ZVOX IncrediBase 575 Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 04 November 2009

It wasn’t too long ago that the only way to watch a movie was to journey to the local movie theater or drive-in. For many, “going out” meant “going to the movies.” Then VCRs were introduced, and soon folks were buying and renting their favorite flicks to enjoy in the convenience and comfort of home. Something was missing, though, and I’m not talking about $8 buckets of popcorn and chairs still sticky from soda spilled two matinees ago.

The VCR tapes had a tendency to jam or suddenly self-destruct mid-movie, unfurling celluloid into a linguine-like tangle. You grabbed a #2 pencil, stuck the eraser in the tape roller and hoped it wind back for one more showing. TVs were big and boxy with limited audio and visual playback capabilities that often turned even the most stirring soundtracks and special effects into hollow artifacts. There had to be a better way.

ZVox 575 under TV

Today, the concept of home as a theater is no longer just a concept. For many folks, the home now serves as the entertainment complex. DVDs and Blu-Ray discs have brought the movie theater experience right into the living room. In fact, it’s possible to have audio superior to the Cineplex, simply because you don’t need to throw sound across 10,000 square feet, and you can sit where the sound is best and have control of the volume to boot. It’s easy to take it all for granted. Home theater is about convenience and comfort, but it should also be dynamic and engaging. After all, why sit through an epic battle scene that doesn’t “feel” epic?

If you’re still pondering a home theater system but haven’t taken the plunge either because you thought it would be too complicated or expensive, read on. Likewise, if you want surround-like sound but don’t have the space for a half-dozen speakers and wires, read on. Or, maybe you want more than the bargain-priced and equally bargain-performing home theater-in-a-box “solutions”?

ZVox 575

It wasn’t until I heard ZVOX’s Z-Base 550 – a unit I recently reviewed – that I could recommend a soundbar as a viable home theater option. I praised the 550 for its soundstage and virtual-surround quality, and was pleased to receive its bigger brother, the IncrediBase 575, soon after with memories of the former still fresh in my mind.

Features & Setup

ZVox 575 RemoteThe IncrediBase 575 employs the single-cabinet surround sound system design upon which ZVOX has based its name. And though there are numerous home-theater-in-a-box packages on the market, the ZVOX is truly that. The cabinet keeps everything – speakers, dual-powered subwoofers, amplifier and virtual surround circuitry – under one roof, enclosed in a sturdy MDF wood cabinet. The sides sport hand-lacquered high-gloss black end panels that have a polished and classy look.

This pumped-up model features five 3.25-inch full-range speakers, a pair of 6.5-inch subwoofers and a 133-watt amplifier. That’s enough power to drive the IncrediBase to very loud levels, even for those of us with sponge-like ears.

Setup is a simple 2-minute affair requiring just one connection – via the TV’s analog audio output or headphone jacks. TVs with audio output jacks that can be set to “variable” make using the 575 even easier. Set this under the TV’s Audio option and then you can control the ZVOX using the TV’s remote. If you want to add more low-end to the system, a subwoofer output jack on the back makes it easy to connect a powered subwoofer. As the owner’s manual rightly asserts, “Don’t worry – this is going to be simple.”

There’s no room calibration or tinkering with speaker alignment. Set the ZBASE on a sturdy, level platform; connect it to a TV or DVD/Blu-Ray player, and you’re good to go. The supplied remote controls volume, PhaseCue virtual surround, subwoofer and treble levels. To enhance the “surround” experience, simply increase the PhaseCue level. Want more bass? Turn up the subwoofer. Same goes for treble. There is no such option for cowbell, however.

A clever auto-on/auto-off circuit turns the ZBASE on about 1 second after powering up the TV. To keep the unit from being from being a power drain, the 575 goes into idle mode in about 3 minutes after a TV is turned off – handy if you fall asleep during a clunker.

If there’s one potential drawback to the 575, it’s the size. The unit is 3 feet wide, so a larger table, piece of furniture or A/V stand is necessary. But once the IncrediBase is set in place, it can serve as a platform for flat-panel TVs ranging in size from 37 to 65 inches and up to 140 pounds. Although I’m positively anti-stacking, the ZVOX’s top sports a black vinyl coating to help keep it scratch-free.


Listening:

Double Down Live 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 NYC 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.

Live at the Wight Festival - The Who 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.

Pictures 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.

There Will be Blood 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.  

 

Final Thoughts:

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. 

 

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Manufacturer ZVOX





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