TESTED: ZVOX Z-Base 550 One-Box Surround Sound System

Equipment+
Categories:
Speakers,
Soundbars
|
Products:
Zvox Audio Z-Base 550
  • One box system (amplifier and all speakers).
  • Serves as pedestal for your TV.
  • Provides inputs for two sources (more if your TV has the capability).
  • User adjustable settings for width of audio image, bass and treble.
  • Comes with main unit, power supply, one stereo connecting cable, and remote.

Setup/User Interface

The Z-Base 550 is extremely easy to set up, as long as the pedestal for your TV fits the dimensions of the Z-Base (28 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep). You may need two people to lift the TV on top of the Z-Base. After that, you connect the Z-Base to the audio output of your TV, plug in the power supply and turn the Z-Base on. You will need to navigate through your TV menus to turn off the internal speakers and set the audio output to “variable.” After that, you listen to several shows or movies and set the bass, treble, and image width (called Phasecue by ZVOX when the marketers temporarily thought obfuscation was a good thing) to your liking.

Sonic Character

The Z-Base 550 does an excellent job with speech clarity, a weakness of some built-in TV speakers. Dialog is also appropriately centered on the screen. The Phasecue control allows you to create a sense of some audio sounds coming from outside the edges of the screen, making the sound bigger and more lifelike.

While ZVOX called the single 5-inch bass driver a “subwoofer,” don’t expect loud or deep bass from the Z-Base. That just isn’t possible within the laws of physics. That said, the Z-Base is capable of a warmer and more pleasingly balanced sound than most built-in TV speakers.

The Z-Base also isn’t meant to simulate the volume level of an Apollo liftoff or an earthquake. It does play louder, and with better dynamics than TV speakers, but the Z-Base is much more about clear and spacious sound than it is about punchy, driving impact.

Movie and Music Performance

I viewed Bad Boys to check out the Z-Base 550’s performance on sounds recorded both inside and outside. The film serves as a useful test, with lots of dialog and action from real and familiar things (cars in this case) and from real but unfamiliar things (exploding ether and propane tanks). Here are some of my observations: 

  • The sounds of the Porsche doors closing are realistic, though the limited bass means the “thunk” isn’t perfect.
  • Dialog remains clear and centered on screen, even when all the members of the family or police team (3 or 4 people at once) are talking.
  • Explosions lack impact (compared with huge visual pyrotechnics).
  • Engine sounds are not as gutsy as in real life.

I also tried CDs from Cat Power and Jefferson Airplane to check delicate jazzy sounds and power rock, with the following findings:

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