ZVOX IncrediBase 580 Surround Sound System Review

Combining great sound with a place to set your TV on

ZVOX Z-Base 580 - Photo
ZVOX Z-Base 580 - Photo. Photo courtesy of ZVOX Audio

The ZVOX Audio IncrediBase 580 Single Cabinet Surround Sound System is a sound bar product that provides consumers with an alternative to listening to cheap built-in TV speakers, without the hassle of setting up and using a multi-speaker home theater system. The ZVOX IncrediBase 580 is an easy-to-use system that delivers great sound for both movies and music. Although the ZVOX 580 is larger than most sound bars, there is a practical reason, you can also use it as a platform to set your TV on. 

Product Overview

The features of the ZVOX IncrediBase 580 include:

General Description: Compact one-piece surround system - (36-inches Wide x 16.5-inches Deep x 5-inches High).

Speakers: Five 3.25 mid-range/tweeters (bi-amplified) and two down-firing 6.5-inch Subwoofers boosted by a rear port.

Frequency Response: 34Hz - 20Khz.

Amplifier Power: 120 Total Watts.

Audio Processing: Proprietary PhaseCue II virtual surround sound processing. PhaseCue and Infinite Compliance technologies provide a virtual surround soundfield. The degree of surround is user adjustable.

Rear inputs: (2) analog stereo inputs, (1) digital optical (Toslink) input, (1) coaxial digital input.

Front input: (1) 3.5mm stereo front panel input.

Device Compatibility: iPods, PCs, satellite radios, portable CD players, game consoles, and DVD or Blu-ray players (when using stereo analog or digital optical/coaxial audio connection option).

Output: A subwoofer output jack on the rear allows owners to connect a separate external powered subwoofer (optional).

Included Accessories: Wireless remote control, 2-meter RCA analog stereo cable, user manual, Quick Setup Guide, and detachable power cord.

Product Weight: 33 pounds.

Warranty: The ZVOX 580 is backed by a one-year limited parts and labor warranty.

The ZVOX 580 can also serve as a platform for TVs with stands up to 35-inches wide, 15-inches deep, and weighing 160 pounds or less.

The price for the ZVOX IncrediBase 580 is listed at $599.99 - Compare Prices.

Setting up the ZVOX 580

All you have to do to get going with the ZVOX IncrediBase 580 is unbox it, plug in the power, connect one or more audio sources, set your TV on top of it, and then turn it on.

The ZVOX IncrediBase 580 has several audio input options, including three sets of analog stereo inputs (including a convenient 3.5mm front input option) as well as both digital optical and digital coaxial audio inputs. However, it must be noted that the digital audio inputs, although compatible with Dolby Digital and 2-channel PCM audio signals, they are not compatible with DTS signals. This means that if you have a DVD that only has DTS soundtracks you are out of luck. However, since most DVDs also have Dolby Digital soundtracks, just select that option in the DVD menu and you should be fine, or you can use the DVD (or Blu-ray Disc) player's analog audio outputs.

The way ZVOX's surround system works is that all compatible incoming audio signals are processed by its PhaseCue technology (incoming Dolby Digital signals are first decoded before PhaseCue processing is employed) which produces a user selectable "virtual surround sound" image from speakers enclosed in a single cabinet, rather than placing separate speakers around the room for each channel.

There are minimal controls provided on the front panel of the ZVOX IncrediBase 580 (Power, Volume, Input Select). Power, Volume, and Input Select are also found on the remote control, but there additional audio adjustment controls that are found on the remote control, so don't lose it! When using the remote control functions, the settings will be displayed on the ZVOX 580's front panel LED display.

The additional audio adjustment controls not accessible via the front panel, but provided on the remote control include:

Bass and Treble: Displayed as Lo or HI, setting range from -4 to 4.

Surround Setting: This allows users to customize the amount of the Virtual Surround Sound effect to be engaged. The available settings are Sd 1 (minimal surround), Sd 2 (moderate surround), and Sd 3 (maximum available surround effect).

Output Leveling: This setting provides a way to compensate for excessive variations in volume (such as loud commercials, or loud explosions and sound effects overwhelming dialog). If Output Leveling is active, you will see "OL" displayed on front panel LED display.

Dialog Emphasis: This setting helps to bring out the audio frequencies associated with dialogue. When you active this setting a dE will show on the 580's LED display. However, when Dialog Emphasis is active, it overrides both the Surround and Output Leveling settings. When deactivated, the previous Surround and Output Leveling settings are restored.

Hardware Used for Sources and Comparison

Home Theater Receiver (used with comparison speaker system): Onkyo TX-SR705.

Loudspeaker/Subwoofer System Used for Comparison: Klipsch Quintet III in combination with Polk PSW10 Subwoofer.

Source Components: OPPO BDP-93 used to play Blu-ray, DVD, CD, and streaming movie content, OPPO DV-980HD Upscaling DVD player, and a Samsung DTB-H260F HDTV Tuner.

Software Used

Blu-ray Discs: Across The Universe, Avatar, Battle: Los Angeles, Hairspray, Inception, Iron Man 1&2, Megamind, Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Shakira - Oral Fixation Tour, Sherlock Holmes, The Expendables, The Dark Knight, The Incredibles, and Tron: Legacy.

Standard DVDs used included scenes from the following: Hero, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Moulin Rouge, and U571.

Streaming Movie Content: Netflix - Toy Story 3

CDs: Al Stewart - Sparks of Ancient Light, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.

Audio Performance - Surround Sound

Now that you know the basics of the ZVOX 580, how does it actually sound? Here is the good part: I found that the ZVOX IncrediBase 580 delivers great sound and was easily powerful enough for a small or medium size living room. Testing audio soundtracks from DVDs, the highs were not overly harsh, the mid-range was distinctive, and the bass response was deep, but not overly boomy.

The 580 provided a wide front soundstage that goes well beyond the physical borders of the "box", but as the soundfield stretches out farther to the sides and then to the rear, directional accuracy was not as good as a true 5.1 channel system would be able to produce.

This was evident when comparing the 580's performance on the "Echo Game" scene in House of the Flying Daggers, in which dried beans are bouncing off drums located in specific spots in a large room, with comparison to the Onkyo home theater receiver/ Klispch speaker combination.

On the other hand, less directional, but immersive sound, such as the brief opening thunder and lightning scene in Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief were reproduced just fine using the 580.

Also, on the more positive side of this issue, I found that the PhaseCue processing seemed to do a better job with regards to surround sound accuracy when presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 input source through the digital audio inputs, than when processing a two channel source via provided by the analog stereo inputs. This would make sense, as the Dolby Digital signal already has the properly embedded surround sound cues, whereas the ZVOX's PhaseCue processing has to do more "guessing" with regards to surround sound placement when faced with a two-channel source.

Audio Performance - Subwoofers

I found that the twin 6.5" subwoofers provide very good low-frequency response. In fact, compared to other sound bar products, the ZVOX 580 provides excellent bass response without the need for an external sub. However, if you have a large room and feel that you need more "oomph", ZVOX has also taken that situation into consideration by incorporating a subwoofer preamp output for those that wish to connect a larger external powered subwoofer to the 580.

Audio Performance - Music

In addition to providing a good overall DVD listening experience, the ZVOX also does very well with music CDs, with full frequency range and depth. Vocals stand out very well, using examples from distinctive vocalists, such Norah Jones, Al Stewart, Sade, and Dave Matthews. In some instances, the maximum surround adjustment produces a slight hint of "reverb" effect on vocals, but this can be easily remedied to your own preference by decreasing the surround setting. On the other hand, movies sound best with the maximum surround setting.

Additional Observations

Additional observations about the ZVOX 580 are that although the 580 is compatible with analog, 2-channel PCM, and standard Dolby Digital input signals, it would be nice to have included DTS signal input compatibility.

Also, another addition that would have been nice to see would be to incorporate HDMI inputs and a pass-through HDMI output so as to access Dolby TrueHDDTS-Master Audio from Blu-ray Disc players and reduce the number of connections needed between a Blu-ray Disc player, TV, and the ZVOX 580.

Final Take

Recapping my impressions, here is what I liked about the ZVOX IncrediBase 580:

1. Great sound - good midrange and highs, built-in subwoofers provide very good bass response. Infinite Compliance system produces big sound and clear dialog for movies and solid vocal presence for music.

I found that the vocal and dialog presence was so good that I never felt the need to employ the Dialog Emphasis (dE) setting. In fact, when I tried it, it seemed to unnecessarily over-emphasize vocals and the dialog channel at the cost of losing a lot of the left/right and surround portions of the soundtracks or musical instruments. This is in contrast to many sound bars and packaged systems that don't emphasize dialog and vocals enough without boosting the center channel volume levels.

2. PhaseCue technology provides wide audio front stage. Moving to the sides and rear the surround effect weakens and is less precise, but considering it all comes from one box, the 580 provides a pleasing immersive sound.

3. Simple one-piece design that can also double as TV platform. However, make sure that the TV or TV's stand 35-inches wide, 15-inches deep or less, and has a total weight of 160 pounds or less.

4. Sturdy MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) construction.

5. Easy to set up and use - Very easy to follow color-photo illustrated quick start and user guides.

6. Wireless remote control makes operation easy, with one exception (see below).

Although there are a lot of things I liked about ZVOX IncrediBase 580, here are some things that I didn't like or felt needed improvement:

1. Sound immersion is good from the front slightly to the sides, but precise directional surround cues not as precise as multi-speaker system, especially for rear-tending surround effects.

2. The digital audio inputs are not DTS compatible.

3. I would have preferred continuous base, treble, and surround setting options, rather than step presets.

4. Remote control is not backlit - making it harder to use in darkened room.

Although, not a direct replacement for the full-on capabilities of a multi-speaker home theater audio system, the ZVOX IncrediBase 580 is definitely one of the better options for a basic easy-to-use a no-frills surround system that can enhance your TV viewing, as well as providing a great way to listen to CDs and other music sources; it sounds great with movies or music. Also, with its fiberboard construction, the 580 also has more solid build quality than most other sound bars.

If you are looking for a no-frills, but practical, way to get better sound out of your TV, or listen to music, without the hassle of hooking up a lot of speakers, the ZVOX IncrediBase 580 is a great value - definitely worth consideration.

Compare Prices