Q: About a year ago I considered the ZVOX SoundBase you reviewed to enhance TV sound quality. More recently, you also recommended a considerably less expensive soundbar by Insignia. When I went to the store, the young salesperson dismissed the Insignia as "not much better than your TV speakers." I am seeking only more clarity from television audio, not home theater sound, but the more expensive ZVOX SoundBase offers technology labeled AccuVoice to enhance the clarity of dialogue. I have particular difficulty with certain BBC and public television programs that have actors with strong accents. I would appreciate your thoughts as to the relative merits of your two recommendations in consideration of the price differential.
A: In a column last year I raved about the ZVOX SoundBase 320 for its great sound, easy setup and convenient use. You just place your TV on it, connect it with an optical cable, add a couple of commands to your remote and enjoy. It provides high-quality, room-filling sound without the complexity or wires of a home theater system.
I disagree with the salesperson's comments. The Insignia soundbar is much better than TV speakers, but you have to consider how bad the TV speakers are to put it in perspective. The Insignia isn't in the same league as a ZVOX SoundBase, a serious audio component.
You might be surprised to learn that I received many e-mails with questions similar to yours. It got to the point that I decided an experiment was in order. I visited a local reader who wrote to me, and we tried the Insignia soundbar compared with the speakers in his older Panasonic plasma. The Insignia soundbar was an improvement, but for those who have difficulty understanding dialogue, the improvement was not significant. Of course, the difference will vary based on the quality of the television's speakers, and in this case it was an older Panasonic plasma that actually had pretty good sound for a flat-panel. The difference probably would be more dramatic with an ultrathin LED-LCD set with tiny speakers.
In your case, I think the ZVOX is the way to go. It's better to spend a bit more and get what you want than pay a not-inconsequential $100 and not be fully satisfied. The AccuVoice feature will provide a dramatic improvement over your TV's speakers or the Insignia soundbar. Not only do you get better dialogue, but everything will sound better.
You have to get a Platinum Series ZVOX SoundBase to get the AccuVoice feature. Probably the best value in the line is the 570, which can support TVs up to 60 inches in size. Not only does it have AccuVoice, but it also has surround sound from a single box and Bluetooth for music streaming, and it will reduce commercial volume so it doesn't blast you out of the room. Normally $349, it is on sale for $299 for the holidays.
If you have a 42-inch or smaller TV and do not need AccuVoice or the other extra features, take a very strong look at the ZVOX SoundBase 320. I reviewed it last year and was blown away by the sound, and on the ZVOX website it has been reduced to $179 for the holidays. That is only $80 more than the Insignia, and I assure anyone considering the Insignia that the difference is well worth it. The SoundBase 320 isn't twice as good; it's 10 times as good. Shipping is free and there is a 60-day money-back guarantee if you buy direct from ZVOX (zvoxaudio.com).
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadviceblog.com.