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The 550 was designed by Burhoe Acoustics and EPI Loudspeakers founder Winslow Burhoem, who must be commended for doing so many things very well. Housing five 2-inch full-range speakers and a high-output 5&1/4-inch woofer, the unit employ's ZVOX's own PhaseCue virtual surround system, to produce a broad soundstage and a sound close to true surround. According to ZVOX, the 550 uses “specially treated long-excursion main drivers. All speaker magnets are powerful Neodymium models that are magnetically shielded.”
For most TV programs, the Z-Base will sit in the background and provide adequate sound for dialog-based dramas and sitcoms. Where it shines is during playback of movies and music. And it shines brightly. I own a multi-format Yamaha DVD player capable of playing DVD-Audio discs as well as SACDs. I played my DVD-Audio disc of Steely Dan's Gaucho in 2-channel stereo and sat in front of the Z-Base, about 6 feet away. The recording is stellar, with crystal clear highs and midrange. As I listened, I kept looking at my two floor-standing speakers set up on opposing sides of my TV rack. The sound from the 550 was so deep and expansive that my mind tricked me into thinking the music was coming from the twin floor-standers, even as it flowed from the ZVOX.
At times I would be standing 10 or 15 feet from the unit, and 90 degrees from the front and catch myself looking back in surprise. The soundstage envelops a room with a swath of sound that makes for pleasurable listening from almost any angle. You don't need to be in front of the speaker, though it's even better when you are.
One of my favorite ways to test a system's bass is with old-school reggae recordings. Burning Spear's 1975 release Marcus Garvey is a rhythm monster. Bassists Robbie Shakespeare and Aston Barrett rock steady against the groove of drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. Tunes such as “Slavery Days” and “Tradition” were vibrant with plenty of thump and bump. Again, by tweaking the phasecue and subwoofer, I could go from pretty good sound to very good sound with just a button push or two.
Rush's Snakes & Arrows Live is a triple-DVD collection of masterfully recorded concert footage. The sound comes as close to being there as anything I've heard. Played through the Z-Base, Neil Peart's drum solo comes into your home. The drums sound like real drums, and with a bit of phasecue adjustment I could feel the bass drums reverberate through my hardwood floors. Put the band together on songs such as “The Way The Wind Blows” or “The Spirit Of Radio,” and the sound is even more dynamic.
The Z-Base also shone with movies, offering cinematic sound when you really want it. The 2000 epic Attila may not have scored big at the box office, but hearing Nick Glennie-Smith's score through the Z-Base pays dividends. And scenes of horseback-riding Huns and Romans are brought to life, sounding at times like an-house stampede. If you like big dramas or action films, the Z-Base will deliver the audio goods aplenty.
The ZVOX Z-Base 550 is one of the most impressive products I've heard and used. Although a single-cabinet set-up can't fully replace a proper surround system, the Z-Base makes the line between the two ever fuzzy. For just under $500, you get not just a virtual surround system, you get a great speaker system. Period. For the price, ease of use and performance, I can't imagine any way to better it.
|Model ||Z-Base 550 |