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ZVOX Z-Base 550 Speaker System Print E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2009
Article Index
ZVOX Z-Base 550 Speaker System
Page 2

ImageThe home theater craze has ushered in the development of associated products nearly unimaginable 30 years ago. For those of us who grew up on two-channel stereo and terrible TV sound, the advent of video formats such as Betamax and VHS were our introduction to home theater. Those days now seem like ancient history, and even the most devout advocate of vintage gear would admit that the DVD format is superior in every way to the old tape cartridges. And without the DVD, our home “movie theater experiences” would be pretty dull.

My first home theater set-up was pretty typical of the time. It was 2005, and I opted for a surround  system, with a 5.1 receiver and four (two front, two rear) floor-standing speakers and a subwoofer. I remember running wires under living room carpet and trying to keep the subwoofer free of dog hair – not easy with two springer spaniels. Then there was speaker optimization, which was a challenge to dial in on each speaker's sweet spot. I had a living room that stretched more than 30 feet in width and about 12 feet across. Because of a large window and fireplace, I was limited to setting the TV in a corner and had to set the speakers in a strange parallelogram to get it all to work. Once accomplished, I enjoyed movies and music in surround and tuning into NFL games and feeling like I was part of the crowed. This old two-channel boy loved the expanded sound set-up but also knew that the set-up itself would probably stop many folks in their tracks, and running for technical support. Set-up was complicated as was the instruction manual, which although printed in about a dozen languages, failed to speak English to me. I learned by trial and error, and I'm sure many of you did, too.

But what if you want a home theater system and don't want to wire 100 yards of cable, or drill into the walls or have five, six or seven speakers cluttering your space? You want the effects of surround sound but don't have the gumption for an 8-hour install. You want great sound, period, but don't want to drop a grand on an AV receiver and speakers. In fact, you don't want to spend more than $500. The answer is the ZVOX ( Z-Base 550.

ZBase with TV

The Z-Base 550 (MSRP $499.99) stands less than 4 inches high, so its space requirements are minimal. It measures 28 inches wide and 14.5 inches deep and can be used to support most flat-panel TVs from 26 to 50 inches wide and weighing up to 90 pounds. Rather than take chances on scratching the unit's top, I opted to place it on the shelf rack just below my TV, where it still could provide unimpeded sound. The cabinet is constructed from medium-density fiberboard and features lacquered side panels dressed in high glossy black. The unit weighs 20 pounds and feels solidly built. It needs to be, as the cabinet contains the amplifier, speakers, powered woofer and all circuitry to give it “surround-sound” sound.

Keep It Simple

The Z-Base's all-in-one design and one-cord set-up made it the easiest home theater component I've ever used. The owner's manual is just two pages, with the front cover even noting, “Don't Worry-This Is Going To Be Simple.” How many manuals can get away with that statement?

The back of the 550 houses two stereo RCA inputs, one RCA output should you choose to connect a powered subwoofer, an on-off switch and a power outlet. Installation took 2 minutes at most and is nearly impossible to get wrong. Put the Z-Base in place, hook it up to your TV's analog input jacks or headphone jack, plug the power cord into an outlet and call it wired. Because the Z-Base contains its own amplifier and speaker array, there's no need for an additional receiver or wires. And because the 550 is designed for direct connection to the TV, the Z-Base features no additional digital inputs such as HDMI. It's simplicity personified.

input panel

The only additional step is coordinating your TV's remote – setting it to “variable” under the “audio” sub-screen menu – which can then be used to control the Z-Base. Barring that option, the Z-Base is easily controlled with the remote control. The tiny unit has four pairs of buttons to control volume, phasecue (virtual surround), subwoofer and treble. A blue LED, located under the Z-Base's front grille, blinks when any adjustments are made. There are nine levels each of phasecue, subwoofer and treble control. When the maximum setting is reached, the light stops blinking. Although the manual suggests that many owners find a treble setting he or she likes and leave it there, I found that the best performance was achieved by tweaking each setting for whatever I was listening to, be it a TV program, DVD or CD.

Although you could run the unit through a DVD player and then into the TV, ZVOX's president and product developer Tom Hannaher advocates video switching in the TV instead of running a digital video signal through a soundbar, noting, “ZVOX has always championed an analog-based virtual surround technology because it sounds more natural, more musical than digital counterparts."


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