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I gathered a handful of recent music DVDs and got down to business. Double Down Live 1980*2008 is a twin-disc collection showcasing ZZ Top live, first in Essen, Germany, in 1980; secondly, across Europe and the U.S. while in tour in 2008. The 1980 show is a stunner, with the band kicking out hit after hit to the delight of the German fans (was that a Confederate Flag I saw draped in the crowd). Recorded long before surround became de rigueur, the music still comes through with a fire that’s equally bluesy and ballsy – a band at the top of its game. The 2008 set, though, is a sonic beast. As the lil’ ol’ band from Texas charges through “Got Me Under Pressure” it’s immediately evident that this much updated recording was meant for home theater. The ZVOX throws a broad soundstage with big, open sound. Frank Beard’s drums are thunderous, and the grizzled bass-guitar attack of Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons are expertly mixed and expansive through the 575.
Blackfield is one of Steven Wilson’s numerous side projects when he’s not writing, recording or touring with Porcupine Tree. Along with Wilson, Blackfield features Israeli singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen. In 2007, Blackfield played a show in New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, which was recorded and released in September as Blackfield NYC. The DVD was my introduction to the band whose music has been aptly described as art/prog/pop. The opening track “Once” is a good system tester. It begins with drummer Tomer Z laying down a circular beat, and the drums sound very good – like live drums – through the IncrediBase 575. Then Z is joined one by one by the other Blackfield members, with Wilson coming out and strumming thick chords that bring the song to life. Each instrument is clearly defined and present in this lush soundscape. I intended to listen to just a song or two until I noticed that the band was coming out for an encore.
The Moody Blues – Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 is a fascinating return to the band’s early days as they were rightly taking the world by storm aided by an amazing run of records. Lead Moody Justin Hayward looks impossibly young to be singing such weary masterpieces as “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Question,” but I’m grateful for the archive footage and remarkably good sound for its age. In this case, though, I liked listening to the two-channel mix through my stereo setup better than the ZVOX. The IncrediBase did a good job with Graeme Edge’s drums, but it sometimes fell shy wringing out Mike Pinder’s keyboards.
Through it something of more recent vintage, like Status Quo’s Pictures, Live At Montreux 2009, and get ready to rock. The buzz-saw chords of “Caroline” that open the show burst from the 575, as if the IncrediBase was the guitar amp itself.
For many, home theater is about movies, but I’m an audio guy at heart and if a system fails to capture my ears I quickly lose interest. The overriding strength of the IncrediBase is its uncanny ability to spread sound across a room like a fisherman throwing a cast-net. Like my experience with the Z-Base 550, the 575 doesn’t disappear when you move to its side. The sound is front and side – much like a true 5.1 surround system.
Although the IncrediBase can’t perform miracles with flat dramas, it can make the right films come alive. There Will Be Blood has plenty of “big-screen” moments, whether it’s an oil-fueled derrick fire, a snake-oil-fueled sermon or the violent ending confrontation between Daniel Day-Lewis’ character Daniel Plainview and preacher Eli Sunday. The 575 brought such scenes to life and made for a compelling audio experience, which only makes the visual better.
The 575 throws a muscled punch that hits hard for music and high dramas. Bigger and beefier than its predecessors, the IncrediBase is a strong contender for soundbar with the most sound. Of course, it’s more than just that – and less, too. If you think all-in-one systems are all the same or that complexity is the character of effective technology, the ZVOX will change your thinking. Simple and effective - the IncrediBase is simply effective.
Company note: ZVOX offers a 30-day trial guarantee on their products, which includes shipping costs.