Sound bar speakers vastly simplify home theater setup and installation, but their sound quality always falls short of bona fide 5.1-channel speaker-subwoofer-based systems. The single-box Zvox Z-Base575 get closer to that ideal than most.
The problem with sound bars is they're too small. Even pricey bars like Yamaha's YSP-3050 ($1,199 MSRP) can't generate full-blown home theater impact. And it's a bit bigger than average (31.5 inches wide by 6.1 inches high by 6 inches deep), but films like "Mission: Impossible III" sound tepid over the YSP-3050. The film's explosive effects lack the excitement you'd get from a 5.1 system. Yamaha's technology is amazing, but it can't produce high-impact sound from skinny cabinets. I'm not singling out Yamaha here; Denon, Marantz, Polk, Samsung, and Sony sound bars all--to varying degrees--squash dynamic range of movies.
Stepping up to the YSP-4000 ($1,600 MSRP) won't make that big a difference; in my CNET review I noted that it stumbled with big special effect-driven flicks like "Mission: Impossible III." The explosions fell flat, the bass was rumbly, and the Yamaha couldn't play loud at all. Hooking up an Acoustic Research HT60 subwoofer to add extra muscle helped a little, but the YSP-4000 still lacked punch.
Part of the problem is that almost all sound bar speakers are too small. Zvox's Z-Base575 is big and very, very deep. How deep is it? Sixteen inches! So unlike other surround bar speaker systems that can either be wall-mounted or set on a shelf, the Z-Base575 was designed to be used as a base under your TV. Don't worry, the sturdy medium-density fiberboard cabinet can support heavyweight displays.
The Z-Base575 definitely sounds bigger and more powerful than any self-powered sound bar speaker I've tested without a subwoofer. Zvox doesn't pretend the bass is the result of some exclusive technology; no, it's supplied by two 6.5-inch woofers, in a larger cabinet than any sound bar I've tested. No other sound bar has woofers as large.
Zvox doesn't claim the Z-Base575 is a "surround bar," but its Phase Cue feature can generate very wide stereo imaging. Better yet, Phase Cue is adjustable over a nine-step range. The Z-Base575 produced a much larger, wall-to-wall soundfield than Atlantic Technology's seven-channel FS-7.0 sound bar speaker.
The Z-Base575 was easily the most dynamic sound bar I've tested sans subwoofer. Not only that, its bass quality and power are at least on par with most self-powered sound bars that come with subs!
I've just heard from Zvox that the Z-Base575's price has been reduced, from $799 to $699. The smaller, but not too small, Z-Base525 speaker's price has also been cut: it's $349, down from $399. It's also pretty incredible and dynamic; check out its full review and stay tuned for a full review of the Z-Base 575.