Zvox SB380 review

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The Good: The Zvox SB380 offers excellent build quality and a relatively easy setup process. Dialog sounds clearer than most competitors with or without its AccuVoice feature.

The Bad: No Bluetooth. Competing sound bars are more dynamic and cost less money.

The Bottom Line: The Zvox SB380 offers one-box convenience and excels at making dialog clearer, but some cheaper ‘bars sound better.

How much should you spend on a sound bar? In the last couple years the sweet spot between sound quality and value has been about $300, and that’s exactly where the Zvox SB380 sits.

Zvox’s sound bars have been consistently well-built and belt out a lot of sound from a compact box. Its specialty is enhancing dialog, making it easier to hear the actors’ voices — as opposed to sound effects — in TV shows and movies. The SB380 continues that trend and adds good looks and solid overall sound.

Unfortunately for Zvox, “solid” is no longer sufficient. The new budget superstar, the Vizio SB3621, easily eclipses the Zvox in sound quality and costs half as much. So does the Yamaha YAS-106, which just like the Zvox doesn’t have a separate subwoofer.

If you really crave clearer-sounding dialog in TV shows and movies, the Zvox SB380 is still worthy of consideration. But also consider the cheaper SB400, which includes Bluetooth and should sound very similar.

Design and Features

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The SB380 is a sleek, brushed-aluminum sound bar which is itself a shrunk-down version of the SB500 at a little over 35 inches. In many ways it’s identical to the similarly priced SB400. The only difference is that the SB400 has Bluetooth while the SB380 doesn’t.

Like most Zvox designs, the SB380 is a 3.1-channel system with a trio of 2-inch drivers, and a 4-inch bass woofer. The long aluminum tube is buffeted by attractive rubberized stoppers, with controls on one end and a bass port on the other. The front is covered in a metal grill and underneath this lives an orange four-character display, which offers information on volume or input selection.

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Processing features include Zvox’s Intellivoice feature for better dialog for the hearing-impaired, as well as a bass-limiting circuit which promises to give full bass without distorting at high volumes. Like the SB500, the SB380 lacks a subwoofer output jack, so you can’t add a powered sub to the system.

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We were disappointed by its more expensive sibling’s relative lack of connectivity, but the SB380 has a decent number of inputs. Though it does lack Bluetooth — the company said this was designed to keep the price down — the Zvox includes two optical connections and stereo RCA.

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The remote control is the same credit card model we’ve seen on previous Zvox speakers. It’s functional but we’d advise you to program in your TV remote instead.

Setup

As we unboxed the Zvox SB380 we were impressed with the speaker’s robust aluminum cabinet, a big step up from the competition’s mostly plastic speakers. The remote control makes it easy to adjust bass and treble, along with the SB380’s AccuVoice dialogue boosting, Output Leveling, and variable surround features, all on the fly. Tucked away behind the speaker’s perforated metal grille is a large, easy-to-read display for volume level, AccuVoice, surround and input selection that displays briefly, and then disappears.

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How does it sound?

The SB380 is the sort of sound bar that doesn’t call attention to itself, and that’s a good thing. You can forget it’s there and just enjoy movies and TV shows. Dialogue without using AccuVoice was perfectly clear — turning the feature on pushes dialogue up and makes it brighter and more intelligible — but it sounds more natural with it turned off.

Turning on the AccuVoice feature pushes dialog louder and makes it brighter and more intelligible. We preferred it off, however, because voices were still perfectly clear and sounded more natural. Unfortunately AccuVoice doesn’t have any adjustments to fine-tune the sound; it’s either on or off. If you have hearing problems the feature might a big help, but we can’t say for sure about that.

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The sumptuous orchestral score for the film “A Cure For Wellness” sounded big and broad, and the psychological thriller’s creepy sound effects, like when a man is strapped into a dental chair and has his teeth drilled without an anesthetic, sent shivers up our spines. The SB380’s sound was effective, but when we compared it with the much cheaper Vizio SB3621 sound bar/wireless subwoofer system, the sound was more exciting and dynamic. The effects cut through more on the Vizio, so they were scarier, and the SB380 was less involving.

With “Mission Impossible III” the SB380’s home theater chops were put to the test in the scene where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) dangles bad man/arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) out of a jet plane. The speeding jet, the wind buffeting Davian, and the roar of the engines were played vividly by the SB380. Dialog remained clear in the midst of the mayhem, and the power of the jet engines was impressive. The Yamaha YAS-106 ($199.95 at Amazon.com)sound bar, which also doesn’t come with a separate sub, sounded comparable to the SB380. Meanwhile the Vizio SB3621’s power advantage made the scene much more viscerally exciting than those two.

Quieter films and dramas were well served by the SB380 too, and if that’s what you mostly watch, this sound bar would be a good choice.

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Next we listened to CDs and streamed Tidal music files (via a Chromecast Audio) the SB380 sounded passable, but the treble was harsh and dulled at the same time. The sound was more than acceptable for background listening. The SB380 doesn’t compare with the Vizio SB3621 or Yamaha YAS-106 for music, they’re both clearer and livelier.

Should you buy it?

The Zvox SB380 is a competent sound bar, and if you never compared it with the YAS-106 or Vizio SB3621, it would be more than acceptable. But We’ve compared them. The SB3621 is half the price of the SB380, it sounds clearer and it has considerably more powerful and detailed bass with movies and music. We think it’s a much better buy.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/7739bG)

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