ZVOX Mini Single-Cabinet Audio System
SRP: $199.99 (direct sales)
PhaseCue virtual surround
level controls for main audio, surround & woofer level
simple remote control
powered by wall wart unit
in silver, black or white
Dimensions: 13″ x 10″ x 3.3″
59 Thomas Road
Swampscott, MA 01907
One of the many iPod speaker systems which are riding on the coattails of that phenomenon, the ZVOX has a number of features which put it into a somewhat different category. First, it has a really effective virtual surround technology, whereas even some of the top-end iPod speakers simply sound like mono due to their speakers being close together in the same cabinet. It doesn’t have the iPod dock or charging ability, but it can be used with almost any sound source that can deliver a stereo signal into a cable ending in a stereo miniplug to plug into the rear of the ZVOX. It has more extended deep bass than most of the competition (though I can’t honestly bring myself to call it a subwoofer), and if that’s not enough you can add a real subwoofer to it. It is shaped to look great on top of or under a 27-inch or so TV. It’s not much bigger than a laptop, and you can take it with you portably with the accessory $49.99 PortaParty Bag which sports a shoulder strap. The bag also holds up to four different AV devices so you have a complete system ready to go. You can also play it anywhere for from four to six hours using the other accessory – a $49.99 rechargeable battery – which fits into the bag.
A speaker-designer formerly with KLH and Boston Acoustics created the Mini, and its enclosure is made of MDF, just like larger audiophile speakers. It comes with a connector with mini-plugs both ends. If your sound source has only RCA jacks you will have to pick up a patch cable going from RCA plugs to a stereo miniplug. The on/off switch on the rear has a Standby middle position, in which the Mini will turn on automatically when it senses an audio signal. The level control is a continuous spin type, which won’t “stop” anywhere; you just turn it counterclockwise one full rotation to turn off.
Under it is the knob for the virtual surround. With it in the off position the speaker sounds rather puny, but turn it up about halfway with almost any source and suddenly you have a wide stereo spread in front of you. It can sound as though you have a pair of rather sizeable speakers about six feet apart. I put the unit on top of a 27-inch Toshiba TV and switched back and forth between the set’s own speakers (on the sides of the screen) and the ZVOX. It looked great on top of the set with its curved front matching the TV set. The Toshiba had SRS virtual surround technology, which operated very similarly to the Mini. The Toshiba set’s speakers exhibited a hard metallic sound on higher levels, whereas the Mini sounded more silky and musical. Both tended to overload at highest levels. By sure to try different level settings of both your source (if adjustable) and the Mini’s level, to minimize distortion as much as possible. The Mini surpassed the Toshiba in being more transparent, having more depth in the bass end and greater clarity. Talking heads on TV seemed to be lined up with the sound source better than with the set’s own speakers, and speaking voices were more pleasant to listen to.
I also tried the Mini with my Mac iBook, a Sony portable cassette player and a Panasonic portable CD player. The sonics were impressive in all three cases. I tried a DMP Big Band CD featuring “compatible surround sound.” The Mini created a startling horseshoe-shaped surround field of the big band and with the woofer level turned all the way up, I found I wasn’t hankering for more bass end at all. I also sampled one of the RCA Victor Dolby Surround CDs of the early 90s – Leopold Stokowski’s Bach arrangements. Evidently the combination of the Dolby Surround technology with the PhaseCue virtual surround was overkill, because moving just an inch from dead center in front of the Mini caused the entire orchestra to switch to that side of the Mini, switching to the other side when you moved your head back across the center line. But bear in mind you don’t need surround-encoded sources to use the PhaseCue feature – anything works – even mono sources. You simply rotate the knob to a good-sounding point. I usually found it to be about 3/4 of the way to full on. Turning it all the way often gave an edgy sort of distortion, but it never sound phasey as do some virtual surround technologies. I think many users would find the ZVOX a simple and very functional audio product with many uses both in and out of the home.
– John Sunier