- Editor's Rating
- Easy setup
- Low profile design will blend in well with most entertainment centers
- Quality of sound might not make the $400 price tag worth it compared to other options
- Lack of external sub woofer reduces effect of surround sound
Quick TakeThe ZBase 555 speaker bar might not impress audiophiles but it is a decent option for those looking for a single-cabinet unit that is low profile and delivers sound better than what an HDTV spits out.
Speaker bars are an affordable solution to creating a home theater and they don’t take up as much room as 5.1 surround sound systems. The ZVox ZBase 555 speaker bar is a relatively inexpensive and compact option, featuring quality sound that shines compared to most HDTV’s standard speakers.
Set up was easy out of the box and the unit only requires two cables; just hook the system up to the analog or digital audio connection, plug it into an electrical outlet, and it’s ready to go. There are no external components to the system; the subwoofer is included in the audio bar itself, which makes it good option for smaller spaces. The dedicated remote works with the speakers and doesn’t require any configuration beyond taking it out of the box. However, if users want, they can easily sync the audio bar up to their standard remote, so they don’t have to juggle another remote..
The speaker system is not as sleek as some other designs or as compact; it weighs in at around 20 pounds so it isn’t exactly light and portable. The speaker bar is 28-inches wide, 14.5-inches deep, and 3 3/8-inches tall; it should fit the base stand of most 26-inch to 50-inch HDTVs. The rectangular design allows for users to perch their television atop the speaker, provided it weighs no more than 110 pounds or sports a base larger than 27-inches wide or 13-inches deep.
The larger the screen of the HDTV, the harder it is to achieve this setup. TechnologyGuide tested the speakers with a 40” Toshiba HDTV that did not sit easily atop the speakers, so the TV had to be pushed to the back of the entertainment center, with the speaker system awkwardly perched in front. However, a long-term solution could easily be configured with a little effort. But it’s important to remember the key elements of speaker placement and how audio carries around a room.
Designed to be low profile, the ZBase 555 has a wooden MDF cabinet and hand-lacquered side panels. Wooden casings for speaker systems are meant to create a richer sound than plastic, and can be found in most high end speakers. The speaker grill conceals a digital display that shows off pertinent information, but quickly shuts down after brief inactivity. An underrated but appreciated feature is that the speaker bar will automatically turn on along with the HDTV. It also turns itself off after three minutes of inactivity once the TV is powered down.
ZVox also notes that the design is green; it uses an efficient Class D digital amplifier, which generally uses less than 10 watts of power, even with the volume up pretty high; on standby, it generally sits at around .1 watts.
The ZBase 555 features two analog stereo inputs, one optical digital input, a coaxial digital input, and a 3.5mm stereo front-panel input. ZVox creates the effect of sound coming from multiple speakers with two main speaker drivers that are intended to trick the ear into believing sound is coming from different speakers around the room. It has a few special settings, including one that detects the sound level of commercials, and evens it out with the program being watched. This feature is especially useful given many advertisers shamelessly pump up the volume for TV commercials.
ZVox advertises that the ZBase 555 uses its PhaseCue II virtual surround processing, which is intended to create an audio experience similar to having two speakers set about eight feet apart. According to the company, this is supposed to give the effect of a 5.1 system.
TechnologyGuide found that the sound did not seem to be coming from one speaker alone and it was immsersive. However, it seems to be a bit of a reach to call it a 5.1 surround sound experience. While TechnologyGuide agrees that it delivers quality sound, when compared to a Samsung HW-E450 sound bar that delivers 2.1 channel sound, there was not much of a noticeable difference. It seems this could be improved with a wireless subwoofer placed in the rear of the room, rather than within the unit itself. But for anyone that doesn’t want extra equipment beyond the speaker itself, the ZBase 555 will outshine the HDTV on-board speakers every time.
Dialog, particularly from dramatic shows, sounded great. This genre features an abundance of background music, and it all blended seamlessly with sound effects and any loud crescendos as the drama unfolded. Even whispers were audible, and did not require any volume adjustments.
Improved quality on dialog is in part thanks to a new feature by ZVox called Dialog Emphasis (DE), which works similarly to a hearing aid, and is able to single out frequencies used by the human voice, and amplify them and minimize other frequencies.
Overall, the ZBase555 is a decent speaker bar at $400, at the time of this writing, but the lack of separate subwoofer leaves the surround effect a bit lacking. It certainly sounds better than its $200 counterparts, but there are definitely less expensive models out there that can deliver similar quality. However, for those that wish to keep things compact and simple, it is a decent option for convenience, but it probably won’t blow audiophiles away.