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June 16, 2014 • Reviews

ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420 Offers Huge Sound for an Amazingly Low Price

The biggest challenge with televisions these days, at least in most cases, is the lousy sound they offer. A huge television with a beautiful big screen and smart functionality may be great, but if the speakers stink watching it won’t be enjoyable. The ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420 fixes that for surprisingly little money, and it’s simple to set up.
I have the capacity for a very nice surround sound system here in my house. It consists of a Sonos PlayBar, a Sonos SUB, and two Sonos Play:3 speakers. The result is huge sound that will impress just about anyone. The issue with the setup is a few-fold. First, although it has the ease of being wireless, it has the complexity that comes with the fact that there are four different components to the system. That requires a fair amount of space and some finagling to get everything working properly. The second is the fact that it simply a pricey option. Putting those four components together, if we were to purchase it right now, it would cost something in the neighborhood of $2000.

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The ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420 addresses both of those issues and will have you up and running in about 30 seconds. This speaker system, which is designed for televisions between 32 and 50 inches has an MSRP of under $250. And it is a single component that offers huge benefits.

ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420

Before I tried it out with my television, I decided to see how it worked as a standalone speaker. I plugged the unit into a 110 outlet and I connected a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable to the auxiliary in report in the lower right-hand side of the speaker system. I then plugged my iPod touch into it, and turned on the system using the included remote. Once I moved to the proper input the sound began to flow, and I have to say it was quite good.

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The speaker gets exceptionally loud, and it offers a number of key audio adjustments that had me tweaking the music just enough for my taste. After playing around for five minutes or so, I found the right balance and came to the conclusion that this is worthwhile even if you don’t use it with a television. The clean lines and simple use make it an excellent option – particularly at this price point.

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The SOUNDBASE is just 3.5 inches high, 27 9/16 inches wide and 14.5 inches deep. It weighs just 14 pounds, which means it can easily be moved from one location to another. It can be used as the base to your television, or if the television is hung on the wall it can sit just below it on a flat surface. As the company points out, “there are no external speakers, subwoofers or speaker wires! Most people won’t notice it until you turn it on.” That is absolutely the case. The clean lines and black MDF cabinet – yes this is made of MDF not plastic – are unassuming yet house some excellent components. Add in the fact that the display is hidden behind the grill and only shines through when you are actively using it and you have something that will fade into the background until you want to fill your room with sound.

Key benefits to the ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420:
  • Sound bar home theater fits under your TV
  • Perfect for most TVs 32 to 50 inches
  • Surround-sound without multiple speakers and wires
  • No external subwoofer – everything’s built in
  • Super clear vocals
  • Loud commercial control technology
  • Front panel portable device connectivity
  • Works with most remotes

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Rundown of inputs:

  • Two analog audio inputs
  • One optical digital input
  • One coaxial digital input
  • 13.5 mm analog stereo input on the front

The ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420 has 5 2″ main speaker drivers and a 5.25 inch subwoofer. In addition it is “bi-amplified, using a specially designed amplifier that includes electronic contouring for superb frequency response”. They describe the virtual surround sound offered by the system in this way:

The 420 uses ZVOX’s proprietary PhaseCue II virtual surround sound processing. PhaseCue II, as its name implies, manipulates the phase of the separate channels to “fool the ear” into believing that sound is coming from a variety of sources throughout the room. The benefits of PhaseCue II vary greatly based on program material. Live music and well-recorded modern movie soundtracks will deliver rich, three-dimensional sound – pulling the sound out from the speakers and into the room, literally surrounding the listener. Note: All virtual surround systems – including the PhaseCue II system – are limited in their effects when compared to a good 5.1 system. And sitcoms, news broadcasts and soundtracks from older movies often have very little in the way of three-dimensional sound. That being said, PhaseCue II is capable of generating a wonderful and engaging virtual surround experience.

One of the things that made me respect this company even more is the statement that “all virtual sound systems including this one are limited in their effects when compared to good 5.1 systems”. When a company doesn’t pretend to be something they’re not, but they simply and clearly state “this is who we are and what we offer”, I can’t help but be impressed.

Some key features that impressed me even more…

  • Sponsors love to blast us out of our seats during commercial breaks. Thanks to the output leveling feature, the V420 keeps commercials on a short leash so you can just relax.
  • The display on the V420 lights up from behind the front cloth grille then disappears when not in use.
  • The V420 learns the commands of your TV remote, giving you one less clicker to keep track of. Signal-sensing circuitry powers the system on and off along with your TV.
  • The Dialog Emphasis feature uses hearing aid technology to make voices unbelievably clear.
  • The Output Leveling feature reacts instantly and turns them down to a lower level. You’ll love it.

I’m especially fond of the sound leveling feature! There is one “feature” I found a bit silly, however. On the product page they state that the system, is “Bluetooth ready”. That means if you have a Bluetooth adapter you can plug it into the 3.5mm port and stream over BT. THAT, however, is true of EVERY system with a 3.5mm AuxIn port (it is WHY Bluetooth adapters exist) so the “features” is a bit misleading and insulting.

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My experience using the ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420

As I previously noted, I initially plugged it in and used it with audio. It sounded very, very good. It certainly doesn’t offer the kind of separation you would get with a full component system, but I really had nothing to complain about. I then connected a small Samsung television and Apple TV to the system, and I used the 2m optical digital connecting cable that was included in the box to connect the television to the system.

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I turned on the Apple TV and began streaming a number of songs to it. The sound was very, very good and it got better as I used controls on the remote to tweak the sound. I really had nothing to complain about, and it got exceptionally loud!

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The next test was to watch a movie and see how the dialogue was when using the system. I started streaming the film Wolverine, and I was blown away by how good the audio was coming from the system. The dialogue was crisp and clean, and it made a far more enjoyable viewing experience than I would otherwise have had.

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I then wanted to see how it looked and worked with a much larger television, so I connected a 46″ Sony smart television to it. Playing the same movie clip, I finally had audio that matched the size and the quality of the image on the screen. I was and I am impressed. I then remembered that this system has an MSRP of under $250, and noted that it is even less if you buy it on sale. At that point I was simply blown away.

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My bottom line is this – if you have the money, want the best sound, and are willing to spend time effort and have the headache of setting up a component system — go with the component system. For example, I’m not going to suggest that this system sounds as good as my $2000 Sonos surround sound system. But, since it’s available through some retailers for under $200, the Sonos approach is 10 times the price of this. (That doesn’t come close to the mark Levinson system that we heard at CES 2014 which is well into six figures!) If, on the other hand, you want sound that will be excellent, and you want simplicity, and you want to spend as little as possible — go with this system or one of the other offerings from the company. You won’t be disappointed, and every time you turn it on your remember what a bargain you got. You can learn more here, and you can order yours for as little as $199 through our Amazon Affiliate Store here.

MSRP: $249.95

What I Like: Amazingly low price; Easy to set up; Unassuming design; Multiple inputs; Good sound with some great features that are truly useful

What Needs Improvement: Honestly nothing other than the silly “Bluetooth ready” thing

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample of the ZVOX SOUNDBASE.420

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