ZVOX AV120 Soundbar – When Simple is All You Need
Simple is not a word I often use when reviewing AV products. But simple is the first word that came to mind with my review of the ZVOX AV120 soundbar. The ZVOX AV120 is a soundbar solution that will appeal to those who want a no-muss, no-fuss setup. It features a simple single cord setup with 3.5mm optical, RCA, or aux. So anyone can set this thing up. It can also accept a Bluetooth connection for the more technologically sophisticated user. Plus, using its AccuVoice technology, the AV120 claims to offer extra dialogue clarity. But does it live up to the claim? Priced at $149 (on sale for $89.99 now), it won’t break the bank. Let’s discuss.
In The Box
The ZVOX came in a compact box. Inside are the soundbar, the instructions, and the accessories box. The ZVOX AV120 includes everything you need to hook it to any device, so don’t worry about searching for cords or extra cables.
In the accessory pack, you get 3.5mm aux, 3.5mm to RCA, and optical to 3.5mm optical cables. Also included is a substantial remote (with batteries) and the power cord.
Control And Inputs
The ZVOX AV120 has no external controls. All of the functions get controlled by the remote. I would have liked to see external controls for volume on the AV120. This way, if you misplace the remote, it’s still usable.
Inputs are, in a word, simple. There is a 3.5mm input for the included cords, a USB port, and power port. That’s it. You will notice there is no HDMI input. But more on that later.
As I said above, all the controls are on the remote. You can use the remote to turn the unit on/off, change inputs, AccuVoice/surround levels, volume, and Bluetooth controls. The remote is big, with easy-to-see labels and large controls.
Connecting The ZVOX AV120
If you haven’t guessed, setting up the ZVOX AV120 is simple, especially if you have an older TV. I chose to use the included optical to 3.5mm cable. I plugged the optical side into the TV and then into AV120. I turned on the soundbar and immediately got sound.
Using the RCA cable is just as straightforward. Plug it in, and it works. I would guess that most modern TVs won’t have these legacy outputs, but I have yet to come across a TV without optical. So you are good in almost any situation.
But connecting it to a newer TV is just as easy. Plug the cable in, navigate your menus, turn off your internal speakers, and output to PCM, and you are ready to rock-n-roll. No matter the age of your TV, the ZVOX AV120 has you covered.
Using The ZVOX AV120
Ok, so I am sure you know what’s next. Using the ZVOX AV120 is SIMPLE! Once powered on, use the volume up and down buttons to control the volume. In addition, there are two AccuVoice and surround modes you can choose from.
Remember, because you are sending the audio from your TV down to the soundbar, there will be no On-Screen Display of the volume level. So that means that you have no indicator for volume or any of the sound modes. I would have liked an external screen to show volume and different modes. The LED on the AV120 does flash and turn different colors to denote modes, so you just need to learn what each color and flash means. It would have been nice to see a display through the speaker grille as I’ve seen with other ZVOX products.
Bluetooth pairing is a snap. Put the ZVOX AV120 into Bluetooth mode, look for it on your phone, and connect. Once the blue light goes from a slow blink to a solid blue light, you know you are good. You can’t connect multiple devices, so manually disconnect your device before connecting another.
USB is just as easy. Throw some MP3s on a drive and plug it in. You can use the play, pause and skip buttons to move through the tracks. While there is no OSD, I kept all the files on the root of the drive because I didn’t think it could navigate folders. Audiophiles will not be happy, though—no fancy lossless FLAC files. Only lossy ole MP3 is supported.
Sound Quality Of The ZVOX AV120
So enough yammering about the features. How does it sound? Surprisingly good for a unit that measures 15 x 2.2 x 2.5 inches! I put the ZVOX AV120 in front of my father-in-law’s TV and ensured it was at the edge of the stand to avoid any reflections.
There was an immediate and noticeable difference between the internal speakers and the AV120. Everything was clearer and louder. But here is the great thing, “loud” on the TV speakers was terrible- distorted and bloaty. But “loud” on the AV120 was very pleasant and bearable. There was no hint of distortion, and the bass was decent. A noticeable improvement!
I played with the AccuVoice and surround settings. Honestly, they are all about personal preference. To my ear, there were slight differences between the modes, with one mode favoring dialogue. I didn’t notice a massive difference between surround modes. But coming from a dedicated 5.2.4 system, I was not expecting anything major from such a small soundbar.
There was a noticeable difference in dialogue clarity and quality with the AV120. First, the speaker is directly in front of you and not off to the side like my TV. Secondly, the drivers are just better. The AV120 is a soundbar I could listen to for a long time.
What I did love was the volume normalizing. It keeps the dialogue at a constant level. So no more annoyingly loud commercials. I noticed a difference right away. Usually, commercials are super loud and distracting. But the AV120 keeps everything the same.
Music was very good. The ZVOX AV120 would make for a great, small form-factor Bluetooth speaker. I found it very easy to listen to, even at louder volumes. No, it is not a bass monster. But again, set your expectations for a 15” soundbar. There was no exaggerated treble or bass, so very neutral.
I know that it’s not marketed as a Bluetooth speaker. But honestly, it’s a really good alternative. You can use the aux cord to connect directly to your phone, stream Bluetooth and plug in a USB. That’s all the hallmarks of a really good Bluetooth speaker.
But as great as the USB and Bluetooth options are, most people are buying the ZVOX as a sound at and nothing more. So while it’s nice to have the options to stream music, the main duty of this little beast will be TV.
But It Doesn’t Have HDMI…
Ok, the cards are on the table. I thought this would be a huge deal breaker. How are we supposed to hook up other components or streaming boxes? But let’s be honest. The ZVOX isn’t aiming the AV120 at those who want a fancy soundbar with all the things. The AV120 is perfect for those with a simple setup who want a noticeable upgrade from terrible TV speakers. And it delivers.
But I can’t believe that I am going to say this. The ZVOX AV120 would benefit from HDMI-CEC for volume control. I know, I feel dirty writing that, but it’s true. Having a second remote is a bit of a drag for those who want a simple system. But it’s a set-and-forget situation if you don’t reach for the remote for volume a lot.
But I really sound be surprised that using optical worked so well. It wasn’t so long ago that using optical was the easiest way to get sound from your TV into your AV Reciever. It’s just that because HDMI has become so common place, we forgot about optical. But this is the perfect option for users who don’t have a complicated setup that want to beef up the sound output and clarity. My mom would totally love this thing.
The ZVOX AV120 does everything it claims to do, mainly increasing dialogue clarity. And it does it at $150. It’s simple to set up and use – full stop.
The surround mode didn’t wow me, but it’s not marketing itself as a surround sound solution. But it’s a nice feature and doesn’t detract from the overall sound. As I said, it won’t compete with a proper surround sound system, but it’s light-years ahead of TV speakers.
I highly recommend the ZVOX AV120, and don’t hesitate to recommend it. Sometimes simple is all you need.