On the day we bring home a new flat-panel HDTV, usually we’re dazzled by the clarity of the images. We go to bed happy. The picture continues to impress, but over time we begin to notice that the sound quality from our mega-pixel wonder is a bit disappointing. Speech is often muddled. Sounds that are filmed in huge spaces are compacted onto the (fairly small) screen. And bass? What bass? Of course you could invest the dollars, space, and effort necessary to acquire and install a full surround-sound system to solve these issues. But if you can’t or don’t want to go that far, the ZVOX Z-Base 550 is aimed at you. It sounds vastly better than most built-in TV audio gear, and is easy to set up.
Consider this speaker system if: you want far better sound than your TV alone can provide, complete with viable surround sound effects, all in a small, easy-to-install, simple-to-use package.
Look elsewhere if: you want the high-volume, big-impact sound that only a full-on surround sound system can provide (think of the Z-Base 550 as more of an intermediate step).
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced single box systems of HTiB rigs)
Features/What Comes in the Box
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.
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.