Sonos Playbar Review: The OG Streaming Soundbar Is Still Great

/ 02:34 AM January 11, 2019

Sonos is no doubt the king of multi-room audio, and it has been its tradition to provide sound for music lovers, not film fans. However, since the humble soundbar kit is fast gaining ground in the audio market, Sonos has resolved to focus seriously on home cinema. This is why the Sonos Playbar was created. Let’s take a deep dive and find out if the original streaming soundbar still has it in our Sonos Playbar review!

The Playbar goes against a lot of Sonos trends. It is not totally boxed within the Sonos wireless universe only, as it can be used in a surround set-up and even your TV. At $699, there are cheaper upgrades for your sound system than the Playbar, but they aren’t as convenient or clever.

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As at the time of the Sonos Playbar review, it was $699. You can do yourself a favour and check out the new Sonos Beam smart soundbar, which features Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri.

Sonos Playbar – Design

Every recent speaker Sonos created, like the Play 3 are created to be used within the exclusive Sonos wireless system. This means you have access to music libraries on your computer, along with a fairly wide array of music streaming services that includes Spotify and Deezer. The Sonos Playbar provides all these options, but you also have the option of replacing your TV’s weedy internal speakers by connecting directly to it.

This is a good explanation of the Sonos Playbar’s design. It has a super-slim profile of under 3.5 inches which allows it to sit under your TV, either mounted to the wall or laid flat on a table. It is also just over 35 inches wide, so that it can live comfortably under TVs of 42-inches and larger.

Although it looks like it was created to hide in the background of your lounge, the Sonos Playbar is quite pretty to behold. The parts of the bar that aren’t covered by the smooth, soft fabric grille are made of aluminium– while other lesser soundbars are made of plastic. The Playbar is not so light, but its build quality is wonderful.

Just like all Sonos products, the Playbar has limited connections. There are two Ethernet ports, the power socket and the all-important optical input. Even though other TV-related audio gadget has moved to HDMI, the Sonos Playbar uses an optical audio input, so be sure to check for an optical output before buying.

Sonos Playbar – Setup

Connecting the Sonos Playbar is quite simple, but the set up is a bit tough. You won’t plug the Playbar directly into the starter without a a Sonos Bridge, which acts as the Playbar’s entry point into your home wireless network.

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Also, you should install the Sonos app onto a smartphone or tablet to pass through the set-up wizard. Even though it is quite user friendly, it still requires more effort than your average soundbar.

This is partly because you can use the Sonos app instead of your TV remote. The Playbar has an IR blaster which allows it transmit the same signal as a remote, and you need to tell it the kind of remote to emulate as part of the setup.

It probably would have been easier to have done this with an Arc-enabled HDMI port, which can pass on remote-style commands, but not every TV has this feature.

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When you set it up, you can control your TV and the Playbar with an iPhone, iPad or Android device. The Sonos app works well to integrate apps like Napster, TV audio and Spotify. The Sonos interface does lack the presentation gloss of the proprietary apps for Spotify and Napster though. Where their interfaces have improved fairly rapidly over the last year or so, the Sonos app looks much like it always has, and Sonos doesn’t let you use other apps like it, thanks to its closed nature.

Sonos Playbar – Sound Quality

Normally, Sonos is quiet about exact driver arrays in its speaker units, but this time, they are willing to shout about the six mid-range drivers and three tweeters contained in the Sonos Playbar.

Although it sounds like a large number, it is a common setup for a 3.0 soundbar. Each of the left, right and centre channels gets two mid-range drivers and a tweeter, while the left/right tweeters are mounted on the edge of the bar at roughly 45-degree angles to fire positional audio data as wide as possible.

It is important to put your home cinema satellites in the right place because higher-frequency sound is far more positional than lower-frequency sound although you should keep your subwoofer where it sits as it is far more flexible there.

The driver setup produces a wide, detailed and grand-sounding soundstage, proof that it works well. The sound created by the Sonos Playbar is larger than its size, though the best results come from positioning the soundbar “upright” instead of on its back, as suggested by Sonos.

The sound produced by the Sonos Playbar is exceedingly crisp and detailed, a tonality that’s common in aluminium-bodied speakers. There’s real finesse in its delivery of music and dialogue alike.

Seeing the speakers that it has at its disposal, its bass performance is quite impressive. For relatively small drivers, the Sonos Playbar can pump-out mid-bass tones with great authority, even though it can’t deliver low bass and sub-bass sound. The drop-off is pronounced, meaning that the Playbar alone isn’t sufficient to do justice to an explosion-packed action movie. A sub-less system also lacks a little warmth compared with a more traditional set-up.

This is where the Sonos Sub comes in. The Sonos Playbar can be used quite comfortably on its own, or you can add the $699 Sonos subwoofer as part of a 3.1 setup. You can also add a pair of Play:3 speakers to upgrade to a full 5.1 surround sound rig if you are feeling especially flush. However, this pricey package can be terrifying to some people.

You cannot use other Sonos kit and other non-Sonos speakers as part of the Playbar surround system. Also note that only external sources will offer surround – all of the content within the Sonos library of streaming services is stereo.

You cannot deny it, the Sonos Playbar is successful. It is quite pretty, works a treat and has the sound delivery to act as the main sound source in your living room. It also has the punch of some soundbar systems that include a small subwoofer.
The Sonos Playbar is however not cheap. You should understand, however, that there is always a price for quality, class and convenience– and we can’t deny that you could get a better-sounding 5.1 system for the same price than what Sonos’s full setup would bring. Nonetheless, the Playbar does what it does well.

Verdict

The Sonos Playbar is a unifying device for your lounge that will ensure you use cooler remote controls and dump your hi-fi. The moment you connect it, you can you control both your TV and your audio system with your phone. The Sonos Playbar has an excellent soundstage and clarity for almost everything. Unfortunately, all these experiences don’t come cheap at $699, a figure that will rise to around two grand if you want to build around the Playbar to reach its full 5.1 potential. That’s a total bummer.

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