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ZVOX Audio 325
A few years ago, we reviewed Zvox Audio's 315, a compact speaker system designed to be used as a one-piece alternative to a home-entertainment system. Compact enough to fit under a reasonably-sized CRT television (it's magnetically shielded) or a large LCD display, it was still large enough to provide surprisingly-full-range sound. Thanks to multiple inputs, it could also be used with an iPod, computer, DVD player, or video game system, making it a great solution for a dorm room or bedroom.
Zvox Audio has since released the 325, an upgraded system that's just slightly larger (17" wide by 16" deep by 4.8" high) than the 315 but, for $100 more, provides better performance, some additional features, and a remote control.
As with the 315, the 325 looks exceptionally plain: it's just a simple, rectangular box, available in silver or black with a black, metal-mesh front grill. It's also easy to set up: You just plug one of the included cables--miniplug-to-miniplug or miniplug-to-RCA--into the headphone jack on your audio source and then plug the other into one of the 325's three inputs. (The two minijack inputs on the back of the 325 mix together, letting you hear two sources simultaneously; connecting a cable to the single minijack input on the front mutes the other two. For most of my testing, I connected a TV and an iPod dock to the two rear inputs, occasionally connecting another audio source to the front input.)
If your audio source has a line-level output, you control volume using the 325's front volume control or its simple infrared remote control; the latter includes Volume Up, Volume Down, and Mute buttons. But the 325 is also designed to work well with variable-level output--for example, the outputs on many TVs, or the headphone jack on an iPod or a computer. You use a simple setup procedure to find the right volume level for the 325, and then use the source to control volume from that point on. (The 325 automatically turns off after three minutes without detecting an audio signal; it automatically turns on again the next time it detects audio, although it takes a couple seconds before the 325 actually produces audio itself.)
The 325's audio quality is very good. The system uses three 3.25-inch front-firing drivers for midrange and treble frequencies; a 4- by 6-inch woofer for lower frequencies; and a 60-Watt amplifier (limited to 24.3 Watts by the power supply) to provide rich sound that easily fills smaller rooms and still sounds very good in larger rooms. You don't get the sort of bass response produced by a larger system, but I was pleasantly surprised by the 325's low-end performance when watching action movies through a computer and a TV--bass response was better than that of most one-piece "TV audio" systems I've heard. (You can adjust the bass level using a control on the back of the unit; the 325 also provides a subwoofer-out jack on the back, so you could add a powered subwoofer if you aren't satisfied with the 325's bass output.)
Treble and midrange reproduction--the latter especially important for movie and TV dialog--were also good. Overall, the 325's audio performance is a big step up from that of the 315. Although I couldn't directly compare the two systems--I no longer had the 315 on-hand--based on my review of the 315 and my notes on it, the 325 provides considerably better treble detail, as well as better bass response.
Like other Zvox Audio systems, the 325 features the company's PhaseCue technology, which uses various signal-processing techniques to produce "virtual surround-sound" from a single-box system. We've heard many similar claims in the past, but instead of the gimmicky "echo" we often hear, the 325's surround effect was fairly convincing. When watching movies and TV, sound effects and other audio often seemed to come from the far left or right, well beyond the 325's cabinet. (Obviously, there was no audio coming from behind the listening position.) You control the PhaseCue level--how "wide" of an effect you want--using a knob on the front of the 325, a big improvement over the 315's rear-mounted control.
The only complaint I had about PhaseCue for TV and movies is that as I increased the PhaseCue effect--which "widens" the audio presentation--dialog, which should generally be focused in the middle, became less distinct. I had to find the right compromise between clear dialog and expansive virtual surround. (With certain movies, I had to make minor tweaks to this setting, as some movies are mixed differently than others.) I also found that the PhaseCue effect wasn't always desirable when listening to music, although, to be fair, this is true for most "virtual surround" technologies I've heard.
When reviewing the 315, I noted that because of its one-piece design and audio/video versatility, it would be ideal for a college dorm room, home office, or bedroom--any place where you want improved sound without a lot of wires or complicated setup. The same is true of the 325, but thanks to its improved sound quality, it's also good enough to serve in the home entertainment system of those who don't require a true surround-sound, home theater experience. I used it for several months as the audio system in our family room; for only $350--and about the same space in the TV stand as our TiVo HD--it was an easy way to get good audio from an iPod, TV, or other source.
ZVOX Audio 325