The Zvox 315 "sound console" is a one-box speaker system designed to hook up directly to your TV, PC, iPod, or MP3 player. You don't need a receiver, because the 315 is empowered with three 3.5-inch high-quality speakers and amplifiers, plus a built-in powered 5.25-inch subwoofer. It's available from Zvox's Web site for $199.
The Zvox 315 is 17 inches wide and 4.5 inches high, but its 14-inch depth is considerably larger than that of the average full-size center-channel home-theater speaker. In fact, its dimensions are more in line with those of a standard A/V component, such as a DVD player or a digital cable tuner. We placed the 315 on a shelf under our TV, but you could place a small TV or computer monitor directly on top of the 315. The suedelike dark gray finish adds a touch of class to the solidly constructed design; it's also available in silver.
The rear panel houses two minijack inputs, volume and subwoofer level controls, a Phase Cue knob that controls the spread of the stereo soundstage, and a master power switch. Don't worry, you don't need to reach back there to turn the 315 on or off--it automatically comes to life whenever it senses a signal and shuts itself off after three minutes when no signal is detected.
The 315 is designed to hook up to the variable output or headphone jack on your TV--or any audio source, for that matter (PC, radio, CD player, iPod, or MP3 player). It will also work with line-out audio connections, but then you'll need to use the 315's rear-mounted volume knob--rather than the source device--to control the sound level. Whichever connection route you choose, all of the necessary cables are included, so you won't have to raid the local RadioShack to get started.
We watched the film noir-ish thriller Angel Heart on DVD and enjoyed the 315's wonderfully full-bodied sound. It didn't take very long to realize the 315 was far ahead of competitors such as the Soundmatters Mainstage all-in-one speaker ($299). The DVD's ominous atmospheres were well served by the 315's room-filling bass; it sounds like a much larger set of speakers. Adjusting its Phase Cue knob spreads the faux surround sound forward and out, so we weren't aware of the speakers' close left to right proximity. Stereo imaging doesn't overtly betray its trim dimensions, and it surely sounds richer and more substantial than Bose's iPod-only SoundDock while listening to music. That said, CDs weren't quite as satisfying as DVDs, because the sound was more boomboxlike, but it was still quite respectable.
Zvox also makes a smaller single-speaker unit called the Zvox Mini. Both models retail for the identical $199 price tag, but the Mini's smaller dimensions make it a worthwhile option if you're looking for pressed for space or need a transportable speaker. We didn't have both Zvox models on hand concurrently for a direct comparison, but it's safe to say the 315's larger speaker will play louder and produce substantially more bass. That said, if you want a downsized version of the 315 that still packs a sonic punch, the Mini is no slouch, and it includes the added convenience of a remote control and front-panel control knobs for easier adjustment of the volume and surround effect.
We're not about to tell you the 315 sounds like a top-rated HTIB, but it's a whole lot smaller and much easier to set up and use. As one-box solutions go, the Zvox 315 is the go-to budget champ.