|ZVOX Mini Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Matthew Evert|
|Thursday, 01 June 2006|
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Zvox Audio may sound like a new brand name, but President Tom Hannaher is no stranger to the high fidelity electronics industry. Tom has worked at Advent, with such industry pioneers such as Henry Kloss, the inventor of projection television and high fidelity cassette decks. Later, Hannaher went on to run the marketing of Cambridge Soundworks before eventually transferring his energy to Zvox. What this impressive resume boils down to is that Hannaher knows both the audio and visual side of the home theater business. Even better news is that Hannaher surrounds himself with talent that can create an incredible-sounding miniature amplifier/speaker system that can be easily set up and enjoyed. The Zvox Mini can provide amply rich sound in virtually any room, with the simplest of connections and fine-tuning, for a modest $199.
What is so special about the Zvox, you ask? The Zvox is a simple preamp, amplifier and speaker array that together emulates a complete 5.1 surround sound system. Fascinatingly, this is all contained within the confines of a small 13-inch wide by 10-inch deep cabinet. Standing a mere three-and-one-third inches tall, this all-in-one surround system can easily rest on top of a television. The medium-density fiberboard cabinet is rectangular in shape with an outwardly curved front face. This face houses the front three drivers, which are shielded by an aluminum grille. The infrared remote sensor and two knobs that control the volume and size of the soundstage (termed “PhaseCue”) are also featured on the front of the unit. Moving to the stern of this ship, you will find a power switch, subwoofer port, subwoofer volume control and audio inputs.
The cabinet features an array of three two-and-a-half-inch front speakers. These drivers are accompanied by a hidden four-by-six-inch woofer, which has a port and separate volume control located on the back of the unit. The metal back of the Zvox not only features the power and input connections, but also acts as a heat sink for its built-in amplifier. The all-inclusive cabinet is very light at only seven pounds, but do not forget the weight of the external power supply, which is an additional three pounds. Your choices of finishes are black or silver rubbery-feeling paint or smooth-feeling high-gloss white paint.
The Zvox gains special attention by allowing the user to adjust the perceived size of the soundstage by using the PhaseCue knob on the front of the unit. At the low extreme (the far left position), the soundstage is compact and focused towards the middle of the cabinet. As the knob is adjusted clockwise, the soundstage increases and eventually extends several feet to either side of the cabinet. This widening of the soundstage is achieved by taking the left and right signals from the selected input and mixing them into three signals: left plus right, left minus right, and bass. This mix of both in-phase and out-of phase signals is amplified, then fed into the four speakers. The PhaseCue knob controls the relative mix of these signals and thus the size of the soundstage.
Another great asset of the Zvox is its ability to generate powerful and full-range sound with a small cabinet. This is done by creating a back-connecting port between the otherwise sealed left and right speaker enclosures. This back channel routes low-frequency pressures from each of the two speakers together and, as a result, eliminates any undesirable acoustic rigidness in the suspension of the speakers. This Infinite Compliance technology that I just described above can yield a much more impressive sense of power than is traditionally possible with a cabinet of such petite proportions.
I decided to hook up the Zvox in a small living room on top of my NAD 515 CD player, which I placed in the center of the room on a coffee table. I then rested my 60GB Video iPod on top of the Zvox. Zvox includes all the necessary cables to connect an RCA component (my CD player) and a stereo connector component (my iPod) as inputs. The Zvox power switch, when in the standby position, will automatically turn on when a signal is detected on either input. Likewise, the unit will automatically turn itself off if no signal is detected for several minutes.
I left about 18 inches of space between the Zvox and the back wall of the room so I could get a sense of how much the subwoofer could do without the benefit of a wall right next to it. The subwoofer seemed happiest with the volume at the one o’clock dial setting and did not rattle or distort while still providing some impactful bass. If the subwoofer still does not seem to provide enough bump for your taste, Zvox offers an external subwoofer, which can be connected in place of the second input. As you will find out in the next section, it is doubtful you will need the extra help in the thump department, but who am I to say when enough is enough?
Using the provided Zvox infrared remote, I could adjust the volume up or down with ease. Two AAA batteries are provided to juice up the simplistic remote. The Zvox is capable of being hooked up to either the fixed or variable outputs of most audio components. I set the Zvox volume at about 25 percent for the CD player and had to up the volume to about 60 percent for the iPod to be at normal listening volumes. This percentage of volume demand went up substantially when both inputs were connected at the same time. I experimented with the setting of the PhaseCue knob with various types of audio sources. I found the sound to be stretched too thin and empty sounding at the far right setting of the PhaseCue for anything I tried playing. I felt compelled to leave it a quarter turn from the left extreme for music listening and more towards the center position for movie viewing.
Adding to the allure of the Zvox is the portability of the unit. The optional rechargeable battery power supply and PortaParty bag allow you to take your Zvox on the road. Each of the items can be purchased for an additional $50. The aforementioned battery can power the Zvox for up to six hours on a single eight-hour charge. That leaves this baby in the running for your next trip to the parents to escape the monotony of the Kenny G Christmas album that always finds its way into the music selection.