Published on April 20th, 2015 | by Greg0
Sonos Playbar: Multi-Room Audio Comes To Your TV
Transitions are tricky, and companies that manage to get ahead of the curve can dominate a market. Look at Netflix, early to the streaming wars, able to pivot from a DVD mailing service to an outstanding platform that has cable companies and content providers envious. Nest took this a different direction, making impressive home automation gear and getting snapped up quickly. Another company that found a niche and owned it: Sonos, the company that brought whole-home multi-room audio to the masses before AirPlay (they started way back in 2002).
Long popular in the bedroom, kitchen, and library as a music solution, they’ve now released a product aimed straight at the living room- the Sonos Playbar. If you already have a receiver and speakers, or another soundbar, then this isn’t really for you. But if you have a big screen LCD TV without any external speakers, and you either already have another Sonos product or would like multi-room audio controls, then this is one of the best all-in-one solutions. If you’re used to wireless audio only in the form of Bluetooth, you’re missing out- Sonos controls (via their multi-format app for smartphones and tablets) are wonderful. And even AirPlay users will be wowed, thanks to much faster and more responsive controls, less lag, and support for your Android devices and non-iTunes sources. And it supports lossless audio formats like uncompressed WAV and AIFF files, along with most every music service from Pandora to Spotify.
We’ve tested and have on-hand some of their previous gear, including the recent Play 1 speakers and their Bridge, which made setup a breeze. Our entire audio library was available shared from our computers and smart devices, and you can setup zones or rooms, allowing you to even add rear speakers to the Playbar in order to create a true surround sound system. The Playbar itself contains nine speakers, six midrange drivers and three tweeters, each separately amplified, meaning that you’re getting an experience similar to surround sound without the hassles and extra equipment. We’ve heard their optional sexy external wireless subwoofer, which sounds as impressive as it looks. You can mount the Sonos Playbar on a wall, but we left it on our TV stand, sitting below our television. Since it’s a bit taller than many, it can block the IR signals from reaching your television, but they thought of that and handily can repeat signals. Also, there’s no separate physical remote control for the Playbar, but it can learn from your existing remote controls and treat volume adjustments appropriately.
Somewhat unusually, the only A/V input to the Playbar is via optical, so you should check your TV to make sure it’s got an appropriate output. A few HDMI inputs would probably be simpler for most people (and more broadly supported), but for us it wasn’t an issue and did minimize cabling. There are a pair of ethernet ports on the back, allowing you to connect to your router, with the second allowing you to treat the Playbar as a bridge and plug in other devices. But you can also use it wirelessly as we did, provided you have another Sonos device already on your network (plugged into your router). Full Dolby Digital decoding really does make a difference in audio quality, but many TVs will not output it unfortunately, even if your Blu ray player or console provide it. We used our A/V receiver which made it easy, but some installations may find this a little frustrating.
If you can make it happen, though, sound quality is impressive- full and rich, with plenty of space on the highs and only a little flat on the lows. Compared with a basic 2.1 system or a mid-range soundbar, you’ll be impressed at both volume and range. The Playbar has tons of power, sings on treble notes, convinces on spatial dynamics, and is serviceable on vocals and dialogue (there’s a boost mode specifically to address this). We’ll be looking at a couple of other soundbars in the coming weeks that offer extra pop, sizzle and a more realistic/neutral audio signature, but the Playbar offers it’s own unique feature set and a very compelling proposition of its own. Certainly, it’s not inexpensive, and for some people adding an Apple TV and another audio solution might be a better fit. But the Sonos Playbar is simpler and sleeker than competitors, with more powerful software backing up the solid hardware. Your guests won’t need a lengthy tutorial, and you can enjoy your music anywhere- or everywhere- across your home without fuss. Available now, online and in stores, for around $699.