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Today’s Show:

Sonos Playbar and Sub Review

We’ve reviewed multiple soundbars in the past, from a wide variety of companies, but we’ve never reviewed a Playbar. What is the difference between a soundbar and a Playbar? Quite a bit as it turns out. Knowing Sonos we expected big things, and we weren’t disappointed in the slightest. The Playbar sells for $699 (shop now) and the optional Sub for an additional $699 (shop now).

 

Setup

If you already have any Sonos equipment in your home, setting up the Playbar and Sub is ridiculously easy. If you don’t have any Sonos gear, don’t worry, setup goes from ridiculously easy to quite easy. There’s simply not that much to it. First step is to connect the Playbar itself or the optional Sonos Bridge ($42) to your home network via wired Ethernet. Our review unit included a Bridge, and Braden already had one as well, so we went the Bridge route.

The one Sonos device you connect to wired Ethernet allows the rest of your Sonos devices to be placed anywhere in the home with no need for any wires other than power. Once you have that main device connected to the network, you can download the Sonos app either to your iOS device, your Android device, or to your personal computer. You use the app to connect to your main device – it becomes your controller – and add music sources to listen to.

Once you have a main Sonos device and the app to control all your Sonos gear up and running, adding new devices, like a Playbar or a Sub, is as easy as telling the app you want to add a new device, clicking a button on that device, and watching it show up. You can assign the new device to a room (by room name), and you’re ready to start listening to music. Since the Playbar is a little different, setup is slightly more involved. The app asks you a set of questions to help calibrate the speaker for your room, walks you through setting up your remote so the volume buttons will control the Playbar volume.

You connect the Playbar to your theater equipment using a single optical audio (toslink) cable. So if you have multiple sources, you’ll still need something in place to switch between them before sending the audio to your Playbar.

Adding the Sub is just as easy as adding the Playbar itself. Tell the app you want to add a Sub to your Playbar, click a button on the Sub and that’s it. You can place the Subwoofer itself anywhere. It just needs power. The app asks a couple quick calibration questions and you’ve just added all the booming bass you need for those big explosions.

 

Performance

As is true with just about any soundbar, the Playbar is clearly better than any TV speaker we have. Adding just the Playbar itself will improve your HDTV experience. When you add the Sub along with it, you get a new dimension in sound you would never come close to in a built-in TV speaker. The Playbar and Sub cannot compete with a dedicated Home Theater receiver and good, separate left, center and right speakers, but it isn’t intended to. For rooms that don’t have the full surround sound system, like a loft, a study, a game room or a bedroom, the Playbar is perfect.

For movies and HDTV the Playbar was as good as almost any other soundbar we’ve used or reviewed. The only one that stood out in our minds as better was the Yamaha Sound Projector from a CES demo a few years ago. But that was an almost $2000 device that was intended to simulate surround sound, The Playbar doesn’t try to simulate surround effects. It is clearly packaged and sold as a 3.0 system: left, center and right. Since we’ve had lackluster success with simulated surround in the past, the idea of sticking to 3.0 doesn’t bother us.

Where the Playbar really excels is with music and versatility. As a pure music playing device, the Playbar is excellent. Compared with other soundbars that seem tuned and designed for TV viewing, the Playbar almost feels like it is built for music. Every genre we threw at it, from Rock to Classical, sounded great. It was crisp and vibrant, not overly hushed in the higher tones or muffled in strange ways in the midrange. It just sounded clean.

And versatile. As a member of the Sonos family, the Playbar jumps right in with the rest of your gear to play and stream any of your music sources. It can stream your home media collection, including iTunes, and all of your online sources like Pandora, Spotify, Beats Music, Google Play, iHeartRadio and more. It can also sync with any other Sonos player to get the same music going in multiple rooms at once. For as many times as we’ve used or reviewed Sonos, we’re yet to have music synchronization issues with multi-zone playback.

 

But wait, there’s more…

This isn’t just an ordinary soundbar review, nor is it a typical ‘soundbar with a sub’ review, nor is it a ‘soundbar with a sub that can stream your music to in sync in multiple rooms’ review. Turns out this review is also about full 5.1 surround sound without wires … without speaker wires at least. You can actually add two additional sonos players to the rear of your room and turn the 3.1 Playbar + Sub int a full 5.1 surround system, with true surround speakers, not simulated ones. All they need is power.

We added two Play:1 ($199) speakers to the back of our test room and gave it a shot. Adding them was as easy as anything else. Tell the app you want to add a stereo pair for surround sound, click the button on the right speaker, click the button on the left speaker, tell the app how far away from your listening position each speaker is, and you’re done.

We watched a lot of movie clips with the Play:1 speakers proving the left and right surround for our newly created 5.1 home theater system, and they did a great job. Sync, as far as we could tell, was perfect. The Play:1 speaker is more than capable of reproducing surround effects well and with precision and clarity. Adding them to the back of the room totally changed the game. We added surround sound without running speaker wires, we did it with the click of a button, and we did it without the popping and crackling you can get from a wireless speaker solution.

 

Drawbacks

The biggest drawback is the single optical audio cable. The first, and most obvious, is if you have multiple sources, like a cable or satellite box and a Blu-ray player. In that case you’d still need something else to switch the audio for you so you didn’t have to manually switch cables to change inputs. The second reason is that optical cables simply don’t support the latest and greatest audio codecs.  Sonos may never support a 7.1 system with four Play:1 speakers in the back of the room, but an HDMI input and support for the newer audio codecs would go a long way to making the Playbar feel more future-proof.

 

Conclusion

After the review, this was one of the very few products that Braden’s wife asked if they got to keep. Unfortunately not. And unfortunately it was too late to pick them up for Father’s day, but there’s always Christmas. She asked because of how dramatically better the sound was on the loft TV using the Playbar. It was like night and day. And the speaker is so slim and well designed aesthetically, that it blends right in to any media room setup. There is so much more that the Playbar can do that we haven’t talked about. It really is a great piece of equipment.

Bottom line, if you have Sonos, get a Playbar for your secondary TVs. If you don’t have Sonos, get your feet wet with a Playbar and before you know it, you’ll be adding Play:1 speakers all over your house. If you watch a lot of movies on those secondary TVs, get the Sub and the extra two Play:1 speakers. You’ll be impressed, and so will any guests you have over.

 

Download Episode #639


Posted by The HT Guys, June 13, 2014 3:33 AM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.