Friday, August 20, 2010

ZVOX Z-Base 550HSD Sound Bar Review

Electronics continue to improve with more and more features. One that I enjoy particularly is audio and video. There are some TV shows and many a movie that I enjoy. I enjoy it through video and sound technology.

Video has come a long way over the years. What started out in the way of TV’s from black and white, to color, to high definition, and to flat panel TV’s. It continued to improve upon our viewing experience. The visuals that can be experienced can be nothing short of stunning.

Video is only half of the viewing experience. The audio sound we hear is the other half. Audio improvements have also come, from mono to hi-fi stereo, to Dolby Surround, Dolby Pro-Logic, Dolby Digital, and now Dolby TruHD. But these formats typically require multiple speakers around the room with their accompanying wires. But what improvements have come to the speakers built into our TV’s? What if we didn’t want wires and speakers all around our room? Enter the sound bar.

As an answer to this need, sound bars have been developed. They are simpler designs with less wires and speakers. Some do nothing more than provide a better stereo sound then that provided by the speakers built into our TV. They are typically a thin bar that gets installed under your flat screen. While they improve the sound, they also tend to sound a little anemic. ZVOX has provided a solution for that basic, anemic sound, whether it be the built in speakers or the traditional thin one piece sound bar.

The ZVOX Z-Base 550HSD provides us with a solution. The ZVOX Z-Base 550HSD is a unique design. It is a table top or cabinet top design, with a very sturdy wooden construction, with attractive gloss black sides. So sturdy, in fact, that it is designed to be able to support up to a 50” 90 pound flat screen TV being set on top of it, no more than 27” wide and 13” deep. With measurements of 28” wide by 14.5” deep by 3 3/8” tall, it is not a wall mountable design. But it is a space saving design, with the TV being able to be mounted on top of it. The 550HSD uses a 60 watt amplifier, has a frequency response of 45Hz – 20kHz, and weighs 20lbs.

Hooking up the 550HSD is very simple. It plugs into an outlet, and into the TV with either analog, digital, or the TV’s headphone jack. Being simple to use is also an included benefit with the included remote control. Buttons include power, auto on/off, mute, subwoofer + & -, treble + & -, PhaseCue + & -, and volume + & -. The auto on feature turns on with TV and will go into idle mode 3 minutes after you turn off the TV. PhaseCue is ZVOX’s proprietary virtual surround sound.

This design also allows for some sound unique to a sound bar. The ZVOX Z-Base 550HSD has your array of speakers across the front, as are found on other sound bars. But thanks to its depth, it also features a built in 5 ¼”long throw ported subwoofer to go with the five 2” main ferrofluid cooled speaker drivers. The wooden cabinet not only provides the strength to support your TV, the MDF wooden enclosure also helps the sound quality of the cabinet. The front firing speakers are high quality long throw drivers with Neodymium magnets.

I must admit that I was impressed with the sound out of the Z-Base 550HSD. It does not throw the same sized sound that you expect from a true 5.1 surround sound system, but I was surprised at the size of the sound stage that was projected. This magic touch is done by PhaseCue adjusting the phase of the sound. It did sound as if I had separate left, right, and center channel speakers up front. And I liked the ability to adjust the amount of PhaseCue with the remote control. The sound quality also brought out the quality of the drivers. Whether the volume was turned down, or cranked up, the sound was broadcasted clear and well articulated with natural sound. The dynamics were good. Distortion was inaudible. I was not expecting this sound from a sound bar. With an MSRP of only $449, you are getting a lot of quality sound for your money.

If there was a weak spot in the 550HSD, it would probably be the 5 ¼” subwoofer. Based on the amount of power being received from the built in amp, and the size of the enclosure, the performance of the subwoofer is adequate. While I am used to a lot more from a subwoofer, it did ok for its size. It gave a depth to the overall sound, froviding a fuller sound especially in midbass, with a presence in lower bass. But there is also no need to fret. If you are like me and tend to feel more is better when it comes to bass, there is a subwoofer output, so you can hook-up an external subwoofer. For me, the 550HSD was not good enough to replace my surround sound receiver. But for the bedroom it is perfect.

Its performance has earned our Highly Recommended reward. If you are in the market for a sound bar, you may want to think twice if ZVOX is not on your list. And with their 30 day money-back guarantee, you can rest assured that if you don’t like it, you can send it back. For more information and complete specs, check out their website at