Hands On: Sonos PLAYBAR Soundbar
When is a soundbar so much more than just a soundbar?
Most of today’s soundbars offer an important upgrade over your TV’s built-in speakers. Some do a sufficient job of creating a three-dimensional soundfield that acts as a 5.1 system, while others make hookup easy by using wireless subwoofers and only one or two cables. The new Sonos PLAYBAR does both of these, but also goes way beyond being just a TV speaker replacement. The Sonos PLAYBAR won’t be enough for some people but it may be the most sophisticated speaker product you can get.
Sonos’ main product line is made up of a variety of speakers and connection devices designed to make multiroom music easy for anyone. With a Sonos system, you can obtain a wide array of streaming music sources (Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, Rhapsody, etc.), as well as your own digital music collection, all over a wireless network that is throughout your house. A basic Sonos system includes a gateway that connects to your Internet router, speakers and/or amplifiers to spread Sonos to the rooms where you want music. You can choose your music and adjust the volume through a remote app for either iOS or Android.
The Sonos PLAYBAR is quite an advanced piece of equipment, being built around six midrange drivers and three tweeters that are all custom designed in-house and manufactured by Sonos. Due to the drivers being mounted on a 45-degree angle, the speaker can be hung flat on a wall or rest on a tabletop with no change in the directionality of the speaker. Two of the tweeters are mounted on the ends of the unit. These angles help create a wide, encompassing soundfield. A Sonos-designed class D amplifier powers each drive unit. More than 20 distinctive automatic tunings help create the Sonos PLAYBAR’s sound.
Setup and Play
Like the other parts of the Sonos equipment, the PLAYBAR is extremely easy to set up and use. The speaker’s connection includes an AC power cord and a digital optical cable for the audio. If your router isn’t near the TV, you can connect your speaker wirelessly to your home network. You can connect the speaker to your home network with an Ethernet cable to your router as well. The model user is someone who already has a Sonos system in the house but wants to add the PLAYBAR. Once Sonos is connected to your home network, it sets up its own Wi-Fi network to speak to other Sonos components in your home.
You won’t have to worry about adding to your living room’s remote clutter as the Sonos PLAYBAR doesn’t come with a remote. You will need the smartphone app for most of the speaker’s tricks. However, if you want to simply adjust the volume, the Sonos PLAYBAR lets you use your TV’s existing remote through a built-in IR sensor in the speakers. The Sonos PLAYBAR’s app includes step-by-step instructions to set up that option. Having the ability to use your TV’s remote is a big relief for people who were worried that they’d have to access an iPhone app every time they wanted to adjust the volume.
The Most Versatile Speaker
A Sonos PLAYBAR can do a lot more things that other soundbars can’t. In fact, its TV speaker capabilities are far from the most interesting thing about it.
First, the Sonos PLAYBAR can easily be laid flat on a table or if you want to hang it on the wall you can purchase the wall mounting kit. A built-in orientation sensor alters the system’s EQ to accommodate the speaker’s position.
Again, there is only one audio connection in the Sonos system that connects your TV to the speaker. All of your TV sources need to be connected to your TV first by whatever connection you prefer (most likely HDMI). This is convenient as you only have one cable between your TV and the speaker, but there are some tradeoffs which are stated later.
The optical connection to the speakers does more than just let you listen to your TV audio over the soundbar. If the Sonos PLAYBAR isn’t the only Sonos component in your house, it also makes your TV audio part of a larger Sonos audio system. Which means that if you want to listen to a baseball game in both your living room and another room of your house, you can direct the TV’s audio to another piece of Sonos equipment, such as a PLAY:3 speaker. This feature is only available via the “Group” option. So you can’t play TV audio on the dining room’s PLAY:5 and Pandora on the PLAYBAR. They must be playing the same thing.
But, you don’t get a Sonos PLAYBAR because you’re only interested in your TV’s audio. You get the Sonos PLAYBAR because you want easy access to all that online content. Much of that is free such as Pandora, Slacker, Songza, and TuneIn. The smartphone app puts nearly any music you can imagine at your fingertips. You can play different music in each room or the same music all over your house if you have other Sonos components. All while using the same single Internet connection. There’s even an AirPlay-like feature that uses Wi-Fi to stream your iPhone’s music to your Sonos system.
TV audio takes priority within the Sonos PLAYBAR. That means that if you’re playing Pandora music and switch on the TV, the Sonos PLAYBAR automatically switches to the TV’s audio signal.
While most people will choose a soundbar just to replace their TV’s speakers, some may still want the complete 5.1 experience. The Sonos PLAYBAR actually allows for that. With a Sonos PLAYBAR you can add a pair of PLAY:3 speakers and even a Sonos Sub to create a 5.1 system. The Sonos app will direct you through the process and make the proper sound processing changes to configure the signal appropriately.