I have had the opportunity to try and test a great number of smart devices over the years, from environment-aware thermostats, to remote lighting, I never forget my first impressions, and the Playbar by Sonos is without doubt up there in my top three.
For those of you who are not familiar, Sonos is a range of wireless smart speakers that can play music from all sorts of services to any room, or all of them should you wish! Needless to say that these speakers are not strictly limited to music, and are more commonly found in living rooms as part of an enhanced television/entertainment sound system.
The Sonos range is ever growing, but in this review we are going to be talking in particular about their ‘Playbar’.
A League Of Their Own
I am writing this review whilst desperately trying to avoid the word ‘soundbar’, you will find soundbars everywhere nowadays, and as their popularity has grown, so has the number of manufacturers attempting to produce their own version…but as the title suggests, the Sonos Playbar really doesn’t compare.
You may have seen bars of a similar size, and that are much cheaper, but listen to them side by side and you will instantly hear the difference, cheaper speakers sound hollow and have no character, whereas Sonos speakers instantly grab your attention with a full and balanced wall of sound.
Behind the sleek looking front mesh sits nine individual speakers (six mid-range and three tweeters), all positioned in such a way that the Playbar is able to replace what used to be a left, centre, and right speaker set up. The result of this combination of speakers, best described by Sonos themselves, are ‘deep booms, crystal clear whispers, and huge waves of concert-like sound’.
With the company’s focus being a speaker that is clearer, not necessarily louder, it is clear to see why this device has been rated the best of its class from an ever growing number of well respected reviewers.
Looking Smart, Acting Smarter
There is no denying that this speaker is an incredibly sleek and premium looking product that you will have no shame in presenting within your home.
Hooking up this device is very simple, simply plug in the included power lead to the back and then connect your televisions ‘optical out’ port to the ‘optical in’ port of the speaker, this means that any sound fed to your television will be sent directly to the Playbar, no other routing required. You will then need to obtain the Sonos controller smartphone application (free) where you will be guided in setting up the device.
If you have been looking into this device already, you may have seen images of the speaker in two different orientations, placed flat below a television, or wall mounted, both orientations are perfectly acceptable thanks to an in-built gyroscope which senses the bar’s orientation and adjusts the speaker output accordingly, clever stuff.
In fact if you are thinking of wall mounting your Sonos Playbar then we would also recommend the Sonos wall bracket. If you would rather place the bar underneath your TV but find that it obscures your vision slightly, you may want to check out a custom designed ‘Playbar TV Stand’ which will raise the height of your television to account for the new speaker addition, all to your own taste of course, not a requirement.
The best thing about this speaker is that it is content aware, whether you are listening to an epic movie, or want to listen to your classical music collection, it adapts tremendously to always produce a clear and consistent sound. If you have a Play 1, Play 3 or Play 5 you will find more on how this is possible in the next section ‘fine tuning’.
Sonos systems also work seamlessly with a range of music services including Spotify, Deezer, Soundcloud, Pandora, and Apple Music.
And we’re not done yet! The speaker also has an internal IR repeater which basically gives it the ability the learn the volume up/down controls from your television’s remote so that it can be controlled without having to fiddle around with an app, it’s easy to see why this device stands out from the rest when you consider all of these functions.
For those who aren’t aware, a lot of what contributes to a speaker’s tone is the room that it sits within, rooms have lots of reflective surfaces that sound bounces off, and as these reflections build the tone of the speaker will begin to change. The issue of problematic acoustics is usually resolved in studios by placing absorbent materials on walls, but of course this is not what you want to be doing in your living room at home!
The experts at Sonos wanted to do something about this to ensure their speakers always sound their best even in poor environments, so they developed a piece of software call ‘Trueplay‘.
Trueplay is integrated within the Sonos mobile application and is an extremely clever addition to their system. The software asks you to walk around your room whilst holding your mobile phone in the air, the Sonos Playbar will emit all sorts of strange noises, meanwhile your mobile’s microphone will compare the difference between those sounds after they have made their way through your room, at the end of this process Trueplay will create a custom filter which is finally sent to your speaker, the result being a fine tuned speaker that adjusts for all of the inconsistencies within your room, as Sonos experts say ‘it’s like pulling the curtains away that are blocking your speaker’s sound’. Needless to say that we recommend you perform this process as soon as you’ve plugged in the speaker for the first time to really hear the quality that these devices can produce.
I’m not going to go into each and every other Sonos speaker available on the market here, instead I just wanted to briefly talk about the benefits should you wish to add additional speakers later on.
It is fairly common for people to have a number of speakers around their homes, the issue though is that every time you move between rooms you are forced to reconnect, wouldn’t it be better for the music to follow you around your home, and all at the same time?
The great thing about Sonos speakers is that they all communicate to act as one single system, this means at the touch of a button you can instantly transfer playing music to another Sonos speaker within your home, and all with no pauses. Of course this system is not limited to playing sound out on one speaker at a time, you can in fact play music out of a number of their speakers together, and all seamlessly in sync.
This kind of setup means that you can easily have a party in your home with every person in every room listening to the same thing at the same time, this being just one of the many possibilities of course.
If the front three speakers from the Playbar are not enough and you would rather a more complete 5.1 surround sound system then fear not, Sonos offer a number of other speakers which you can add to the playbar to give you a complete discrete surround sound system. For the two rear speakers you have the choice of a pair of Sonos Play 1’s, Sonos Play 3’s, or Sonos Play 5’s, the Play 1’s are the smallest of the range and do to job perfectly so we would personally recommend those, but if you don’t mind larger speakers than of course check out the other two.
Sonos also offer a dedicated subwoofer which reaches the lower-end of the spectrum where the others cannot, and as expected, it sounds great. It features a one-button setup and holds the same sleek look as the rest of the range, it does however cost as much as the playbar, so a surround system of this kind can quickly become expensive.
Worth The Money?
Yes, this speaker is much more expensive than other similar items on the market which may require some extra consideration from someone who is not an audio enthusiast, but I am hoping after you have read this review that you can now see why. This is a speaker like no other of its kind, the amount of technology and thought that has gone into this device makes it easily stand out from the crowd.
When you purchase a Sonos speaker you are purchasing a wire-free speaker that will adapt to its surroundings, look smart, and most importantly sound unreal.
Don’t just take our word for it, as with any speaker, head down to your local store and let your ears decide, I am yet to find anyone who has not liked what they have heard.