ZVOX 325 Sound System Page 3

I used this setup for most day-to-day viewing but discovered that it limited the system's dynamics and maximum volume somewhat. So, for more critical evaluations I directly connected the ZVOX 325 to the analog RCA audio outputs from my digital cable box or, for music or DVD playback, those of my DVD or CD player. This requires use of the ZVOX remote or the system's front-panel controls to adjust volume.

PERFORMANCE After living with the ZVOX 325 as my TV sound system for a while (and being duly impressed), I got a better fix on its sound by checking its performance against that of my day-to-day theater system, set at various times to its stereo and three-channel stereo modes (the latter activates the left, right, and center speakers, with the center reproducing left + right, just as the ZVOX does). I also compared the 325's "surround" performance on some movies to my system's full-tilt 5.1 multichannel surround mode. The speakers for this system are tiny bookshelf monitors mated with a 10-inch subwoofer, but it's a well-regarded 5.1-channel speaker kit that retailed for about $800 when it came out some years back. These were fed by audio separates (overkill, I admit), including an amp rated at 100 watts per channel. I placed the left and right speakers atop the TV, a few inches to either side of the 325, and the compact center speaker went right on top of it. So it wasn't a question in my mind of which would perform better, but just how much compromise the ZVOX would entail.

Because this testing took place during the holidays, I watched a lot of college football (go Scarlet Knights!) and committed several excellent high-def holiday concerts to my DVR. On sports the ZVOX 325 generally sounded great, providing excellent dynamics for the crowd outbursts that marked big plays and substantial volume and authority to fill my 15 x 20-foot den. The PhaseCue control proved effective for bringing out the crowd noise and widening the soundstage to create a more engaging experience than my regular TV speakers provide, though turning it up too much tended to make the commentators' voices sound reverberant, hollow, and indistinct. I experimented with this control but rarely found myself setting it much higher than its 9 or 10 o'clock position. The same was true on music and concert tracks, where I preferred only a modest touch of PhaseCue to help widen the stereo image, lest it begin to affect the accuracy and intelligibility of vocals.

Concert videos were a lovely listen on the 325. The piano in a Suzy Bogguss performance at Garrison Keillor's New Year's Eve concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium came through with natural attack and decay, and the fiddle accompaniment sounded sweet and free of stridency. String bass came across a touch boomy even after I played with the subwoofer level control, suggesting that ZVOX may have designed in a little bump in the upper bass to give the impression of deeper response, but while experimenting I noticed this was exacerbated somewhat by my TV's corner placement. Either way, the bump added a touch of fullness to most program material that was usually welcome and not objectionable. Audience applause and a bit of the Ryman hall acoustic came through nicely thanks to that judicious application of the PhaseCue control.