The Sonos Playbar is one of the most popular soundbars in the world, a real success for the company that completely streamlined streaming and multiroom audio. Why does the Playbase now appear, a similarly similar product with an identical price tag? In this review we look at the Sonos Playbase.
Introduction Sonos Playbase
Just like the Playbar, the Playbase is intended as a double solution: it improves the sound of your television and it streams all possible music. The latter is fun for times when the TV screen is off and you want to listen to something in the living room. In terms of design, the Playbase is completely different from the Playbar, which is a soundbar. Sonos himself says that a sound bar only fits a part of the consumers. The company thinks of people who hang up their television or where a soundbar can be placed on a TV cabinet in a suitable manner. But, according to the company, it actually concerns a minority of living rooms. At the presentation of the Play Base in Boston illustrated Sonos frequently encountered problems with images of less than optimal Playbar set-ups discovered in the field: half cut out in a cupboard, somewhere on the ground, and even behind the TV screen.
That is better and so Sonos created the Playbase. That did not happen overnight. According to one Sonos employee we spoke to, development took four years, which is an eternity in the CE world. But it also typifies somewhere Sonos, because the brand only releases new products and supports its sold devices for at least ten years. The latter is true. We have Sonos devices from 2007 in our possession and they still work fine and still receive all software updates that appear regularly. If only all consumer electronics were so, we think.
No new idea, but …
Sonos is not the first with this concept of ‘a speaker under your TV’. A few years ago there was even a considerable hype about soundbases like the Playbase. That was due to the success of the Bose Solo, a fairly compact speaker that was actually meant for second TVs in the bedroom. The me-too devices that appeared with brands like Canton, Denon and Sony were already more suitable for large televisions. The hype around soundbases, however, seemed short-lived, although there were also fine devices between them. For example, the Sony HT-XT3 did not score badly during our tests. But still, the consumer’s interest in soundbases seemed to be gone. So the appearance of the Playbase is a surprise somewhere.
The design of the Playbase
The Playbase is a large speaker, but with a fine design that does not come across as a result of its curved lines. If you unpack it – and the packaging is almost as slender as the speaker – you will notice that the Playbase is perfectly finished. The housing is of high quality and looks almost seamless. He is also a bit heavier than you expect, which is undoubtedly a necessity. The device is designed to carry a TV up to 35 kilograms and that requires the necessary structural strength of the Playbase.
During the design of the new Play: 5, Sonos perfected a technique to drill a lot of small holes in material, a process that is also used in the Playbase to perforate the entire front and parts of the side. Almost 43,000 holes are there, which is an incredible number. At a viewing distance of two meters they are almost invisible, making the front of the Playbase almost solid. That is certainly the case with the black version, with the white version the front seems far grayer. The holes are not equal, by the way, but are larger to the side to allow a wider spread of sound.
Connect Sonos Playbase to your TV
When it comes to connections, Sonos makes radical choices. That was also the case with the Playbar. Many sound bars and audio solutions for the TV connect to the TV via HDMI. This has certain advantages: the remote control of the TV can change the volume of the audio device, uncompressed surround formats can be sent from the TV to the audio device (at least theoretically) and in many cases you can hang external HDMI devices on the soundbar. But Sonos does not see its devices as an HDMI switch, has a solution for the remote and states that surround via HDMI-ARCis not much better. That is not entirely unjustified, because it is true that many televisions via the return audio channel are not able to transmit formats such as DTS Master Audio HD or Dolby TrueHD in full quality.
In short, Sonos only provides one cable connection: a digital optical input. With the included cable you connect the Playbase to the optical output of your television. Such an exit is always on a modern television and can never be used incorrectly. Another big advantage is that the optical output is always switched on with many TVs. If that is not the case, then you only need to turn it on quickly in the settings of your television. But you have no hassle with additional settings (for example around HDMI-CEC ). That simplicity is what attracts Sonos to an optical connection. We had, like the Playbar, still liked the choice. But, says Sonos, that makes things more complicated for the average consumer. It is a choice.
Pair with the network
Just like other Sonos devices, the Playbase is made to be connected to the network. This can be done via WiFi or via an Ethernet cable. A nice fact: if you connect the Playbase wirelessly, you can use the ethernet port to hang another device (such as a console or smart TV) on the network. That can sometimes be useful.
In any case, the first step is to install the Sonos app on a mobile device (Android or iOS) or on a computer (MacOS or Windows). The mobile app is the easiest to use, especially if you want to set up a speaker. The Sonos app on the computer is somewhat dated. The app is one of the strongest points of the brand. It works well and also provides sufficient information when setting up a Sonos product, also in Dutch. Especially if you already have Sonos devices at home, it is child’s play to connect the Playbase to the network. Otherwise you just follow the planned roadmap. A final step is giving the Playbase a name (such as ‘Living Room’), which is especially relevant if you have other Sonos stuff elsewhere in your home.
The Playbase can be used purely to improve the sound of your TV, but the speaker is also able to play music from a variety of sources. This too is a point where Sonos has a head start on rivals. It supports dozens of streaming services, including all major and most small. We can not think of any missing streaming services. You can also play your own music files (only lossy formats such as MP3, AAC and lossless to CD quality, no hi-res audio) and listen to internet radio. Setting up a music service is easy and arranged in a minute. Sonos also means ‘multiroom’: via the app you can link the Playbase with other Sonos speakers, send the sound of your TV to other speakers or simply allow every family member in his own room to listen to his own music. That linking and changing is all very easy.
Adjust the audio output
The Playbase comes with Trueplay, a feature that Sonos introduced to his speakers a while ago. It is a clever idea that takes into account the fact that how a speaker sounds depends not only on that speaker. The properties of the room also play a role and sometimes even a very large role. Trueplay works by briefly distributing test sounds and analyzing them. Based on that analysis, the sound profile of the speaker is adjusted, for example to compensate for a reflection or excessive absorption.
Trueplay is only possible via an iOS device because only the same microphones are consistently installed in their mobile devices. Sonos has to know the characteristics of the microphone of your phone or tablet, because the test tones that come from the Playbase are recorded via this microphone. With Android devices, there is a much larger variety of hardware, even within the same model. For example, a Samsung Galaxy S7 in Europe is not the same device as in Asia. However, you only need that iOS device for the Trueplay measurement, after which you use what you want to control the Playbase. You can also ask a friend to do the measurement at your home, then you can continue with your Android phone. A measurement does not take long, about 2-3 minutes.
The Trueplay measurement is now somewhat more extensive than in the beginning. Now two measurements are taken: one in the viewing and listening position and one throughout the room. With this second measurement you have to walk through the room swinging your mobile device while playing the test tones. The eye a bit crazy, but is so over. Do not wave too fast, because then you can run the test again.
The test: how does the Sonos Playbase sound?
We test the Sonos speaker together with an LG OLED55B6V , which is mounted on the wall in our test room. We pick up the unused foot of the B6 and can see that it would fit the Playbase without problems. The LG TV is also very light, an advantage of OLED technology, so the weight would not be a problem. One drawback: the remote with this TV works with RF radio signals, not with infrared. We can not connect our TV remote with the Sonos Playbase, as is possible with most TV remote controls. Just messing around in a slider to find an unused old remote and linking it, and we could continue. You really have to do that, because controlling the volume via the app is not practical during TV viewing.
We have tried the Sonos Playbase in a number of configurations. You can, as with the Playbar, extend the Playbase with a Sonos Sub and a set of Play speakers in the back of the room. The Play 1 speakers are the best for this: they offer great value for money, are compact and there are a lot of aftermarket brackets and stands available. The more expensive Play: 3 is in our opinion still the weakest link in the Sonos offer, although it must be said that the rearspeakers in a surround setup are rarely put to the test. It must be said that it is not a cheap solution to make a complete home cinema system from Sonos speakers. For more than 2,000 euros you have a 5.1 channel surround system.
First the Sonos Playbase without anything, with and without Trueplay. The result of Trueplay will depend on room to room, in our test room it sharpens the high tones and reduces the energy in the layer. A subtle difference that we notice when we look at ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and switch Trueplay on and off. Compared to the not bad built-in speakers of the B6, the Playbase already offers a big step forward, luckily. One of the big improvements is that dialogues sound fuller and also come out of the Playbase. Of course, the low is now also much more present, because that is a weak point with television speakers. The Playbase has a woofer that emits low tones via an S-shaped reflex, which is quite effective. It does not dive extremely deep and there is a lack of detail, but that is in comparison with a separate subwoofer. For films this is not bad, when listening to music you can sometimes miss the fine detail in the layer. But still, if we listen to ‘Between the buttons’ and ‘DDROPP’ by French electrician French 79, then there is a lot of sense for rhythm, it does not sound fluffy and the Playbase stays on track when we change the volume. open up further. The Sonos speaker does not begin to vibrate or resonate, which is an indication that the housing is very well put together.
Just like with the Playbar, the Sub is also a good addition to the Sonos Playbase. But perhaps for other reasons. We have been able to compare the Playbar and Playbase side by side: adding the Sub to the Playbar can be seen as an extension of the frequency range, while the Playbase gives it a refinement. In the low, the Playbase performs out of the box stronger than the Playbar, thanks to that woofer. The Playbar is then again just a bit more spacious than the Playbase.
The added value of adding two Play: 1’s for a 5.1 set-up is almost the same at the Sonos Playbase and Playbar. Although Sonos’ surround processing is not always as accurate as with true surround processing from an AV receiver, it does work to give a more cinematic feel. Much depends on the time you put into the correct placement of the rear speakers and they adjust well in terms of volume. We heard the best effect when the Play: 1’s were mounted on a wall at a height of 1-1.5 meters from the listening position at ear level.
The Sonos Playbase is a great speaker. It fits well with certain situations, for example if you have a modest TV stand where your television is on. Compared to existing soundbases, the Sonos Playbase is a better speaker, also because of the intuitive operation and good streaming support that Sonos is known for. At the same time, the speaker with its price of 799 euros is considerably more expensive than most competitors, insofar as you can still track it in the store.
It is not the ultimate TV solution. In some ways we find the Playbar in combination with a Sonos Sub better, partly because it creates a wider sound. But you choose the Sonos Playbase – which was released as an alternative to the Playbar – because it suits you better as a solution. The smooth operation and multiroom capabilities you get from Sonos.