Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Review Of The Sonos Playbar Soundbar With Subwoofer And Bridge.

Since 2002, Sonos has defined itself as the premiere wireless music speaker distribution system for those who want "All The Music In The World" in any or every room of their home or workplace. The advantages to Sonos hardware lies in eliminating the need to run speaker wire through one's living or work space. Granted the speakers each have to be plugged into an outlet in order to work, but generally speaking, electrical outlets tend to be more evenly distributed and discretely placed than the hassles some face when they try to install a multi speaker wired system throughout a room or rooms that simply were not built with multiple sound zones in mind from a central wired receiver. 

Soundbars, which offer an easier solution for consumers, have become more popular though no soundbar alone can ever equal the true listening experience a home theater system with surround sound speakers and capable of 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, which greatly increase the home theater experience especially because sound is really half what makes movies truly cinematic. Stereo speakers found on most flat panel televisions simply pale in comparison.

Yet even if you buy a home theater receiver and some quality speakers as well as an active powered subwoofer, you won't enjoy the experience as it was intended if you are forced to clump all the speakers against one wall because you can't drill holes into the walls to run speaker wires discretely. Granted if you have a dedicated room in a house or condo or even a basement, you can design a true home theater that will look and sound better than some commercial multiplexes. 
Sadly, that simply isn't the case for everyone and that is where Sonos' new Playbar Soundbar comes in. After many rumors that Sonos was going to enter the realm of home theater, last year the Sonos Playbar was finally released and if you are already a Sonos user or are looking to get into the Sonos ecosystem, but were waiting for a home theater solution that combines the advantages of Sonos' wireless HIFI system and it's expandability and your budget allows for it then the Playbar is worth considering.
The Playbar soundbar is a 3.0 surround sound system that features a total of nine speakers, (six mid woofers and three tweeters), each individually amped and placed at a 45 degree angle to give the user a choice of either placing the soundbar flat on a surface or mount it on the wall below their HDTV and the unit's built in accelerometer automatically adjusts the speakers so there is no loss in fidelity whatsoever. Like many soundbars on the market, the Sonos Playbar is intended to have a single wired connection to the television because in bypassing the home theater receiver, Sonos expects the consumer to use their TV as the hub for all their devices. Thus depending on your HDTV's input options, you can hookup directly via HDMI your Blu-ray Player, PlayStation or XBOX gaming system, an Apple TV and or a ROKU as well as cable or satellite set top box and then simply use your  television, Harmony Universal, or the cable or satellite television provider's remote control to switch between inputs. This is a cleaner solution especially if you have lots of HD inputs on your flat panel television.

You can also program your remote of choice to control the volume and mute functions on the soundbar or use the free SONOS app available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon's App Store to control your complete Sonos system from your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet and you can also download the app on Windows and Mac OS X desktops and laptops too. In fact multiple devices can be programmed easily and intuitively to contribute content and control your Sonos system. 

The iOS app was so easy that I was able to connect the Playbar to my existing equipment in minutes and was wirelessly streaming music uncompressed from iTunes to the Playbar and the music sounded simply great. Better in fact than my old 7.1 component home theater system and better than a budget Soundbar I have from Boston Acoustics. Over the years that I have been reviewing films on home video and television I have moved up the ladder from a stereo system to a Kenwood Home Theater in a box 5.1 component system and then upgrading to a JVC 7.1 receiver and then an Onkyo 7.1 home theater receiver with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding while replacing speakers and adding speakers as needed from Sony or Yamaha, but as a New Yorker living in an large, but still not necessarily a Home Theater friendly apartment, I became frustrated with all the wires and difficulty setting up a home theater that was both aesthetically appealing and acoustically optimized. 

Finally I purchased a budget soundbar by Boston Acoustics that I used for times when I was watching TV for fun instead of for work and while the soundbar definitely improved my overall listening experience over the stereo speakers on my television, it did not provide the separation of sound I had grown used to on my home theater receiver.

Since testing the Sonos I have ditched the receiver and the wires and speakers from my living room and while I still have a 7.1 set up in my office because my job requires it for when I review Blu-rays and DVD lossless and or digital audio tracks, if I did not have to have them, I would get rid of it because my Sonos system simply sounds better and is easier to use too.
Sonos uses Wifi to create it's own network that distributes sound wirelessly between the speakers. At least one Sonos component must be wired via an Ethernet cable directly into the speaker or for greater flexibility into the Sonos Bridge, which can control in a wireless network up to 32 Sonos components , which is more than most people will ever need. This is also especially useful for those who have their router too far from their home theater  to make a wired connection to one component practical. Simply place included Ethernet cable into the bridge wherever your high speed internet modem and or wireless network router is located and then you are set.
The Sonos Playbar automatically adjusts to the differences between shoot-'em-up action flicks, Shakespearean dramas, and live concerts to deliver the sound as it was intended. For after-hours viewing, Night Mode compresses the volume so you can hear all the details without waking the family.
With the Sonos Bridge wired a second Sonos Wireless Network is automatically created and none of your other Sonos Speaker Components need to be wired. Sonos speakers also give access to Sonos' best in class music service selection. Users can choose both paid and free internet radio and music streaming services that include Amazon Cloud Player, iTunes, Rhapsody, Tunein, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, I Heart Radio, Pandora, Songza, Spotify and many others with new services being added and all of your music in your iTunes library or Google Play as well as anything on your Mac and or Windows PC can stream wirelessly and be saved in cue within the network. This yields a better and more expansive listening experience than is available using Bluetooth alone and you don't have to worry about going out of range with your mobile phone if your phone is supplying the music at a party or whatnot. Sonos' wireless network can accept audio from a source greater than thirty feet away. Anything running on your TV like an audio CD in the Blu-ray Player or music from your Smart TV or Apple TV or ROKU will play on the soundbar and other wireless Sonos speakers while they are in use with the Playbar.
The Playbar alone offers both an excellent 3.0 listening experience and the processed virtual surround sound on the Playbar alone truly gives the illusion of sound effects coming from speakers that are not there, but add the Sonos Sub subwoofer and now you have rich bass and a speaker that handles the low end sound, leaving the Playbar to function optimizing a 3.1 surround sound experience with the subwoofer. Add two Play 1 or Play 3 Sonos speakers and you will have a true Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound System without all the speaker wires. The Playbar plays all sources plugged into your TV: cable and satellite boxes, Blu-ray players, and video game consoles-through the single optical input on the back. It also plays all common audio formats from TVs, including Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, and PCM.
The Playbar itself features two IR sensors so that it can be used if placed flat or mounted on a wall. In addition there is an IR repeater in case you lay the Playbar in front of your televisions IR sensor despite the low profile, the soundbar will pass through the signal to the television.
It should be notes that Sonos does not support DTS at this time. It should also be noted that many flat panel HDTVs dumb down the digital signal being sent via HDMI and only output PCM. This is a problem inherent with all soundbar systems and not just Sonos. So before you buy, you might want to check if your TV will output Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound from an HDMI source and out to a soundbar via an optical audio cable. Newer TVs from select manufacturers will do this. I bought a new LED display a few months ago and that TV does give the user the ability to output with PCM or Dolby Digital 5..1 Surround Sound and includes an auto switch upon detection of the sound source option, but I just set it to Dolby Digital 5.1 output directly.

Another thing important to know about the Sonos Playbar and the complete 5.1 Surround System is it is not cheap. This is a high end premium soundbar and wireless audio system. The cost of the Playbar alone is $700 dollars and that does not include the subwoofer, which cost an additional $700 dollars and is only sold separately. While $1,400 dollars is a lot to pay for a 3.1 system alone, it should be noted that comparable high end soundbar audio systems by BOSE  and Sony cost the same if not a bit more and these systems are soundbars with wireless subwoofers only and none of them offer the same services and expandability options as well intuitive ease of use and flexibility that Sonos offers. For the full 5.1 wireless surround sound system with the Bridge will cost an additional $450 dollars. So we are looking at close to two thousand dollars on a high end wireless 5.1 Surround System. Obviously this is not for everyone, but I have to state that I am very happy with the Sonos Playbar, Sub, and Bridge. Eventually I intend on adding two Play 1 speakers to complete my living room wireless home theater setup. I will follow up with an update to this review when I have the opportunity to test it out and compare it to my 7.1 home theater in my office at 5.1 to keep things fair. 
Until then, for those who are already Sonos users, I don't think you need my convincing on the benefits of the Playbar. For those shopping and interested in a high end and truly wireless speaker system, Sonos products are available now at retailers on and offline as well as directly through Sonos. You can find out more by visiting
on your web browser. Big thanks to Sonos for this wonderful wireless HIFI home theater system and their amazing audio products.

(C) Copyright 2014 By Mark Rivera
All Rights Reserved.