SONOS

PLAYBAR Review

Combination soundbar and music player sets new standards.

PRICE


$699 

THE HIGH NOTES


  • Improve Your TV Sound and Gain Streaming Music
  • Super Simple Control
  • Access the Most Music

SOUND PROFILE

Company & Product Overview

In June 2002, a group of music lovers with techs backgrounds had a vision of the future. They could see the changes that were coming to the music delivery business and created a variety of wireless audio products. Since then they have evolved to become the most popular brand for enjoying music in the new millennium — Sonos.

We believe that one of the keys to the success of Sonos is their limited product line. While some brands carry hundreds of items, Sonos products can be counted on two hands. Before launching a new product, Sonos carefully thinks about the need that it will meet, and how it can help them set new standards. All Sonos products work together and are backwards compatible, allowing you to upgrade and expand your system at your own pace. Sonos has also raised the bar on software releases, improving not only the functionality of their products, but also their performance.

The Sonos ecosystem allows you to group and control all of your pieces however you like, allowing you to break your home up into zones, or group them together in a few taps of their mobile app. We won’t dive deep into the core functionality of the app and interface in this review, but suffice it to say, it’s the best we’ve seen. It’s intuitive, fun to use, and keeps getting better as new updates are released.

At Audio Advice, we love our ultra-thin flat panel TV’s, but as thin as they are now, there’s just no room for decent speakers. No matter how great the picture is, you’re not going to enjoy your experience if you can’t hear what anyone is saying. This problem lead to the rise of one of the most popular and competitive product categories in the audio world today — the soundbar.

The focus of today’s review, the Sonos PLAYBAR, is their take on the soundbar. With lots of other companies already having soundbars on the market for years, Sonos knew they had to offer far more than the competition. We believe that the PLAYBAR’s functionality, features, and sound quality make it a top choice. It’s an all-in-one speaker system that that can be used on it’s own for music streaming, or paired with your television for a dramatic improvement over your television’s built-in speakers.

Packaging, Design & Build Quality

The PLAYBAR comes packaged in a sturdy cardboard box with styrofoam on the inside. Sonos prides themselves on having virtually zero freight damage on their gear. We can’t even remember the last time one arrived to us with damage.

Sonos products are well known for their durability and lack of defects. They actually subject each and every product to a series of tests to make sure it is perfect. Most manufacturers producing the output Sonos does might only test one in every 1000, but Sonos tests every single one!

The PLAYBAR is almost 3 feet in length (far shorter than most primary TVs) and features a simple and unassuming design. It’s 5.5 inches deep, and 3.3 inches tall when laid flat. One great feature that Sonos included is a built-in gyroscope, allowing you to lay it flat on a piece of furniture such as a TV stand, or mount it vertically on your wall (Sonos makes an optional wall mount bracket). The PLAYBAR will know how it is oriented and adjust itself to provide the best possible sound in either position.

Sonos Playbar Top ViewThe PLAYBAR connections are very straightforward. There are just two, a power cable and optical digital cable. To use the PLAYBAR, your TV will need to have an optical (toslink) digital out. You will get far better performance if your TV sends true surround sound and not just stereo. Most modern TV sets do send full surround, but check your model to be sure. Of course, this would have the same negative effect on any sound bar, not just the Sonos.

 

Features & Performance

Inside the PLAYBAR are nine speaker drivers. Six of them are midrange/midbass drivers and three are high frequency tweeters. Each one of them has it’s own amplifier with full DSP (digital signal processing) control. These cover the left, center, and right channels for outstanding TV sound.

But the TV is not the only way to use the PLAYBAR. Through their app, you can access the world of streaming music just like any of their other products. So how did they pull this off?

When you first set up the PLAYBAR you will need the remote you are currently using for your TV. The Sonos setup app will walk you through steps to “teach” the PLAYBAR your TV remote. This takes about 30 seconds and viola! You can change the volume of the PLAYBAR for TV sound with your TV remote. What a cool feature.

If you want to switch to listening to music on the PLAYBAR, simply open up the Sonos app on your Apple or Android device, choose some music, and just like that the PLAYBAR starts playing your music. The PLAYBAR has a feature called auto-play that will automatically switch to TV sound when your TV comes on, but if you are like some people who like to listen to music while watching TV, you can simply turn this feature off.

In instances where you want to enjoy a movie or music without waking your family or neighbors, Sonos has built in a great feature known they call Night Sound. In this mode, the bangs and crashes will be reduced in volume without having to lower the overall volume.

Before we jump into performance, let’s talk briefly about placement. The PLAYBAR is designed to be near a boundary, either sitting on a shelf or mounted on a wall right under or above a TV.  This helps reinforce the bass and gives it a great tonal balance.  

Should you decide to attach it to one of several available mounts that let your TV move a good distance away from the wall, we recommend you consider adding the Sonos SUB to augment the bass.  As you would expect with any speaker, the bass is not as full without the reinforcement of a boundary.  This rule of thumb applies to all soundbars we have tested. You simply need that impact for a truly immersive experience. Adding it to the PLAYBAR is a snap with the setup app, and it will dramatically improve your system for TV, movies, and music listening.

Sonos PLAYBAR and SUB

Dialogue

A good soundbar should first and foremost allow you to understand every spoken word of the dialog track and better yet, the subtle nuances of the person speaking so you better sense the emotions they are portraying to make the scene more real.  Dialog that sounds accented to the listener is even harder.  For our testing, our southern ears like to use Ripper Street, a BBC Crime series set in the east end of London in the 1890’s.  There are plenty of varying dialects during any episode.  The Playbar sailed through these, allowing us to not only understand the words, but feel the emotions of the characters.  

Sports commentary also came shining through, from the officials to the booth commentators. Even as good as the PLAYBAR sounds for dialogue, you will sometimes find a movie or TV show where the dialogue track gets drowned out by the rest of the sound.

Sonos solved this problem with a feature they call Speech Enhancement. You can access this mode quickly and easily through the app. When you are in this mode, the range of frequencies of the human voice get boosted to make it easier to understand the dialog. They really have thought of everything.

Surround Sound

To test the simulated surround sound of the PLAYBAR, we used the movie Valkyrie. It’s loaded with special effects of planes flying overhead and other scenes. The standalone PLAYBAR pulls these off pretty well, especially considering its price, you’re just never going to get a true surround sound experience without speakers behind you.

For full surround effects we recommend you group the PLAYBAR with a pair of PLAY:1, PLAY:3, or PLAY:5 speakers to use as rears.

Sonos Surround Sound

Overall Recommendation

The Sonos PLAYBAR is simply one of the most flexible and useful pieces we’ve ever reviewed. It works well by itself or paired with any of the other products in the Sonos lineup to take things to a whole different level.

Sonos has always been a top selling brand at Audio Advice, and for good reason. It sounds great, is incredibly simple to use, and best yet, the company never stops offering free updates that improve either the user experience, the sound, or both!

HIGH NOTES UNPACKED

Improve Your TV Sound and Gain Streaming Music

The PLAYBAR is one heck of a great soundbar, plus you get the world of streaming music at your fingertips with their free app.

Super Simple Control

The PLAYBAR actually learns the volume and mute functions of your existing TV’s remote control. It will automatically let you hop back to TV from app based music listening. Super simple!

Access the Most Music

The Sonos app, used to control all Sonos products, let’s you access more streaming music services than any other competitor. We actually can not find a streaming service not available on Sonos. Plus, they have a team of hundreds of engineers constantly working to make the user experience of the app even better and push out free upgrades when they discover a better way of doing things.

RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS: