Sonos PlayBar Review: Pump Up the Volume!

Sonos-Playbar
The Sonos PlayBar has a nine-speaker design and support for wireless music streaming, retail price $699. Image: Sonos.

Buying a brand-new TV was probably not an easy decision. That giant, boxy TV that used to consume the better part of your living room was a great companion—and still had a great picture. However, today’s flat HDTVs take up very little space and offer an even-better viewing experience.

That said, they don’t really sound all that good. Sure, it gets the job done. However, for all of the research, testing and technology that’s gone into making the perfect picture, the sound sort of got cut out of the equation.

Of course, you could set up a receiver and a room filled with speakers. For some people, though, that’s just not an option. Soundbars are becoming a popular solution, because it allows one speaker to boost the sound of your TV. Sonos recently added its name to the growing selection of soundbars, announcing the Sonos PlayBar.

The hook on the PlayBar isn’t just that it makes your TV sound wonderful (it does), but that it also streams music wirelessly from sources that aren’t your TV.

Unboxing the Speaker
Out of the box, the PlayBar may seem a little daunting. After all, the thing measures 3.35-by-35.43-by-5.51 inches. This is not a tiny box.

Assuming you don’t wrench your back getting the PlayBar out of the box, the setup could not be any easier. PlayBar offers two choices for placement: You can lay it flat on a shelf or cabinet or you can mount it on the wall. If your TV is mounted, wall mounting maybe preferable. Just know that the PlayBar mounting kit is sold separately.

Next, you’ll connect the supplied optical audio cable between the PlayBar and your TV. Finally, you’ll add in the power cord. A quick tip: You’re going to want to make sure that the power cord is secured. Because of where it’s located, every time I flipped over the PlayBar, it became unplugged. Is this a deal-breaker? Of course, not. Just make sure you push that thing in, and you’ll be good to go.

Also, you may want to go into your TV’s setting and shut off the internal speakers. I wasn’t able to get sound through the TV or the PlayBar until I made that move. Some of you may just experience an echo. In other words, it’s not going to sound better with both the TV speakers and the PlayBar going at the same time.

Now, installation isn’t quite complete just yet. You’ll need to network the PlayBar, so it can get software updates and do the aforementioned music streaming. That network connection can happen one of two ways. If you have the means, the PlayBar is easy to connect to your router or a network switch via an Ethernet cable. If the web isn’t anywhere near your TV, you’ll need to purchase the $49 Sonos Bridge. This tiny box easily hooks to your home router, making a simple wireless connection for the PlayBar.

Once everything is hooked up, download the Sonos Controller app. It’s free, it’s fun, and it can help you connect the PlayBar to your typical TV remote. The app walks you through the entire connection process with ease. Once everything is set up, you can use the app to control the PlayBar. However, I found it a lot easier to use my DISH Network remote. My family was also happy that they didn’t have to learn anything new!

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The back of the Sonos PlayBar has minimal connection options, making for a simple setup. Image: Sonos.

So, How Does It Sound?
I have yet to encounter a soundbar that sounds better than a full complement of speakers. The PlayBar is no different. However, it’s worlds better than what’s currently coming out of your TV. I promise you that! We used the PlayBar for sports, movies, and everyday TV watching. It provides a nice little kick.

Also worth noting is that the app has an option for “Night Sound.” Click on the little moon icon at the bottom of your smartphone or tablet screen, and the PlayBar will suppress the louder sounds and boost the quiet sounds. In other words, it will balance out the sound a little better, so you aren’t cranking up the volume and waking the entire house.

The PlayBar is a fun little addition, but I do have two gripes. The first is that the unit doesn’t technically support the DTS sound format. Instead, it’s all about Dolby, which makes it perfect for everyday TV viewing. However, if you plan to have a Blu-ray player in this mix,  it won’t always sound as nice as when you’re watching TV. You see, a lot of Blu-rays come equipped with DTS soundtracks. I saw a few people griping about this on the web. I tested out the Blu-ray for KickAss, which has a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that’s well… pretty kick-ass. What I got with the PlayBar was a downmixed version of the track. I could hear it, but it just didn’t pack the same punch as the track that I have come to know, love, and use for demo purposes. In fact, it wasn’t even close. It didn’t even have the same pop as a Blu-ray with a Dolby track.

My other gripe is really nitpicky, but the PlayBar could use a little extra bass action. It has a nine-speaker design, so you’d think some of those would crank out better bass. However, if you’re not currently rocking a subwoofer, you probably won’t notice the difference. Also, if bass means that much to you, Sonos does sell the SUB Wireless Subwoofer for an extra $699.

Streaming Dream
Now, sometimes you don’t want to watch TV. It’s true! For those moments, the PlayBar offers music—a ton of it.

The free Sonos Controller app allows you to stream music from an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and most other portables. It’s really one of the features that sets this soundbar apart from the rest and makes it worth the $699 price tag. Yes, it’s a steep one, but the PlayBar will really become your one-stop shop for audio—and frankly, it’s quite addictive.

Inside the app, there’s a little Music icon. Touch that and you’ll be treated to a wealth of musical options, whether you’re tapping into your home network, a portable device, web radio, or the many others listed. Sonos is compatible with streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player, Last.fm, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, and countless others. However, it’s important to note that almost all of these options require some type of subscription and/or monthly fees.

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The Sonos PlayBar is sturdy, but slim, making it easy to place right under almost any TV. Image: Sonos.

Are You Ready to Rock?
Without a doubt, the Sonos PlayBar delivers an awesome boost to everyday TV watching. However, it’s not as great as a full speaker system, which could make that $699 price tag sort of tough to swallow. After all, there are several other soundbar options out there. Some of them sound pretty nice, too, and at a fraction of the price. Of course, none of them offer as many options for wireless music streaming.

It’s also important to note that Sonos offers the aforementioned SUB, as well as several wireless surround speakers, if you ever feel the need to branch out. That said, if all you’ve had to date is the sound that’s coming out of your TV and you have the means, a single PlayBar offers a really nice upgrade and adds in more musical options than you could ever imagine.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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