Week 15, 2016: ZVOX SB400 and SB500 soundbars, Monoprice hybrid tube amp


Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 15, 2016

Q. I planned on purchasing a ZVOX SoundBase 570 to complement my new wall-mounted OLED TV. I see ZVOX has some new sound bars, the SB400 and SB500. The less obtrusive, wall-mounted sound bar be much preferred aesthetically if the sound quality holds up. Will you be reviewing these soon to compare to the SoundBase design that has had such positive reviews everywhere?

-Brad Burquest, Eden Prairie, MN

A. Thank you for this question, which will help me get my CES report done a little bit sooner. I saw the new sound bars at CES under a non-disclosure agreement and since then have been able to review production models.

The new ZVOX Sound Bars ($499 SB400, $599 SB500) were designed to provide strong bass without an external subwoofer. An extremely rigid aluminum enclosure is used, along with premium-quality drivers a step up from those used in prior ZVOX products. They can be wall-mounted or placed on a shelf or table.

The soundbars set up as easily as other ZVOX products and have Bluetooth for use with portable devices. I was extremely impressed from the moment they first came on. The sound is akin to a premium quality center channel speaker and small subwoofer driven by a separate receiver. It is rich, clean, full and dynamic and matched perfectly to the source, be it television shows, movies, or music of all kinds. I was especially pleased with jazz music and the way instruments were reproduced.

I have one word for the vocal reproduction: WOW. If you are having trouble understanding the dialogue on your television and are tired of half-measure solutions that ultimately fall short, this is the weapon of mass destruction that will definitely obliterate the problem once and for all. When I was listening to cable news shows it sounded like the anchors and guests were in the room with me. Even a room away I could hear and understand them with absolute clarity, and there was no distortion or artificial heaviness though the sound was phenomenally solid. I did not even need to turn on the AccuVoice feature for this and found surround setting 2 perfect for all program material.

Some of the previous SoundBase models may create a somewhat more immersive surround experience, due to more aggressive signal processing. That isn’t necessarily a negative since the aggressive processing can also change the character of the sound. I definitely preferred the very natural sound of the new sound bars and am willing to give up a bit of spaciousness to get it.

To sum it up, the leap forward in sound quality alone is worth the extra $200 (and then some) and you get the form factor you want along with world-class vocal reproduction. The new soundbars take ZVOX into new territory in terms of sound and performance, and given an unpowered home theater center speaker of this size and quality easily costs this much or more, they are a fine value as well. I think even the smaller SB400 would be enough for almost everyone, unless the room is very large.



Consumer Electronics Show report, continued: Monoprice displayed a 25-watt stereo hybrid integrated tube amplifier (tube preamp/solid state amp) with Bluetooth for $149 at the electronics show. I’ve since tested one and it is great-sounding little amp with incredible visual appeal. It has Bluetooth and one RCA input for a turntable or CD player and makes a wonderful keystone to a compact system with great sound and looks.

Monoprice vacuum tube hybrid amplifier