Sonos Playbar Review: Impressive Wireless TV Soundbar

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As sound bars go there have been a lot of attempts by vendors to deliver a knockout product that hooks up to a big screen TV in an effort to improve audio output, but no one has delivered a wireless soundbar as impressive as the new Sonos Playbar.A few weeks ago when I got a call from Sonos asking me to come and see a new product that was still under embargo, I initially thought we were going to see a new speaker set. What was revealed was a brand new sound bar called the ‘Playbar’ that, for the $950 price tag, delivers a whole lot of wireless audio output via a TV.

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The new Sonos Playbar is a trend setter which is not surprising as Sonos has not only dictated how wireless audio products should be designed, they have also delivered a software offering that is unequalled by any audio or wireless company in the world.

The first thing you notice about this soundbar is that size does not equal output. Inside are nine speakers: three 1-inch tweeters and six 3.5-inch speakers, each driven by a built in amplifier.

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The height of the Playbar is 900mm, it measures 40mm in width and it has a depth of 85mm, which means it fits easily and discreetly in front of most TVs.

The move by Sonos to hook up their already popular wireless audio system to the TV has been well thought out. Installation is a breeze as there is no need for a receiver, complex cables or speakers.

 

 

But the most impressive feature-apart from the sound-is the way the 3.1 soundbar can be turned into a 5.1 channel home theatre system and managed using the highly functional Sonos software, which can be accessed using a PC, smartphone or tablet.

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Out of the box you get a 3.1 channel sound system, but if you already own a pair of Play 3 Sonos speakers and a sub, you can quickly turn the Sonos kit into a powerful 5.1 channel home theatre kit. The device also delivers excellent music output from a multitude of sources including JB Hi Fi Now, Rdio, Spotify, Pandora or even internet radio.

Sonos speakers aren’t like normal speakers that have to be hooked up to a receiver, they are wireless enabled  and allow music to be streamed around a house with individual sources fed to different rooms, so while one is watching TV in one room someone else can be listening to music in another.

A big advantage of the Playbar is that it has a built-in accelerometer that detects its orientation, and automatically tweaks the audio output depending on its positioning. There’s also no remote with the Playbar as Sonos has built in recognition for most TV remotes, and in setting the device up I was easily able to configure my Foxtel remote to manage my TV audio.

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The only problem I had was that the LG TV that I was setting the Playbar up to did not allow me to isolate the audio in their menu software. The alternate solution was simple, mute the TV sound and allow the Playbar to take over.

A big advantage with the design of the Playbar is that you can mount it above or below your TV; I chose to sit it in front of my TV where it was unobtrusive.

 

A weakness with the new system is that Sonos has chosen to connect the soundbar to the TV via an optical cable which means that if you have an older TV, the chances are you will not have an optical connection.

There is no HDMI input on the Playbar but you do get standard two-channel audio and Dolby Digital.

Also on the back is a standard power connector and two Ethernet ports. I have a Sonos Bridge so I was able to avoid having to connect an Ethernet cable to set up the device.

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When you turn your TV on after playing music, all you have to do is hit the TV button that appears on the Sonos software interface. This icon appears when you upgrade the software to accommodate the Playbar.  

There is no audio juggling between a device and the Playbar.

All a user has to do when plugging in the Playbar for the first time is follow the prompts that appear when you nominate to attach another Sonos device.

The real value of the new Playbar shines through when you plug in a Blu-ray movie and the 5.1 set up kicks in. The sound is as good as you get from a more expensive home theatre kit.

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Under the bonnet the Sonos audio engineering does a lot of processing to separate the different channels. Apart from Dolby Digital the system has a “speech enhancement” option and “night sound,” which can be switch on and off from the app. While one compresses audio, such as loud bands, the other increases the levels on soft sound.

If you don’t have any Sonos kit, don’t skimp by just buying the Playbar, go the whole hog and get the Play 3 speakers. And if you really want to impress your friends buy the Sonos sub, it makes a whopping difference.

 

 

The bottom line is this system is easy to set up, you can easily manage content by using the Sonos app and the sound is as good as any other soundbar or home theatre kit that costs sub $3,000.

It also makes Airplay look like yesterday’s technology due to the software allowing different music tracks to be streamed to different speakers in different zones or rooms.

It also allows one to ditch all the components needed for Hi Fi output especially if you have a TV in the same room.

For me this device delivers a five out of five experience, it is elegantly designed and it delivers impressive sound, but more importantly, it allows me to manage content from multiple devices, which is why Sonos is going to be hard to beat in the future as wireless audio takes off.

Sonos is the system that every Hi Fi vendor has to better if they want to dominate with wireless audio technology.

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