The Zvox Soundbar SB 500 features new voice enhancing technology along with quality speaker drivers, a powerful amp, and an aluminum cabinet.
The Secrets Team has reviewed Zvox products before.
This review takes a listen to the latest attempt by the Zvox company to provide quality sound for new flat panel TV sound re-enforcement.
Zvox Soundbar SB 500
- Aluminum cabinet for distortion free sound.
- PhaseCue virtual surround sound processing.
- New technology developed from hearing aid industry called AccuVoice® for clearer dialog.
- Bluetooth capable for wireless streaming from mobile device.
- Dual internal subwoofers with MegaBass technology for superior bass response.
- Ability to program cable/satellite remote for control of unit.
- Output Leveling feature keeps sound levels from changing during commercials.
- Adaptability for adding a multi-zone streaming audio receiver to unit.
- Compatible with TVs up to 50”- 90”.
Zvox is a company that is credited with developing the world’s first soundbar 13years ago. At that time it was a response to the declining sound quality found in TV sets. There was a need for a simple, compact speaker to supply the sound on the TV screen, and Zvox had the solution. Since that time Zvox has established itself as a leader in the A/V industry.
On their new soundbar Zvox has built on the experience and research of its design team. To that end the Zvox design team wanted to address several issues, the most important being the audibility of voices on all content. If you are an aging baby boomer like me you may have heard your friends or family mention that they cannot hear what is being said by actors or announcers. However you don’t have to be mature or have hearing loss to have difficulty hearing what is being said. The reality is that movie soundtracks and sporting events are mixed to give a spectacular sound. Crowd noise, sound effects and music can overshadow the dialog. For a solution Zvox looked to the most advanced medical research from the hearing aid industry to get an answer.
5.7" H x 43.9" W x 3.3" D
(3) 2” full range speakers, (2) long excursion woofers
12.6 pounds. With box and packing: 18 pounds
140 watt Class D digital amplifier
(1) analog stereo input, (1) optical (Toslink) digital input, (1) coaxial digital input, (1) Bluetooth
42 Hz – 20 kHz
Virtual surround sound:
PhaseCue virtual surround sound processing
BlueGiga Bluetooth Wireless Audio with aptX for optimal connectivity, range and sound quality
AccuVoice (Dialog Emphasis) and Output Leveling Features
One year limited parts and labor warranty
Zvox, SB500, Soundbar, Speakers Review, Soundbar Reviews 2016
One of the concepts that Zvox found from their research in how human hearing works is that humans rely on the quality of consonant sounds from words to understand what someone is saying. To compound the problem sound engineers in Hollywood or the broadcasting industry tend to mix sound for a spectacular effect, and not necessarily for voices. To come up for a solution the engineers at Zvox created a circuit design they call AccuVoice. The AccuVoice circuit works as the sound is being reproduced by the SB500. The circuit is engaged when voices are present in the soundtrack. As the voices are detected the AccuVoice circuit brings up the levels of the voices and increases the definition of the consonant sounds.
To achieve surround sound from a single box the Zvox SB500 features PhaseCue circuitry. By manipulating the phase of the separate channels PhaseCue can make the SB500 sound like a good surround system. The effect is like there are different sound sources in the room which makes the movie experience more immersive.
Another practical feature that Zvox engineers put in the SB500 is output leveling. This feature keeps the volume of commercials from a TV program that viewers are watching from being louder or overpowering when they come on. The SB500 also features aptx Bluetooth connectivity for quality streaming music from a phone or tablet. In addition, the SB500 has the capability to be integrated with an external audio receiver for multi zone use. Zvox recommends Google Chromecast Audio for playing music as it features a better bit rate than other competitors. The Zvox SB 500 also has the ability to be programmed for use with a consumer’s cable box or satellite box remote.
To compliment these impressive features Zvox engineers designed sound quality second to none. Key to the fine sound quality is the beautiful aluminum cabinet. This cabinet allows for more internal volume while maintaining maximum rigidity for better and clearer sound. Zvox has introduced two new audiophile grade 4” sub drivers in the SB500 cabinet along with three 2” full range speakers.
Coupled with a custom built in 140-watt amp and a circuit Zvox named MegaBass for digitally controlling the bass response, the SB500 achieves a high level of sound reproduction from a single box. The claimed frequency response of the SB500 is a flat response down to 42Hz! That is very good bass for large floor standing speakers, outstanding from a small enclosure like the SB500. The Zvox SB500 also features the PhaseCue virtual surround circuit to create a 3 dimensional sound from a single box.
Simplicity and sound quality were the goals of the Zvox design team for the SB500. A product with great sound and less complexity. For many consumers today, this is what they are looking for. The purists and audiophiles may want for more, but my experience tells me the great majority of people will prefer the SB500 to systems that feature more boxes, more wires, and more complexity.
When I unboxed the Zvox SB500 I loved the sturdy, strong feel of the cabinet. Although the SB500 is long its sleek, clean lines will make it disappear under an LED flat screen. If you are lucky enough to own an SB500 you can take comfort in knowing that you are getting a lot of technology for your investment. I have a friend that owns YG Acoustics speakers. His speakers cost $60,000.00 and they are known for using aluminum for their cabinets. So how does the Zvox compare in sound to high end speakers? Well I am getting ahead of myself.
Connecting the Zvox to my TV was easy. The back panel has a slot on the right side that houses the inputs. There are inputs for digital coax cable, fiber optic cable, and analog cable. Next to those is the power cable input. On the end of the right side there are control buttons for power, volume up and down, and input. I set the SB500 on top of my component cabinet which is just a little wider that the SB500. My LED TV is hung approximately 10” above the top shelf. With its black grill front the SB500 disappears once the TV is turned on.
To connect the SB 500 to my LED flat screen all I did was plug the unit into the AC outlet and then connect the Optical cable from the Optical output on my TV to the SB500. The Zvox comes with a small plastic remote control that I used for this review. When I was done I simply hit the power on button and turned up the volume.
To check my connection, I watched a re-run of the Price is Right. I had a snack and casually watched the show, but paid attention when there was program breaks. While listening I tried to see if the Output Leveling feature was working as advertised. To the best of my ability, I could say that the Output Level feature worked as advertised. Commercials did not explode in sound when the programming switched, the volume remained the same as the regular programming.
I next tried watching one of my favorite shows. I loaded a season of Game of Thrones to watch. I chose a scene from a previous season and listened to the opening music. When watching the episodes at first, I am not completely aware of the music as it weaves under the dialog, but on repeated viewing I am stunned at how much music goes on during the dramatic sequences. The effect pulls up the tension in the scenes.
On the opening music the SB500 preserves the majesty of the orchestration. The string tone is well rendered and the massed chorus voices are clear. There is a wonderful clarity to the sound, normally on lesser speakers the sound is muffled and the violins, violas, cellos, and bass are smeared together. Not on the SB 500, I can hear all the musical lines. This is near reference quality level of sound on the opening title of Game of Thrones.
When the dialog started as promised the consonants were crisp and clear. On some of the dialog with the Night Watch soldiers, I have always had a difficult time catching all the words because of the heavy Scottish/English dialect of some of the characters, but the Zvox did a wonderful job making them understandable. The tone and quality of the character’s voices are strikingly rich. During the show I felt that the SB500 was effortless in reproducing the soundtrack and easily filled my large media room. Even if the SB 500 does not quite match the weight and soundstage of the much larger Klipsch Cornwalls the sound produced by the Zvox SB500 pulls you into the story.
I next chose the scene from last season when the White Walkers attack the Wilding camp. Game of Thrones has a wonderful soundtrack that is woven in during the show scenes. I took notice of the details in the sound as the scene played through. At the start of the White Walker attack scene of the Wilding settlement the percussion instruments used were clearly distinct as the White Walkers approached and at the same time you could hear the steps or movements of the creatures. When the Wilding archers pulled their bows the sound of the wood being bent back was crisp and woody sounding. During the attack the screams, yells and dialog were kept clear while the big drums throbbed and the music swelled up and down. Throughout the climactic scene the Zvox SB500 never faltered in recreating the excitement in the program. I could hear the creaking of the timber and the snap of the boards as the wooden wall collapses and the White Walkers break through.
When the White Walkers annihilate the settlement, the sound of the wind at the end had a chilling tone. Again the Zvox SB 500 excelled at immersing me in the acoustic fabric of the Game of Thrones soundtrack. It was a joy to hear one of my favorite shows through the Zvox SB500. As for the bass I can tell you that the recreation of the Tympani in the gladiator fight scene at Great Pit of Daznak was superb.
I next decided to try the SB500 in the bedroom. One great feature on the SB500 that I liked right away was the auto shut off of the display. The display of the Zvox goes dark right after you press the buttons on the remote. Many soundbars on the market have bright displays that become blindingly distracting when watching TV. The displays compete with the TV image and I have given up using some competing soundbars because of this. Thank you Zvox for this feature.
The film I decided to see using the SB 500 was the World War 2 drama Fury. On the opening scene of the film Fury a Nazi officer is seen riding a horse through the aftermath of a battle. As the officer passes the wreckage of burning tanks I noticed that the SB 500 provided fine detail. An example I heard were that the horse’s hooves were crisp and as the horse stepped I could hear the mud and dripping carnage from the battle scene. The burning tanks and flames are heard with the hardness and snap that I am sure the director intended when the sound was mixed. When Brad Pitt’s character leaps out and stabs the officer I almost jumped out of my bed. As the scene progresses Brad Pitt’s tank starts up amid explosions from artillery. The explosions from the scene I heard with good impact and weight from the Zvox SB500.
When Brad Pitt’s tanks assault the German infantry positions in a field, the pop of the machine guns and the recoil of the anti-tank guns were frightening in their realism. All the while the squeal of the wheels and gears of the tanks grind out and… I can still clearly hear the dialogue. Nice job of keeping the voices audible Zvox.
During the assault on the German Tiger tank my wife happened to walk into the bedroom. She walked past the TV and into the bathroom, then stopped and came back with her eyes wide open. Stunned she said, “That’s pretty good!” Motioning to her left and right with her arms outspread she said, “You can hear the sound over here and over there.” I just smiled and said, it’s a Zvox!
What a nice testament to the SB500’s virtual surround sound capabilities. I thought the Zvox sounded pretty dimensional, but if a person casually walks by and notices the spatial characteristics of the sound that means Zvox has done its homework on creating an enveloping and immersive experience for the consumer.
As I continued watching Fury, I realized a possible short coming to the Zvox. On its own the Zvox SB500 sounds good, but the bass from explosions or special effects will not equal what a good sub can do. Zvox might consider as an upgrade for their SB500 a sub out for customers that my want more bass output. The sub out would allow a customer to add a subwoofer to the sound. This is not to suggest that I am unhappy with the fine bass reproduction of the SB500, but if someone wanted the ultimate bass a good sub will always supplement a full range speaker on movies.
The Zvox SB500 did very well on movies, but what about music? Most soundbars sound dreadful on music. I decided to try the Bluetooth mode to listen to music from my phone. I use Apple Music for my streaming music.
I found a recording that I listened to when it was first released and has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. On Herbie Hancock’s landmark Head Hunters opening track Chameleon I noticed that the beginning funk throb of the synthesizer and the snap of the cymbals and snare drum were reproduced with superb clarity and good timing.
As the track progressed the different musical lines remained rhythmic and distinct. The growl of the sax was reproduced with bite and sass. Sound staging from the soundbar was amazing. It disappeared, with the sounds coming above, below, and way out to the sides. I let the album go to next track, Watermelon Man. As the track ended, the sound seemed to come from my Cornwalls which are a good 16” out to the sides of the SB500. Then the wooden flute and vocals seemed to come from beyond and behind the Klipsch speakers, as if they were emanating from another room. The effect I got was like listening to very good small mini-monitors playing through a separate amp pre-amp combo, but with extended bass. As the music played I really enjoyed the reproduction so much I quit being critical and just listened. The layers of instruments was so beautifully rendered that I became immersed in the sound.
I next found Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. The SB500 places the drum kit to the far right with bass next to drums, then Dave’s piano came in left center and in front of them Paul Desmond on alto sax. I was especially impressed with the rendering of Joe Morello’s drum solo. The attack and snap of drums and cymbals while Brubeck’s piano plays underneath was outstanding.
I have to say that I never dreamed that a soundbar could sound so good on music. I could listen to music on this soundbar for long stretches without fatigue or the need to change to bigger speakers, amazing! The SB500 is the best sounding soundbar I have ever heard for music and movies.
For $599.00 THE ZVOX SB500 Offers an Aluminum Cabinet, High Performance Drivers, and an Innovative Circuit Design That Improves the Intelligibility of the Voice. These Features Position The Zvox at the Forefront of Soundbar Technology.
- Clear Sound
- Good Bass
- Terrific Cabinet/Build
- Leveling of Content
- Ease of Use/Set-Up
- Auto dimming display
- The ability to hear voices regardless of content
- Subwoofer out
- HDMI Inputs/Outputs
I’ll not mince words, I loved the Zvox SB500. Everything about it is well thought out and the result is incredible sound quality coupled with ease of use. I had a few dislikes, but really, these are inconsequential if you consider the design goals of the Zvox team. Of paramount significance to me is the ability of the Zvox SB 500 to reproduce voices clearly even when there are spectacular sounds present in the soundtrack. In my experience the SB 500 has no peers in this regard. So if you are looking for an easy to use and set up soundbar that features the best sound possible the Zvox SB500 is for you!