ZVOX AV157 Speaker Bar
- Written by Brad Pransky, Editor
Picture this, no.., better yet imagine listening to a TV show, movie or DVD. There's (and you can choose one) an orchestra, rock band, car chase, shooting or general mayhem and a character says,"I can't believe it, the.....$^&_# ($&) )*&&^". WHAT? What did he say? Options: You can rewind and try your luck again, ask the person next to you or turn on closed captions. No matter how you slice it, it's very frustrating.
Well, it just so happens there's a solution for that which won't require any of the above. ZVOX, a company founded by Tom Hannaher (more about him later) has a line of speaker bars made just for this purpose. We tested the AV157, The newest flagship product in their offerings.
What is it?
The AV157 is a compact 17” x 3 3/8” x 2 7/8” soundbar that fits comfortably in front of your screen or mounted on the wall. It contains two (2) full-range 2"x3" high output speakers and incorporates their proprietary AccuVoice technology. My first reaction to the size and spec's was dubious. I found it difficult to imagine a satisfying sound stage would be produced from that size an enclosure. I was mistaken and pleasantly surprised. The sound output is excellent. No, it won't replace a full 5.1 surround system (more about surround below) and you won't get thunderous bass at that size but it will connect to a subwoofer if you want to shake the floorboards. The amazing thing is, you'll still be able to hear the dialogue clearly.
How do they do that??
The secret sauce is the proprietary algorithms built into the AccuVoice technology. This newer addition to the line incorporates their SuperVoice dialogue clarifying technology. ZVOX describes it this way:
“The best way to understand our SuperVoice technology is to picture a stage,” says ZVOX founder Tom Hannaher. “But instead of a row of actors, imagine a row of sounds. Our proprietary AccuVoice technology, which we introduced in 2016, clarifies voices and brings them forward on the stage. Our SuperVoice technology takes it a step further, putting other sound effects into the background – ‘pushing them backstage’ – so they don’t interfere with voice intelligibility.”
Some background would help. This is not the first time around the block for Tom Hannaher Founder and CEO of ZVOX. He is a veteran of the consumer electronics and audio industry. While soundbars initially came out in 1998 it wasn't until 2003 with the ZVOX 315 that they were considered commercially viable. That's not my opinion. Cnet and others declared it back then. The keys? Simplicity - one wire, not a maze, and sound clarity. ZVOX upped their game in 2014 by incorporating hearing aid technology into the circuitry. They now tout the "most comprehensive line of dialogue clarifying products including speakers, headphones and hearing aid -- all incorporating the patented AccuVoice technology."
The OOBE - (Out of Box Experience)
The AV157 comes with everything you'll need and then some. Besides the soundbar itself is the power adapter, remote, three (3) different cables to connect to the TV, screws for wall mounting and the instructions. The instructions are simple, straightforward and well illustrated. Only one problem...and it's not with the AV157 or the instructions. You have to turn the sheet over to see the instructions for all the options. Knowing most people (you know who you are) they won't bother and then be flustered when you want to adjust something that is clearly stated (if you just turn the page over). You can connect either digitally using the supplied fiber optic cable, or go the analog route with one of the 2 adapter cables provided. Either way, very simple. And all the pictures are on the second side. Any way you choose to do it, it's 1,2,3 and you're ready to go.
The AV157 is preprogrammed to automatically turn on when it receives audio input - either analog or digital - from your TV or computer. This certainly is a welcome convenience if you were concerned about having to use 2 remotes to start listening.
The remote that comes with the unit will handle all the functions and control of most can easily be handed off to any remote. Teaching your remote couldn't be simpler and there is a helpful 1 minute video to show you how. They even include the batteries.
The Sound Modes and Operation
This is no Johhny One Note
You may be saying to yourself, "Ok, so it does a good job in boosting the dialogue, but what about the rest of the sound? Is it any good?" Simply put, surprisingly. With 12 different surround modes, including 3 surround sound, it does a more than admirable job. No, this does not replace a discreet 5.1 surround system but it does an excellent job of projecting a surround stage. Most important however are the enhanced dialogue modes.
If you have any difficutly getting clarity from dialogue in busy soundtracks, this is the place you want to start. You have 6 AccuVoice levels and 6 SuperVoice choices. At the press of a button on the remote you can begin your exploration of the AccuVoice function. With each increasing level, from 1 to 6, the extraction and boost to the dialogue will increase.
If you have more severe impairment the SuperVoice modes should compensate. SuperVoice uses advanced sound compression algorithms to seperate voices from other sounds in the mix. And, like AccuVoice, with each increasing level of SuperVoice (1-6) the effect becomes more pronounced. Yes, at high levels it does impair the overall soundtrack (there's always a price) but the results, especially for those with hearing loss more than compensate.
All of the sound modes, and there are many, lend to a real improvement in the listening experience in todays entertainment world of 'blow it up first and explain it later'.
We have tried the AV157 in all its modes with everything from the news to Godzilla vs. Kong and in all cases it improved the dialogue and listening experience.
As far as operation, after you have connected the audio cable, from whatever input you have chosen, and the power supply cable, it becomes very complicated (not). Turn ON the TV. That's it. The AV157 does the rest. Just follow the simple instructions, find your compfort level and enjoy the enhanced clarity.
So...is it any good?
Yes, and to a surprising degree. If you had been thinking "this is all well and good but I don't need a hearing aid." I don't either, but the clarity it brings to the dialogue is excellent and a welcome relief from losing conversation to background noise and special effects.
I would absolutely recommend this to anyone regardless of the state of their hearing, regardless of age. Those under 50 should remember that while we children of the 60's lived through overly amped concerts, those younger have been living with earbuds pumping just as much damage to the eardrum. In any case, for any reason, you'll enjoy this addition to your TV or comuputer.
The ZVox AV157 is on sale for $199.00 and can be found at numerous retailers including Amazon, Walmart and BJ's. You can also buy it directly from ZVox.