ZVOX 425 Review NotesSummary
: The ZVOX 425 is the flagship of their line and a step up from the 415. It is physically larger and more powerful (133 watts), twice the power of the 415 in fact. The 425 is expensive ($699.99 but currently on sale for $599.99), but it is also an outstanding performer and very impressive overall. It comes with a two year warranty and a 30-day "home audition" policy. If you can afford it, the ZVOX 425 is an awesome unit worthy of its perch at the the top of the ZVOX line.Review
: The 425 is significantly larger than the 415, about 6 inches wider and an inch plus taller. It was just enough bigger to give me a few problems getting it set up. I had to place it to the side of my CRT HDTV for this review (I did the same with the 415 without any problems). After some re-cabling and moving of other components, I was able to get everything squared away. But here, right at the outset I ran into my one peeve about the 425 -- the location of the inputs, but more on that in a moment.
The 425 has the same excellent build quality as the other ZVOX units. It has a nice solid black cabinet with a black metal grill covering the speaker ports. I find both the 415 and the 425 very attractive designs, they look like pro grade equipment. The 425 bests the 415 in that it has physical buttons on the front for power, volume, and PhaseCue control. The IR sensor is located in this same bottom, center area which seemed to improve its response to remote control commands vs. the 415. The power button also functions as the power status indicator in a similar fashion as the LED indicator light on the 415, but with a bit nicer presentation in my opinion. There is also a standard 3.5mm audio-in jack on the front that functions like that on the 325. Plug something in and the rear inputs are silenced. You can hook up CD players, MP3 players, or any other audio device you like and it works very well. I find having a front input quite convenient, but others may not care at all. All in all, I really like the looks of both the 415 and 425 units. They have an elegant styling, simple, functional and no nonsense. Again, a pro gear ambiance in my view.
The 425 has three 3.25" center channel speakers clustered in the center with two more 3.25 PhaseCue drivers front-facing at the far ends (L&R) and two more 4" woofers/sub-woofers which are side-firing and located at each end of the cabinet. Both of the 4" sub-woofers are ported in fairly standard fashion at the bottom. On the back of the 425 in the center and bottom, is a cut away housing a master power switch, the power cable connection, the S.A.N.E. control, and the audio inputs and outputs. There are two std. RCA type audio input pairs and one output pair for an optional external powered sub-woofer. And here lies my one gripe with the 425's design.
Although the 425 has rubber feet and can be mounted on a flat surface, it was clearly designed to be wall mounted, as the cut away area makes things a bit difficult when mounted flat (e.g. shelf). When mounted on a flat surface, there is not enough room for a std. RCA style plug. ZVOX provides one right-angle audio cable, but, really, how many of you out there have right-angled audio cables laying around? Need a longer cable than the one ZVOX provides? Good luck! Also, the jacks are spaced very close together and right-angle plugs are much more difficult to fit into the space available. Add to this the right-angle power cable which gets in the way and you have a less than convenient situation for those using the surface mount setup. If you wall mount it, no problem, you can use standard cables and be happy. Of course, this is a minor nit as usually you'll only have to set it up infrequently, but it did give me some problems.
This also makes accessing the master power switch and the S.A.N.E. control almost impossible in the surface mount configuration. The master power switch is not such a big deal as you'll normally use the front power button or remote and this switch can just stay always on in normal use. (I use UPS's on all my equipment anyway, so I can always switch it off there in an emergency, for vacation, and so on.) But the S.A.N.E. control is a bit more of a problem. This control is essentially an audio compressor designed to suppress loud transient sounds during evening viewing (so you won't wake up the whole house). It has a rotary control that clicks off-on and then increases the effect as you turn it clockwise. But it is essentially recessed on the back bottom of the unit which makes it practically impossible to use. I'm sure most people will just turn it off and forget it, which is a shame. In the wall mount configuration it would be much easier to get to, though still not terribly convenient. I'm sure there was some engineering reason to put it on the back, but it would have been much better located on the front control panel. Although all the other controls are replicated on the remote, S.A.N.E. is not. Because of this, I did not bother much with the S.A.N.E. feature for this review.
If you have read my reviews of the other ZVOX units, especially the 325 and 415, then you know what to expect. With the 425 it's more of the same excellent, accurate, crisp, clear audio. Excellent dynamic range, great sound across the frequency spectrum, and overall top notch sound. Music sounds awesome as with the others. DVD's have a great "theatre" sound. The PhaseCue works as described. So I will try to concentrate here on what differentiates the 425 from the 415 (and other units). (It seems to me that choosing between the 415 and 425 is where most people will be focused.) So, please, if you have skipped right to this 425 review, please take a moment to read my take on the 415 and 325, as much of what I say there will also apply to the 425.
First, a quick comment about having the front control panel. In my opinion, this is a very nice feature to have. As I have mentioned before, I find the PhaseCue easier to adjust, sometimes, with the physical controls. It's not a huge deal, but it is a nice plus for the 425, These controls also are fairly inconspicuous and look nice, in my opinion. I don't feel they detract from the appearance at all. ZVOX does also offer the 425 in an "xs" version without the front control panel and input if you prefer that (same price). I also like having a physical power button. The sub-woofer level and treble controls are only on the remote on both models. The remote for the 415 and 425 appear to be identical, by the way. I found 22 possible volume settings plus mute and 9 PhaseCue settings, I believe the sub and treble were 9 as well. The 425 uses the same "power indicator blinks when command received. does not blink when you reach min/max setting" method as the 415. One flaw with this method, is that if you are pressing say up volume or PhaseCue on the remote and the IR command is not received by the unit, the power indicator does not blink (of course) and this might fool you into thinking you have reached the max setting. This has happened to me a few times. Another reason I like the control buttons on the unit, as it is easier to set a certain known level. Of course, some kind of numeric level indicator would be better, as mentioned in my earlier review of the 415. But I'm getting used to it and it doesn't really bother me any more.
One thing I noticed right away with the 425 is that the center channel is stronger. Dialog never got "lost" -- even with PhaseCue turned to max. Overall this seemed to give the 425 a nicer balance and made it easier to adjust for good sound. You still need to back off the PhaseCue to maintain a proper balance between the main sounds and the background and "spatial" sound effects, but it makes it a little less critical. In general, I found the 425 sounded good over a wider range of settings. This means as you change sources, less tweaking may be needed. I need more listening time to be sure, but this certainly has been the case so far in my listening. I still find the PhaseCue setting best at a relatively low 2 or 3 level for the majority of things. But with some DVD's and action titles, you can crank it up more. And there is the occasional music piece that "likes" more PhaseCue as well. This stronger center channel does seem to help some sources a bit, giving a better balance and sound while still allowing use of PhaseCue to widen the soundstage. I'm really curious as to whether ZVOX made a conscious effort to achieve this, as it will make the 425 easier to use for many people. However, the overall soundstage effect was about the same to me. In other words, the 415 does just as good a job as the 425 in spreading the sound image via the PhaseCue effect.
(The stronger center channel does make the 425 a bit more "centered" than the 415 - that is, it's seemed a bit more directional, more apparent that the sound is coming from the 425 to me. As mentioned, I had to setup the 425 beside my HDTV, not below and in front. But I used the 415 in this same location and to my surprise found I could live with it there fairly well, only occasionally perceiving it as off center. I think with the 425, locating it properly is more critical. But most people will locate either properly, so not an issue, just mentioning ti because it's in my notes, really.)
The big difference between the 415 and 425 lies in the overall power and bass response. The 415 is no slouch and has great bass, but the 425 has a more powerful low-end and goes down to 35 Hz - as good as many sub-woofers. The ported, side-firing 4" drivers seem to work well and many (most?) will be able to live quite happily without an external sub. The 425 has twice the power of the 415. This manifests itself audibly in two significant ways. First, the maximum volume level of the 425 is obviously much greater than the 415. But also, at lower volume levels the 425 has more power available for transient bursts of sound and low end thumps and that sort of thing. So even at lower listening levels you benefit from those extra watts. Again, the 415 holds up well and I have enjoyed the 415 without any complaints for months now, but the 425 has a noticeably more powerful sound (as well it should). That said, I actually find the low end on the 425 a bit boomy sometimes and have to turn it down. By the same token, if you want that thunder-bass for your movies, then crank up the sub-levels and you'll get it. Overall, the 425 has a great sound - the best of the lot for Home Theatre uses. The others hold their own for music and won't disappoint either (as my other reviews would indicate). That extra power pays off in Home Theatre, though.
It's much easier to hit painful volume levels with the 425 - whether that's a plus or not, I leave to you to decide. The 325 and 415 are plenty loud. But for very large rooms, or if you just want that windows rattling "11" on your amp, then the 425 has you covered. With the source input level properly adjusted and at less than ear-bleed volume levels I did not notice any distortion. As with all the ZVOX models, the sound is pure and clean. Audiophiles will love the ZVOX line, I think, During my tests, I had a few of those "Ah, back to the 'way too loud' days of my youth" experiences listening to music and DVD's that brought a smile to my lips. (And made my ears ring!) You know who you are if this made you grin.
The "mix" is great on the 425. All sounds clear and well distributed -- so you can hear the motorcycle rumble, and the click of a gear change, background music and dialog all very distinctly. As mentioned earlier, the dialog is absolutely superb. This is a big strength of all the ZVOX units and none more so than the 425.
So - music, DVD's - all sound superb - as with the rest of the ZVOX line. That's a given. Again, if you love live music, you will love the 425 (or any ZVOX). This outing I tried some old Rare Earth, Chuck Mangione, and others and was not disappointed. In fact, here again, that strong, balanced sound of the 425 paid dividends. The 425 is expensive, but you can hear where your money went! I took Terminator 2 out for another spin and got great sound as with the 325 and 415. Again, great volume at moderate levels and plenty of head room left. Dialog outstanding. Music track great, even better explosions and low-end effects than 415. I think the 425 has more punch with sudden transient sounds than the 415. The bigger cabinet (more volume), extra watts, and dual subs are a plus for the 425. To me, the 425 felt like a bigger, more powerful 415 and with a few refinements to the control and smoothness of the PhaseCue effect over it's range.
So. The verdict? A winner, of course. If you can afford it, the ZVOX 425 is an impressive unit worthy of its perch at the the top of the ZVOX line.
If anyone has any specific questions, feel free and I will do my best to answer them. I'll also come back and post updates as I continue to use the 425 if I notice anything else significant.
[ This review has been written on-the-fly from my notes, so please forgive any repetition or other signs of poor editing - I basically have not edited it. I wanted to get something up as quickly as possible. Maybe I'll come back and edit later.