission control conveyed the tension of the dire situation. I found myself completely enveloped in the story and realized I was no longer taking notes, but instead was watching the film.
Next up was the latest, however probably not the last, iteration of the Rocky saga. Rocky Balboa (MGM Home Entertainment) follows the aging boxer through one more fight with the current champ Mason Dixon. The final scene is set at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. It’s a familiar setting with chants of “Rocky” filling the stands as he makes his way to the ring. The ZVOX was capable of creating that feeling of electricity in the air that only major sporting events can provide. While watching this scene, I tried to pay particular attention to the crowd and where I was in relation to it. The ZVOX did an admirable job of placing me in the stands, but the audience seemed to only occupy the 180 degrees in front of and beside me, ear to ear. Unlike the Pink Floyd effects, which were short in duration, the crowd noise was constant. I assume that, because of this, my brain had more time to accurately process the acoustic manipulation that was taking place. I must say that, while I did notice the decrease in rear information from my reference surround system, I didn’t miss it nearly as much as I thought I would. It did not take away from the experience in any way and I again found myself wrapped up in the story. This is the beauty of the ZVOX 425. It simply gets out of the way and lets you stop listening and start experiencing.