Editors' note: The rating of the Zvox 425 has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
Zvox makes nothing but TV speakers, and the advantages of specialization are amply evident in the newest model, the 425. At 37 inches wide, it's the biggest ever Zvox--and perfectly suited for pairing with a large, flat-screen display or rear-projection TV. Like its smaller brothers, the ultimate Zvox doesn't come loaded with useless features and gizmos and retains the company's focus on producing great-sounding single-speaker units that are easy to hook up and use. How easy is it? The "owner's manual" is a single sheet of paper! The Zvox 425 uses five 3.25-inch drivers to create an immersive, room-filling sound and two 4-inch woofers that provide enough bass that most buyers likely won't feel the need to add a separate subwoofer. The big speaker sounds equally impressive on movies and music, without a hint of the artificially processed sound we've heard from so many virtual-surround speakers. So what's not to like? The 425's focus on simplicity means it offers only three stereo-only audio inputs while it eschews digital connectivity and surround processing altogether. In other words, anyone with a more sophisticated home theater system (those with four or more AV sources) will still want an AV receiver--or a well endowed TV--to handle switching duties. The Zvox 425 retails for $700 and is available at Zvox's Web site (Zvoxaudio.com).
The Zvox 425 is about the same size as Yamaha's mammoth YSP-3000 and YSP-2000 units. Not that you'd ever confuse the various models: the more expensive Yamahas definitely have more of a high-tech sheen and offer built-in video switching capabilities not found on the more straightforward Zvox. By comparison, the Zvox 425 is a rather plain box, measuring 37 inches wide by 7.5 high and 5.5 deep. The front panel's perforated metal grille as well as volume and PhaseCue controls round out the design details (more on PhaseCue later). A small, blue LED blinks when the speaker receives commands from the remote. The speaker can be placed on a shelf above or beneath a TV--or wall-mounted with Chief Manufacturing's dedicated bracket ($60).
The small, credit-card-style remote control handles volume, mute, PhaseCue, subwoofer volume, treble, and power. We had to aim the remote directly at the speaker in order for it to work. With just nine buttons, however, programming the Zvox's functions into a good universal remote control would be a snap.
Zvox's 30.5-inch wide Model 415 ($500) is similar to the 425 but was designed for use with smaller 32- to 42-inch flat screen displays.
The Zvox 425 has a total of seven drivers: five 3.25-inch drivers are arrayed along the front, and a 4-inch subwoofer is mounted on each side cap. The front three middle drivers are center-channel speakers--and the left/right drivers work with Zvox's PhaseCue system to create a very wide stereo soundstage. The two 4-inch subwoofers produce surprisingly deep bass, and Zvox claims that because they are side-firing they minimize wall vibrations. The built-in digital amplifiers deliver 25 watts to the three center drivers, 18 watts each to the left and right speakers, and 36 watts to the two subwoofers.
The PhaseCue circuit increases stereo spread in nine steps--at its minimum setting, the sound is almost monophonic, and at its extreme upper setting the sound is stretched superwide. We preferred the sound at the 6 or 7 settings--the sound quality didn't suffer as we added PhaseCue (older Zvoxs tended to sound hollow and thin with too much PhaseCue). If you find the dialogue on some DVDs is hard to follow, just reduce PhaseCue, which will increase the relative "center-channel" volume.
On the connectivity front, the Zvox 425 is pretty minimal. The built-in amplifiers preclude the need for speaker wire from an external amp. Instead, there are just three analog audio inputs: two sets of stereo (red and white) RCA inputs on the rear panel, and a single 3.5mm input on the front for easy connections to iPods, portable CD players, and the like--anything with a headphone jack. And while it's not required, there is a subwoofer output for those who prefer the room-shaking bass of a standalone sub. The only other cable needed is the power cord.
The upside of the few inputs is that hooking up the Zvox is extremely simple and straightforward--plug in one, two, or three sets of audio cables, tweak the PhaseCue settings to your liking, and you're done. (Zvox even throws in two sets of connecting cables--one RCA, one 3.5mm). The problem for more advanced users is that it may be too simple. If you've got more than three AV sources--say, a game console in addition to a DVD player, an iPod, and a cable/satellite box--you'll want to run everything through a central switcher, such as the TV or an AV receiver, then have the line-out or monitor-out jack connected directly to the Zvox. Otherwise, you'll still need to coordinate the toggling of audio sources (on the Zvox remote) with video sources (on the TV remote) anyway--either manually or through a universal remote macro.