ZVOX 325 Sound System Page 4

Likewise, guitar plucks in a Barenaked Ladies performance of the song "Snowman" during their own holiday show were distinct and full, and the lead vocals and rich harmonies of this tune filled the room engagingly. Compared with my day-to-day system in stereo or three-channel stereo mode, the ZVOX rolled off the highs somewhat - the metallic shimmer of the drummer's brushwork lost some detail, for example. And the 325 sounded fuller in the upper bass than my regular sub/sat system, which clearly went lower and had greater dynamic impact when the song's chorus or other breaks kicked in. But the ZVOX still put some serious low-end energy into the room - its bass performance is the best I've heard from any of the single-box solutions. And I was pleasantly surprised by its midrange accuracy, the most critical chore for any sound system.

Plugging in my CD player, I cued up a few demanding music tracks to see what the ZVOX would do. A studio recording of holiday pop songs from the iconic '70s duo America reconfirmed for me the 325's strengths and weaknesses. Thanks to the system's slightly subdued highs, the sleigh bells that help open the track "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" lacked the full decay that gave them greater body on my everyday system, though again, the band's smooth, harmonious vocals were well-reproduced, and the ZVOX did a good job of delineating different instrumental lines even when playing loudly.

A fine jazz track I played, "Molten Swing" from Reference Recordings' Big Band Basie with the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, starts on a bouncy piano riff with cymbal accompaniment that gets interrupted by a blast of Clark Terry's trumpet that practically leaps from the speakers. This recording has very well-defined cymbals and delivers a very good sense of depth from just a closely spaced stereo pair. By comparison, the ZVOX had nice piano rendition with perhaps a bit less spaciousness and roundness around the notes, a bit less shimmer and metallic quality on the cymbals, and, not unexpectedly, not quite the same dynamic blast from the trumpet as my day-to-day speakers backed up by a massive power amp were able to produce. But the 325 was impressive nonetheless, delivering this track with musicality and authority. Throughout my listening, it really cranked when I asked it to and started sounding strained only when repeatedly forced to hit measured sound-level peaks of 90 dB or higher in my room. That's plenty damn loud for this kind of system and a real feat for any speaker with such tiny drivers.

Finally, I checked out a couple of movies to gauge the system's ability to throw surround sound, including the animated Tom Hanks vehicle Polar Express (no pun intended). This soundtrack is filled with thrilling surround effects as the rumbling train makes its way to the North Pole through the wind and a blinding snowstorm. Cranking up the PhaseCue control threw a wider-than-usual image up front and gave some sense of the frigid and frighteningly exposed environment atop the speeding train. But, alas, the ZVOX 325 just can't perform like a full-tilt digital surround system that steers distinct information to rear speakers and creates a full 360º sonic envelope around the listener. ZVOX does suggest you experiment with any virtual surround modes in your TV or source device to enhance the effect, though. Either way, the 325's wide soundstage, powerful output, and (for its size) impressive bass extension made for an engaging movie experience that vastly eclipsed what built-in TV speakers can provide.

BOTTOM LINE For serious enthusiasts, the ZVOX 325 makes a fine, easy-to-install option - if not the perfect solution - for a bedroom, second home, or even a dorm room or small apartment, where it can function as both an awesome TV system and a music system for a PC loaded with MP3s or iTunes. As for me, I've gotten used to having it connected to my TV for that 75% of the time I'm not doing serious movie or TV viewing and just don't want to bother turning on my surround sound system. Being able to really hear the instruments and bass in the soundtracks of shows makes for an enormous quality-of-life improvement, and once you've heard what the ZVOX can do, it will be hard to go back to even the best built-in TV speakers. While there's no replacing a full-tilt surround sound system or high-performance audio system with a single-box system, when one box is all you care to spare, the ZVOX 325 does an admirable job with both movies and music that will surely impress.

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