Zvox AV357 review: Premium soundbar improves your TV’s voices

Are you putting up with indecipherable dialogue on your TV? There are numerous solutions to counter the poor sound, but buying a new one soundbar it’s a good place to start. The Massachusetts-based Zvox company practically invented the soundbar and has since perfected its designs over the past 20 years. After a detour in hearing aids, the company used what it learned to develop its AccuVoice speaker line, which includes everything from entry-level ZV100 ($ 100) to this new flagship AV357 soundbar, which costs $ 350 but is on sale right now for $ 300.

Contents

Like it

  • Lots of voice modes and EQ customizations
  • Voices sound natural and more understandable
  • Convincing amounts of bass for the music

I do not like

  • Pay a premium for wood over aluminum
  • Fewer features than step-down
  • Limited admissions
  • Costly

With its MDF construction (which is engineered wood for those unfamiliar with the acronym), the AV357 is both larger and more attractive than step-down models. The features are pretty meager – there isn’t Bluetooth streaming, but its performance is above and beyond what you would expect from the size.

That said, compared to other soundbars at this price point, the Zvox lacks a lot of features. Competitors beat it handsomely for must-haves like advanced connectivity and usability, as does the Zvox AV257, currently out of stock. But at the end of the day, the AV357 is well built and makes TV dialogue and music better than any TV alone.

What is that?

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Zvox AV357 is a single 24-inch soundbar designed to enhance dialogue from your TV. It doesn’t offer Bluetooth, HDMI or any other standard frills but has 12 levels of voice enhancement. Some soundbars have a single dialogue mode, if they’re lucky, so that means the AV357 is highly configurable in comparison.

The unit offers six levels of AccuVoice boost, plus another six levels of SuperVoice accessible via the AccuVoice button on the remote. SuperVoice is designed to reduce background sounds and further enhance dialogue. Other sound modes include a volume leveling mode (for loud commercials), PhaseCue virtual surround, and bass and treble controls.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Zvox has only two inputs: one analog and one optical digital. The analog input allows users to connect a TV or Amazon Echo for automatic muting when issuing commands. The bar itself is covered in a relatively attractive black ash veneer and measures 23.75 inches wide, 4.19 inches deep and 2.75 inches high. I was using a fairly low Westinghouse TV during my tests and found the soundbar blocked its IR port. If this is an issue for you, there is sadly no wall mount option (although you could probably find a third-party solution).

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

You can program your TV remote to control speaker volume levels or use the included remote, which has a premium look and large buttons to help those with low vision. (It gives you access to additional speaker features, although it would have been nice to add a SuperVoice button because this isn’t obvious without consulting the manual.) Unfortunately, unlike other Zvox speakers I’ve tested, the AV357 doesn’t have controls. above the unit. This could be a problem if, like me, you lose your remote and need to turn the sound down quickly.

The soundbar is powered by a 24-watt Class D digital amplifier, just like the AV257, and a complement of 3-inch full-range speakers. If you want more bass punch, there’s a combined headphone and subwoofer output.

Personally, I prefer the features of the AV257 over the AV357 as it offers both additional optical-analog input and controls on the unit. It is also $ 80 cheaper. While I haven’t heard the AV257, the other main differences are that the AV357 is much wider and features a wooden build. The increase in physical volume most likely contributes to the weight of the bass I heard. But could I tell that the soundbar was made of wood and not aluminum by looking at it? Not exactly. It was a black spot in front of the TV. I actually prefer the unique, brushed look of Zvox’s aluminum soundbars to the somewhat pedestrian black ash of the AV357.

How does it behave?

When setting up the AV357, I needed to tweak the sound to get it exactly the way I wanted. it was not rather ready to go out of the box, possibly due to using an analog TV source instead of digital. For example, I needed to reduce “Lo” by 2, or the kick drum sounded loose and limp. Also, the settings in AccuVoice 2 and later were noisy, too advanced and bright, not suitable for music. Finally, when set to SD 3 (Surround 3) mode, the soundbar was able to deliver a sufficiently wide soundstage and bass for music.

In my previous experiences with Zvox soundbars, one of the company’s strengths, besides the great dialogue, has been the amount of bass the brand can squeeze out of a compact cabinet. Of course, this means a lot of signal processing behind the scenes, and I found that this could lead to weird behavior. For example, music with strong bass might pulsate in and out to the beat.

Fortunately, this was a minor problem with the AV357. While I did notice subtle fading effects on Fucked Up’s Year of the Horse Act 1’s scant interlude of spoken words, I only heard it once during my week with the speaker. Even Alt-J’s notorious 3WW speaker destroyer didn’t overload the cabinet with its deep bass bed – at least, not after pulling the bass control back earlier.

As I listened further to the music, I found Foals’ What Went Down was particularly enjoyable. It’s a cliché, but I’ve really checked if the Vice V21 it was on because the bass sounded too deep, too in tune to be from the Zvox’s small shell.

As you’d expect, given the company’s core tone, the Zvox was better with vocals than the Vizio V21 (our current budget favorite). The AV357 offered improved detail, reminding me of audiophile-grade speakers, and was particularly capable of deciphering gritty British crime shows like Line of Duty.

The AV357 offers so many bespoke options that it encourages tweaking, but these can be over the top. Depending on the mode, you may find that heavy mid-range sounds become unnatural (e.g. Supermode 2 and 3 accentuate the spinning sheets in John Wick), making them sound like they’ve been sitting in the freezing cold overnight. Also, at the highest levels of AccuVoice, the brighter sound may be uncomfortable for family members who don’t need a lot of assistance listening to voices.

As you’d expect, the Vizio ran around the Zvox for home theater excitement. During Avatar’s Thanator chase scene, the thud from Vizio’s wireless sub enhanced the drama. Meanwhile, the Zvox has come off a bit thin; clear, but subtle. What I didn’t expect was the dynamics of the Zvox. It may not be able to pump bass, but if you don’t use the volume leveling feature, the AV357 handles dynamic changes well, such as Pandora’s silent jungle sounds broken by gunfire.

Should you buy it?

Zvox isn’t the only company making dialogue-enhancing soundbars – Polk, Samsung, and Vizio all offer voice-enhancing models, though they offer little in the way of custom setup. The six levels of voice control of the Zvox AV357 are something no other soundbar company can offer. But if you really need AccuVoice, there are cheaper Zvox soundbars that include it, including the $ 100 AV100.

The most expensive SB500 and SB700 also include AccuVoice in addition to Bluetooth, and the SB500 is much larger (i.e. $ 80 more). It also has a selection of onboard controls if you can’t find the remote.

Features and construction aside, the AV357’s main draw is its audio performance – it’s one of the clearest and most dynamic soundbars you’ll find in a small package. Its performance belies its size, as it is capable of delivering excellent clarity and deceptively deep bass. It is also surprisingly good with music. Being made of wood is one of its less interesting qualities.