Center Channel Speakers
- Written by Jim Milton
- Published on 10 May 2012
The ZVOX Zbase 555 Setup and In Use
I will admit that when it comes to home theater, I am somewhat of a snob. I'm into large speakers all over, multiple subwoofers, amplifiers and a pre/pro with lots of settings, buttons and knobs…and lots of wires. Sound bars, in general, leave me a bit cold. They are usually anemic sounding and screwed into the wall under the TV where they can't project sound properly into the whole room. Usually an amplifier is needed and a separate subwoofer has to augment the low end. As the volume is increased, the sound becomes strained. (I know what you are thinking: "Golly, what's not to love?").
Now I am not going to tell you that the Zbase 555 sounds as good as a 5.1 surround sound system…it does not. I'm not going to tell you that music reproduction sounds like a concert hall…it does not. But I am going to say that the overall sound quality was a huge improvement over the TV speakers on my 42 in. Samsung PDP. I set up the 555 under my wife's TV downstairs because I have been toying with the idea of getting her better sound for her viewing enjoyment but because of the small size and lay out of the room, a complete surround system would be too big and certainly too complicated for her to use. She also likes to listen to music on her iPad2 while she knits. Her TV is wall mounted and underneath it is a cabinet upon which to place the Zbase 555. The Zbase allows her to have better sound from the TV and has enough connections to add a CD player, Roku box, and a Pure Audio i-20 iPhone/iPad docking station.
By using the digital optical out from the TV, I was able to make a single connection into the back of the Zbase. The SAT box, Roku and other devices are then connected to the TV via a HDMI cable. After muting the audio output of the TV, I was able to have all the devices play through the TV into the 555. The one page instruction guide was simple enough for the average novice to follow and included step-by-step instructions and pictures. Now, let's get into some of the sound quality observations.
The first thing I noticed about the TV sound was the increase in both clarity and bass. Male voices in particular exuded more gravitas and weight. The powered woofer really added punch to the sound tracks of movies and even commercials.
The bass can be adjusted from +4 to -5. In my case, I found that the bass needed to be tamed down a bit and I ended up settling for -3 for most of my review. For surround settings, I found that 1 was not enough and 3 smeared the sound stage too much. It also made the dialog harder to hear…like the voices were coming from behind the TV and the music and effects were thrust too far forward. Setting 2 provided a nice balance with some pretty good surround effects and still maintaining clear dialog. The DE setting projected the dialog too far forward for my tastes, but I could see where this would be a boon for a hard of hearing person. No need for Grandpa to yell, "Turn it up. I can't hear Matlock!"
I connected my Earthquake CP8 subwoofer to the back of the Zbase and set the Zbase bass volume to zero. The low pass control on my sub was set to 60 Hz and I adjusted the volume on the sub until it blended with the 555.
After awhile, I just decided to disconnect the CP8 as the Zbase really did not lack very much in the low end and the external sub was a bit too rich for my smaller room. I do not recommend placing the Zbase inside a book shelf cabinet as that placement would really over augment the bass and make it difficult to tame. Still, being able to add an external sub is a smart design choice and I am glad ZVOX included it with this product.
For movie listening, I picked a dialog driven movie "Midnight in Paris" from Woody Allen. Though this movie does not contain a lot of surround effects, the natural sound of human voices were a good test for the 555. I was struck by the clarity of the voices. Male voices had a nice touch of warmth. Female voices were well defined and lacked any nasally coloration that you sometimes get with a wimpy sound bar.
For testing the surround effects, I picked "Avatar" because I knew it had lots of jungle noises and intense battle scenes. While not anywhere near the sound field of a true 5.1 system, the sound was well spread across the front of the room, with some effects coming from the far sides of the room. The bass had plenty of punch and impact. The system could play quite loudly and never sounded strained or congested.
Next I turned my attention to music and was surprised by how well it sounded through the 555. Playing some "CSN- Greatest Hits" on MOG allowed me to listen for the individual voices and harmonies of these guys. Their layered voices were spread out and not one on top of the other.
I was also able to hear a decent sound stage across the front of the room with reasonably pleasant placement of the instruments from right to left. Depth of field was present as well. Playing music from my iPhone through the Pure i-20 sounded very good too. The Pure i-20 can be used with its built in DAC to output a digital signal to the Zbase directly (which is what I did for this review). Playing music through MOG and some hi-rez music via ORAstream also played without a hitch and had the added benefit of spreading out the music in virtual surround which provided an enjoyable listening experience.
My wife was quite happy to attach her iPad2 to the dock and play Pandora to her hearts content. I might as well mention that my wife quickly got a feel for using the Zbase 555; whether movies, TV shows or music, the 555 was easy for her to use. Can you think of someone that might benefit from the simplicity of the Zbase?