Zvox SoundBase 440 review: A disappearing breed of TV sound


Zvox pioneered the soundbase, an all-in-one speaker system that sits beneath a TV, as an alternative to the more common soundbar that sits in front of a TV (or mounted on the wall beneath a TV likewise installed). Today, the Zvox SoundBase 440 is one of the few speakers of its type still on the market.

Packaged in a plain black enclosure that lights up its hidden display only when you switch settings, the SB440 is a good representative of this tech-without-clutter species. Self-starting without any fuss when it detects an incoming audio signal, this amplified speaker system is far more capable of pumping up the dynamics and fidelity of TV sound than the speakers stashed inside the typical flat-panel television. And it does its handiwork in a tidier fashion than a soundbar with a discrete subwoofer cluttering up the floor.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best soundbars, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

This thing plays loud and proud, doesn’t miss much, and articulates trebly details especially well. Zvox quotes a frequency response of 50Hz-20kHz (+/- who-knows-what dB), with 45 watts of Class D amplification apportioned amongst five full-range 2-inch drivers and a 5.25-inch subwoofer, all of which fire downward in a ported enclosure. The step-up and step-down bass and treble settings are subtle, not aggressive even at the extremes. But that independently amplified sub will kick decent butt with soundtrack kabooms and music that really thumps.

Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The Zvox SoundBase 440 paired amiably with my 32-inch TV, but it can also can handle larger pedestal-mount sets weighing up to 70 pounds.

The SB440’s other audible allures might be even more compelling for some. An especially effective voice clarification process called AccuVoice is Zvox’s ace in the hole—it might even be reason to upgrade to this product instead of a competitive soundbar or a 5.1-channel home theater system. Switchable output leveling is helpful for taming loud commercials, too. A sense-tricking, quasi-surround process called PhaseCue sends signals flying across a much wider sound field than you’d expect from a box measuring 28 x 14.5 x 3.5 inches (WxDxH). Lastly, its $249 list price (on sale for $199 at press time) won’t burn a major hole in your wallet.

From one of many, to one of a kind

Zvox’s sole surviving soundbase used to have five siblings: larger and smaller one-box variants. Zvox also inspired serious competitors at retail for a spell. TV manufacturers LG, Panasonic, Pioneer, Samsung, and Vizio played in this space, as did audio-centric concerns like Cambridge Audio, Canton, Denon, JBL, Q Acoustics, and Yamaha.

zvox soundbase 440 remote Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The remote isn’t backlit, but it’s easy enough to learn the button layout (not losing it in the couch cushions is a whole other matter).

But industry trackers knew the soundbase party was pretty much over when Sonos stopped manufacturing its Playbase—one of the best-reviewed of the species—just three years after its debut. (You’ll still find them at some retailers and online from Amazon, but the model is no longer touted or sold on Sonos’ own website.) Beside this Zvox, the only soundbases we’re now spotting “in stock” are cheap knockoffs from the likes of Magnasonic, Pyle, Seiki, and TimoLabs.

Who popped the balloon? Blame set makers. Starting around 2014, TV manufacturers got it into their heads to rethink the flat-screen stand—replacing the weighty and pricey pedestal base in most models with lighter, much smaller, and far less expensive support feet. The little things remind me of bird talons, but they ruined things for most soundbases because—depending on the size of the TV—they were positioned farther apart than the width of the speaker, and the speaker was usually too tall to fit beneath the TV between the feet.

If you decide to buy an SB440, make sure your TV’s feet are 27 inches apart or less (or the TV’s pedestal is 27 inches wide or less).



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