The soundbar has become one of the most popular ways to add speakers to an HDTV. Soundbars are compact, simple devices that you can place in front of (or below, if it’s wall-mounted) your HDTV to add more powerful speakers than the screen itself might have. Their small size means they can’t put out much power, though, and they often need a subwoofer to give them any bass performance. The Zvox SoundBase series is a different take on the one-piece home theater speaker system. Its flat, deep design has plenty of room for bass to resonate, making it work well as just one piece of equipment to place under your HDTV. The $399.99 (direct) SoundBase 555 puts out solid sound for its size, but if you want to listen to music or mount your HDTV on a wall, it’s not as ideal as a soundbar like the Bluetooth-equipped Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260.
Zvox’s design aesthetic is best described as pizza box-ish. The speaker system is wide, flat, and could be mistaken for a black wooden block you’d place under your HDTV to move it up a few inches. The SoundBase 555 measures 3.4 by 28 by 14.5 inches (HWD), weighs 17 pounds, and feels very solid, making it an excellent riser for your HDTV. If your HDTV is wall-mounted, you’re going to need to find a place for the speaker that doesn’t look ridiculous, such as on a low-profile console beneath the HDTV. The SoundBase 555 is designed to fit under your HDTV’s stand to act as a subtle, almost invisible speaker system that blends into your home theater cabinet. Zvox says the SoundBase 555 is designed for HDTVs between 37 and 55 inches, but because it’s only 28 inches wide you should check the dimensions of your HDTV’s base before getting it up. Most HDTV stands are smaller than the screens themselves but still keep them stable, but if they’re shaped oddly you might run into problems.
The entire speaker is nondescript, with a four-digit amber alphanumeric LED display hidden behind the right side of the grille, and four buttons placed under the grille, almost hidden from view. Strangely, the power function is limited to a switch on the back, and the four buttons on the front panel are only Mute, Volume Up and Down, and Input. A 3.5mm input is placed just below them so you can connect your mobile device, as the SoundBase 555 lacks both Bluetooth and AirPlay. The back panel holds two sets of stereo RCA audio inputs, an optical audio input, a coaxial audio input, a subwoofer output, and a remote control input.
The included remote is simple and not much larger than a credit card. The buttons are rounded rubber, but the Volume Up and Down buttons are suitably large, and the Bass and Treble Up and Down buttons are easy to find under the thumb. The remote is functional, but doesn’t have any bells, whistles, or backlighting.
This is strictly a wired speaker system, so don’t expect any online services or streaming media support. Its only real “gimmick” is Zvox’s PhaseCue II virtual surround feature, which can produce a simulated surround sound effect through processing how the stereo drivers output sound. To Zvox’s credit, it comes right out and says that PhaseCue II can’t provide an authentic 5.1-channel surround experience, and that it can only provide a simulated sound field that can offer a sense similar to it. Most companies that produce soundbars aren’t that up-front about the limitations of virtual surround sound features.
It isn’t a very high bar to jump over, but the SoundBase 555 has the best bass of any home theater sound system I’ve tested that doesn’t include a discrete subwoofer. Thanks to its wide, flat design, sound has much more room to resonate than a soundbar, so explosions can be satisfyingly wall-shaking, especially if you turn up the bass level. You still won’t shake the foundations like you would with a large, separate subwoofer, but considering its one-piece design the SoundBase 555 handles bass very well.
I watched parts of Jurassic Park and Platoon with the SoundBase 555 providing the audio, and both films sounded very good. Dialogue came through clearly, and the more textured parts of the soundscape, like rain hitting the jeep in Jurassic Park or huts getting lit on fire in Platoon, sounded full and sharp. The stomping and roaring of the Tyrannosaurus rex shook the walls of our test room with the bass turned up, and the sound of grenades going off have an impactful pop. The sound’s main weakness, besides the fact that its bass isn’t quite as strong as it would be with a separate, large subwoofer, is that the high end sounded a bit bright, with the crackling of fire and crack of thunder slightly too sharp to be ideal. The Yamaha YAS-101, a similar subwoofer-free one-piece sound system, offers a more rounded, less sharp sound, but its bass isn’t nearly as impressive.
If you want to listen to music from your smartphone or tablet, the SoundBase 555 isn’t the sound system for you. The 3.5mm port in the front can let you connect your mobile device to the speaker, but it was prone to interference when I connected my smartphone, and it showed a lack of any control or leveling that other inputs might have. I tested multiple cables to make sure it was the speaker’s issue and not a defective cable. The roar of the Tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park sounded full and solid over an optical connection, but The Knife’s “Silent Shout” played through the 3.5mm connection at maximum volume produced the most painful, crackling distortion I’ve heard in years. The ability to listen to anything not wired into your home theater seems added as an afterthought, and isn’t nearly as functional as the Bluetooth connections that many soundbars now offer.
The Zvox SoundBase 555 sounds good, and its unique design can be useful if you want your HDTV to be just a few inches higher. But you need to be careful before buying it: If your HDTV is too small, or too large, or mounted on a wall, you’re going to find yourself with a lot of wasted space in your home theater. If you’d like more flexibility and equally solid sound quality, the Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260 soundbar has a more conventional soundbar design for ease of setup, a wireless subwoofer to give it better bass, and it includes Bluetooth for streaming music from your mobile devices, all for $100 less. If you don’t have anywhere to tuck a subwoofer and you want good sound performance (and your HDTV is the right size and location), the SoundBase 555 is a solid choice.
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
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