February 12, 2013
| by Grant Clauser
A quiet buzz has been, well, buzzing for close to a year about the possibility of Sonos getting into the home theater speaker market. And why not? In a relatively short time the company has made a big name for itself in the home audio world with its line of wireless multiroom audio products.
Now its official, the Sonos PlayBar is a soundbar that takes all of the Sonos streaming and wireless music benefits and puts them in a device designed to sit in front of the most important seats in your house—the couch.
The PlayBar does three main things: it allows playback of music from a wide variety of streaming sources (nearly 20 by my last count) plus the user’s own local collection; it connects to a TV to replacing the low-performing speakers built into all today’s televisions; finally, it can be expanded with a Sonos Sub and two Sonos PLAY:3 speakers to become an actual 5.1 surround sound system.
The device includes a total of 9 drivers—six midrange drivers and three tweeters, all custom designed in-house and manufactured by Sonos. The arrangement is interesting. The drivers are mounted on a 45 degree angle allowing the speaker to mounted flat on a wall or rest on a tabletop with no change in the directionality of the speaker. A built-in orientation sensor changes the system’s EQ to accommodate the speaker’s position. Two of the three tweeters are mounted on the ends of the unit, at anglers that help create a wide, enveloping soundfield. Each drive unit it powered by its own Sonos-designed class D amplifier. 27 different automatic tunings help create the PlayBar’s sound.
Integrating the PlayBar into an entertainment system appears to be pretty simple. All TV sources (Blu-ray, DVR) get connected directly to the TV, then a digital optical input is available for connecting the user’s TV to the soundbar. Like all other Sonos devices, the primary way to control it is through the Sonos app (iOS or Android), however, since this is also meant to be used with a TV, Sonos built in an IR receiver and the ability for the PlayBar’s volume to be controlled by any TV remote (the PlayBar is always on, so it doesn’t require an on/off command). Any IR universal remote can also be used. Within the PlayBar, TV audio takes priority, so if you’re playing Pandora music, and then switch on the TV, the PlayBar automatically switches to the TV’s audio signal.
The PlayBar doesn’t have a virtual surround mode (because those don’t really work well anyway), but it does produce a very wide and deep soundfield for both TV audio and music listening. The unit decodes Dolby Digital for movie and TV playback. If you want to expand the system in your living room, you can add Sonos PLAY:3 speakers for surround and a Sonos Sub, thereby making a complete 5.1 system. The software will recognize when other speakers are added to the system and automatically make adjustments to how it decodes and distributes the audio signal.
Related: Review of the Sonos Sub.
Like any other Sonos product, the system plays what the company refers to as “all the music on earth,” through a large selection of streaming services. In addition, audio from the TV (anything that comes from the connected optical input) can also be streamed to other Sonos zones in the house. For instance, if people are watching a sporting event on the TV, the audio from that event can also be played on a Sonos PLAY:5 speaker in another room, so no one needs to miss a play.
The PlayBar can be used by itself, connected directly to a router via an Ethernet cable, or wirelessly with a $49 Sonos Bridge and part of a whole-house system.
I was invited to a Sonos event in California last week to demo the system, and I have to say, the sound, simplicity and performance was impressive. Sonos doesn’t list amp specs, but the system gets loud, and the depth and dimensionality of the audio went far beyond the small footprint of the soundbar. In a typical-sized living room, the PlayBar will easily be able to create an immersive sound experience. Electronic House will have a more thorough hands-on review when it launches.
Related: Review of the Sonos PLAY:3.
Sonos will make the PlayBar available on March 5 for $699 directly from Sonos.com or retailers including Amazon.com, Best Buy / Magnolia Home Theater, P.C. Richard & Son.
Check out more photos of the Sonos PlayBar here.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.