Soundbar speakers evolved as a compromise between improved sound (compared to tiny built-in TV speakers) and retaining the sleeker presence of a flat panel display. Sonos has further improved the design by further streamlining the form factor, offering the Sonos Playbar, a wireless streaming speaker designed for wall-mounting or positioned underneath a display. With a selection of TV shows, action movies, and favorite songs, I recently had the opportunity to put this all-in-one soundbar to a real world test to see if its beauty went beyond skin deep...
Setup: The Playbar allows for two placement options; it can hang on your wall, or it can sit on a media console below your TV, as I stationed above for review. Either way, the speaker system should blend well into most modern decors and home entertainment setups.
Sonos has fully embraced a progressive philosophy between user and device, and thus requires users to have an iOS or Android device to control music playback, via the Sonos app. The proprietary network Sonos requires users to download specific software that indexes your music library (in my case, iTunes) and provides a remote control via tablets and smartphones.
Connections: A single snug fitting detachable power cable provides power to the Playbar, while connecting your TV or cable box audio to the Playbar is simply a matter of inserting one optical cable between devices (Sonos earns points for including this cable). As a bonus the Playbar is easily programmed to be compatible with your TV remote's volume buttons, so the app isn't required to change volume levels.
You can connect the Playbar directly to your home network router with an Ethernet cable, or you can purchase the Bridge, a proprietary brain center for a whole Sonos speakers setup, so that the Playbar can playback audio wirelessly. Getting the Sonos network configured was easy and their customer support team made the experience simple and help notably friendly (I tip my hats to Sonos for providing excellent phone support).
Movie Listening: Armed with my Roku box, Blu-ray player, and HDTV, I began enlisting the help of some favorite shows and films. To start, I cued up a childhood favorite - Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Listening to Ferris and Cameron's dialogue, combined with the sounds of a Ferrari motor growling proved to be full, rich, and clear in every way. Even the soundtrack music from Swedish synthpop duo Yello (remember, "Oh Yeah"?) came through with an even-tight frequency response. Most importantly, all these layers of sound were clearly and tightly translated on the Playbar
Apartment dwellers will appreciate that the Playbar can deliver a powerful, but clean sound output ideal for boosting dialogue. The Playbar's internal amplifier and speaker array did a great job of providing clear dialogue and subtle SFX, even at lower volume settings.
Action packed films like Star Wars and 007 were also a treat to watch via the Playbar. Getting an explosive feel for SFX in a soundbar has not been my previous experience. The Playbar handles dynamics well and can responde to subtle audio cues that other soundbars may not reproduce as clearly. While I have not tried it, a 3 channel and 5.1 channel setup can be achieved by adding more wireless Sonos speakers.
The sound enhancement features like loudness, EQ, and speech enhancement were sometimes useful, but I mostly preferred the sound without any of those extra options engaged.
Music via Playbar: Getting the Sonos app installed onto my iPhone and MacBook was simple and painless. The Sonos customer support walked me through the entire setup process, and afterward I had the Sonos application running on my Macbook, while I used the iOS app to remotely change songs and volume settings. The app also allows simple and easy access to internet radio, even local radio stations are easily searchable.
The app is simple to navigate and selecting Artists or Albums is a snap. Since I used the Sonos Bridge, I was able to wirelessly transmit my music library to the Playbar. This proprietary network allows you to add more Sonos speaker systems for different rooms. The Sonos network works very well and responds with little delay. Even more, the Sonos network allows for full uncompressed playback of major file types from personal computers(WAV, ALAC, FLAC, AIFF), and of course MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, and Audible. When playing music directly off your smartphone, streaming is limited to lossless and lossy file types (i.e. ALAC, FLAC, MP3).
Music playback through the Playbar is surprisingly worthwhile considering the single unit design, just don't expect the fullest imaging. Tonally the sound was fairly pleasing and the bass was tight and not overly extended. Listening to rock, jazz, and even electronica the audio came through with great control and clarity, something not always associated with soundbars.
Although the Playbar offers a clean musical sound, the stereo image still lacks the localization that two separate speakers can provide. Rather than see this a total loss, I see music through the Playbar as a great way to fill a small room with background music when space is an issue.
With all the soundbars available, Sonos has taken a unique approach with the Playbar. By combining a proprietary wireless music network and allowing simple TV integration, the Playbar satisfies many small room requirements while offering a clean tight sound that minimizes the compromise factor. If clean movie/show dialogue at any volume and seamless music integration are important to your living, I suggest auditioning the Playbar in your entertainment system.
Pros: Wall Mount or media console; excellent sound from movies and TV shows; clean and even sound with tightly controlled speaker drivers delivering precision clarity; proprietary Sonos network allows streaming of music; Sonos phone support/customer service is excellent.
Cons: A little pricey, considering the Sonos Bridge is required for wireless connectivity; stereo imaging is modest and inferior to separate speaker setup.
(Images: Sonos / Vahan Baladouni)
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.