- Written by Jim Clements
- Published on 16 April 2009
First up was the Extreme DVD of T2. There is a scene early in the film in which Sarah Conner is working out in her cell and the orderlies enter to sedate her prior to her upcoming review hearing. She was breathing heavily when the orderlies entered the cell. Through the Z-Base 550, her breathing came through with excellent presence and believability. This really gives the viewer the sense of anxiety that was intended by the director, James Cameron. This was a nice way to start the audition.
Later, the Governator's Fatboy motorcycle came through with a satisfyingly throaty growl. The Z-Base 550 generally excelled at reproducing the sound of internal combustion engines, guns and bombs. These are a few of my favorite things . . . No, wait, that's a different film!
I wound up watching several selections from the Band of Brothers DVD box set. There is a scene in Chapter 7 where Sgt. Malarkey accidentally shoots himself in the leg with a Luger. Several of the other soldiers gather around him to treat his injury. The film switches to a perspective where you see things from Sgt. Malarkey's point of view. The men's voices eerily encompassed a 270 degree sound field through the Z-Base 550. This effect really brought me into the film and substantially heightened the overall viewing experience. The degree of wrap-around from the Z-Base 550 varied depending on the source material and normally maxed out at around 180 degrees. At times, the surround effects seemed to come from a higher plane than the direct sounds.
I also enjoyed surprisingly convincing surround effects during the final siege scene of this Chapter. The sound had good presence and drive.
The Z-Base 550 doesn't have great treble extension and could sometimes sound chesty on men's voices. It can sound a little harsh at higher volume settings. It would certainly benefit by the addition of a stand-alone subwoofer. The Z-Base 550 unit sounded big on all the films I auditioned. Was it the infinite compliance? Was it the PhaseCue? I'm not sure, but I guess it's a combination of factors.
I then auditioned the CD layer on the Hybrid SACD of Bizet's Carmen as performed by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. Once again, the Z-Base 550 could get harsh on crescendos, so you need to keep an eye on the volume control. Once I found a good volume setting, I got very natural timbre and ambience throughout all my auditioning. The macro dynamics were quite good on Torreadore. Not bad for a "60 watt" amp. The Z-Base 550 had excellent attack on leading edges and a natural decay. Danse Boheme was simply a fantastic performance through the Z-Base 550. The music was painted on a moderately quiet background. Later on this disc, I once again enjoyed the macro dynamics on the Russian Easter Overture, Op 36.
Next, I sampled the CD layer off another Hybrid SACD, Diana Krall's The Look of Love. Starting out the sibilants in her voice on S'Wonderful were closed-in and not at all natural sounding. Also, the instruments and her voice didn't float in the air as they do on my reference system. But later on the disc, things started to heat up. Cry Me a River, for example, was a whole different experience. The snare drum was palpable and I could feel the bass in my feet and legs. Diana's voice floated on this track! Besame Mucho had good surround envelopment and I felt like I was experiencing the performance live in a night club setting. So the performance laid down by the Z-Base 550 depended on the program material. Worry not; even at its worst the Z-Base 550 was very musical.
Although I'd probably add a sub to augment the bass response of the Z-Base 550, I observed bass response that extended below 45 Hz in my bedroom. I did place the unit as close to the wall as I could.