For the first part of my review, see my post #116 above. It does cover DVD movies.
The Official abbreviation for the 550 - on their web site (and instruction manual), ZVOX Audio states that this model is the ZVOX z-base 550 single cabinet surround sound system ( abbreviated ZB550). However, I think we have all pretty much agreed in this Home Theater in a Box subcategory and soundbar thread that ZVOX products will be designated by their numbers (315, 325, 425, 425, new 425xs, and the 550); except for the Mini, of course.
Room Layout and Dimensions
In our household, we have had both a living room and a separate family room in the homes we've lived in over the past 25 years. In all that time, the living room is where the 3 piece bookcase with its attendant bookshelf stereo system has gone and the family room is where the TV is - the two have never mixed
Our current family room runs the width of the house, and measure 22 feet by 11.5 feet. The 22 foot long wall does not have a window on it, and is the wall the TV (and subsequently the 550) is against. The TV and 550 are on a wood TV stand that has two cabinets with doors on the bottom, and two open compartments (no front or back) immediately above the cabinets for the DVD/VCR player and the cable box. There is a standard size couch (90 inches) directly across from the TV. If you are sitting on the couch, to your right is a standard size window with full length curtains (the curtains run from just below the ceiling to the floor) and a Queen Anne chair that has a viewing angle to the TV of approximately 45 degrees. To your left is a padded love seat with a viewing angle of approximately 30 degrees for the one side that is furthest from the TV. On the wall behind the love seat is a double window, also with full length curtains. The back of the love seat is approximately 4 feet from this wall In addition, there is a coffee table directly in front of the couch that is actually a storage chest (so it is solid on all sides and not open like a more conventional coffee table), and three end tables with lamps. In the far corner behind the love seat and along the wall with the TV is our computer desk. The computer screen is almost in line with the TV. Along the wall with the couch, approximately 13 feet from the wall with the single standard window is the opening for access to the family room from the kitchen/eat-in-kitchen area. So, this means the TV is located in an area of the room with the approximate dimensions of 13 feet by 11.5 feet, with the fourth side of 11.5 feet opening up to the remainder of the family room plus the kitchen area.
Just a note on what I mean by the viewing angles above, just so everyone understands. Most people watch TV by sitting directly in front of it (that is how my wife and I do, anyway, and that is why the couch is positioned where it is). If so, your viewing angle to the TV is 90 degrees - you are perpendicular to the TV. If you would move so that you are directly in line with the screen, off to one side or the other, your viewing angle is 0 degrees (and you would, technically, be able to see the screen). So, that gives you an idea of what I mean by the two viewing angles I mention. Of course, if I wanted to be technically correct, I would have set one side of the room as the 0 degree point, then 90 degrees is the perpendicular angle, and the other side of the room would be 180 degrees - but that would be the engineer in me.
What Sold Me on the 550
I added the location of the computer and the viewing angles to make this point. On the second night I had the 550 hooked up, I was watching the show Morphed on the National Geographic channel (I still can't get past the fact the announcer says Nat-Geo instead of National Geographic during its promos). The segment happened to be on the extinct short-faced bear, supposedly the largest bear to ever walk the earth. The show had an expert on, with a computer graphic of the bear in the background. As the expert was talking, they simulated how a bear would be breathing. Today's bears breath in a very loud, low almost huffing/chuffing-like noise. So, if the short-faced bear was bigger, its breathing would be louder and lower than current bears. Anyway, I was sitting at the computer with a viewing angle of less than 10 degrees - could still see the picture because I have a plasma TV. While talking and looking at my wife who was sitting on the couch in front of the TV, the 550 made it seem like the expert was standing someplace in front of the TV and the short-faced bear was someplace behind the TV - a dramatic demonstration to me of the near surround sound capabilities of the 550.
The Sound of Music
So, my second test was to find out how good an external source (external in the sense that it was not from our cable service or DVD/VCR player) of music would sound. Since we do not have a dedicated system in the family room, I wanted to see if the 550 would sound satisfactory using a temporary music source - much like how we might use it for some parties or other gatherings where we want music in the family room but don't want it to take up a lot of space or require setting up a temporary stereo system. So, here were my test devices:
1. A 5 or 6 year old portable Sony Walkman CD player (battery operated)
2. A 12 year old portable Sony Walkman cassette player (also battery operated)
The advantage to both is, they can be hooked up to the 550 and then placed behind the TV on the TV stand and hardly anyone would notice them because they are so small. The disadvantage to both is, because they are the Sony sport models designed to be used while you exercise they are bright yellow (a safety feature if you use them outdoors).
As one would suspect of a cassette player of this age and build, there was a very noticeable hiss from the tape whenever there was no music. My test tape was Don McLean's Bye-Bye Miss American Pie - not the original, but one that was at least 15 years old. The sound was surprisingly good all things considered.
Since the CD player was newer, I was expecting more from it - and I was not disappointed. I tried a couple of CDs and - like bron - I will use the CD titled Inevitable by Squirrel Nut Zippers (SNZ). SNZ is a 16 year old group from North Carolina that plays a combination of swing, jazz, and alternative music. They self-describe their music as 1930s punk. There are ballads, vocal solos, and instrument solos that tend to put any speakers through its paces. The sound was clear, clean, and crisp - excellent in just about every way. You could hear the individual instruments behind the vocals and it all blended nicely. Like others who have reviewed the audio aspects of the ZVOX products, they are built as speakers first.
I also have a retro turntable to play my old records. Unfortunately, it is so retro that there are only two knobs on it - on/off/volume and turning - and no connections in or out whatsoever. So, no testing available on that baby
My wife has been hinting she might want to get an iPod - which would fit in nicely with the 550, since ZVOX Audio sells an iPod docking station that connects to some of their products, including the 550.
1. If you go to the ZVOX Audio web site at , you can read their blog that does explain their philosophy on their products. I would characterize it as build a quality product with a minimum of stuff that other components handle anyway (like your TV), at a lower price than the competition. You might not agree with it, but you at least know what it is.
2. With the ability to preview most of these soundbar products in your home for 30 days and send them back for a refund, if you are still debating which to buy, why not get two or more different units from various manufacturers and test them at the same time? My choice was easy, since I wanted a unit that the TV would sit on and have some form of "surround sound". As far as I can tell, only ZVOX makes such an animal at an affordable price. That it sounds so good is almost an added bonus without even trying!
3. It is hard to write something different than what other reviewers have (bron, feisty1, YOTR, da1writer - I'm sure there are others and if I left your name off, I apologize). What's interesting to me is just about every write-up - either here at AVSforum or in other on-line forums or sites - have praised the ZVOX for its sound and price (or sound for the price, whichever way you want to word it). Any issues seem to fall in what I would call the aesthetics category - like the remote, digital readout, controls on the unit itself, different ways to connect it to other components, and so forth. Of course, these could be the deal-breakers for some.
4. Keep the questions, comments, and posts coming on the ZVOX and other soundbars. The best way to evaluate anything is through informed discussion. Some Contrarians would actually be welcomed, since this thread seems to be turning into a ZVOX lovefest!