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Sonos Playbar

Sonos Playbar review: An elegant soundbar that comes at a price

Christopher Minasians David Ludlow
25 Jun 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
599
inc VAT

Page 1 of 2Sonos Playbar review: An elegant soundbar that comes at a price

Expensive, but looks gorgeous and can be extended into a 5.1 system and can join your existing Sonos multi-room system

Pros 
Sound quality
Streaming capabilities
Design and build quality
Cons 
Post-Brexit price
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Having initially reviewed the Playbar at £599, it has disappointingly risen in price due to Brexit. You'll now have to spend £699 if you want to buy it from an authorised retailer. We've updated our original review, below, to reflect this price change.

For around £400, you can find the Samsung HW-MS650, an impressive all-in-one sound bar with distortion cancellation technology, and yet, be left with £300 to spend on optional extras. Now, the MS650 won't offer the same amount of low-end bass as the Playbar, nor will it integrate with your other Sonos appliances, but if you'll be watching TV or want to listen to music, Samsung's soundbar offers much better value for money.

If you want something even more powerful, it's worth checking out the Samsung HW-MS750, too.

READ NEXT: Best soundbars: The TOP UK soundbars and soundbases to boost your TV audio

Below is our original review of the Sonos Playbar.

Sonos is known for its high-end multi-room audio systems, but the Playbar soundbar is aimed at those who want to watch films and benefit from the Sonos ecosystem, such as pairing it with the Play:5 in their living rooms.

At its core, the Playbar is a 3.0 system with left, right and centre speakers. However, you can also group it together with other Sonos products to create either a 3.1 or 5.1 system respectively, giving you plenty of flexibility to expand your sound system.

It's also gorgeous to look at. As we've come to expect from Sonos, the Playbar's build quality is absolutely stunning. Its sleek, lozenge shape design, and the aluminium detailing and black speaker mesh tell you straight away that this is a premium, high-end piece of sound equipment. It's practical, too, as the Playbar's angled speakers and accelerometers can automatically adjust its sound depending on whether it's laid flat or hung on a wall, giving you top quality sound regardless of where you position it.

Sonos Playbar wall mount

^You can wall-mount the Playbar or lie it flat in front of the TV

READ NEXT: Samsung HW-MS650 review: The innovative soundbar with distortion cancelling technology

Sonos Playbar review: Setup

As this is a Sonos product, setup couldn't be easier. If you've got a Sonos system already, you just hook up the power cable, connect it to your TV via its optical out, and use the controller to add it into your system, with the Playbar connecting over the proprietary wireless mesh network.

Doing it from scratch for a completely new install doesn't take much longer, although you have to have at least one device connected via a wired connection. Fortunately, there are two 10/100Mbit/s ports on the rear, so you can hook the Playbar up to your router and use the second port of another device, such as your TV. You'll also need to install one controller, which can be an iPhone, iPad, Android device, Windows PC or Mac.

New to Sonos? Read our Which Sonos to Buy guide

As soon as the Playbar's detected, you're taken through a short configuration wizard. This plays a couple of tones for you, asking which one sounds better to help the system properly configure its sound. It also asks if you want to hook up a Sonos SUB for more bass and two Play:3 players to act as the rear speakers (more of this later).

Cleverly, an IR repeater is built into the front, which can be used to learn the volume up and down keys from your TV's remote, so you can control volume without needing a controller. However, it didn't recognise the remote from our test Samsung F8000 Smart LED TV, although it did recognise remotes from some older TVs.

Sonos Playbar review: TV Setup

To get the most out of the soundbar, you need to have it connected to your TV, which means you'll need a model with an optical output, as this is the Playbar's only input. Most TVs have this output, particularly if you've got a model made in the last couple of years, but some older or cheaper sets don't.

If yours doesn't you'll have to connect your device, such as set-top box, directly to the Playbar. That is a bit annoying though, as watching a film would mean moving the cable manually into the back of your DVD or Blu-ray player. Having a TV with an optical output is clearly the better way.

Finally, you'll also need to disable your TV's speakers, so that all sound is pumped to the Playbar only. Brilliantly, the Playbar automatically defaults to its optical input, so turning your TV gets you sound immediately without having to mess around.

READ NEXT: Sonos Play:1 review: The best multiroom speaker is now better value than ever

Sonos Playbar review: Sound quality

Sound quality is generally good. That is provided you've got the speakers in the correct orientation. We initially placed the Playbar on its thin edge with the network and optical ports facing downwards, but it sounded far too bright. Moving it to its flat orientation sat on its feet improved sound no end.

As a 3.0 system, we had no real complaints. Inside the speaker bar are nine individually amplified speakers: six mid-woofers (two each for the left, centre and right channels) and three tweeters (one each per channel). The left and right tweeters are pointed out the side of the Playbar, to add more width to the sound. Thanks to this array, the range and balance are excellent. There's enough bass there; not room shaking, but a definite deep thump. The high-range is brilliant and you can hear all of the subtle detail in a track.

Films sounded excellent, with loud effects and incredibly clear dialogue. Our one complaint is that, even though there are side-firing tweeters, sound isn't as wide as it could be. You get a sense of objects moving across the front of the screen, but it still sounds a little directional.

With discrete speakers, you get much better stereo separation and a more immersive feel from movies. Still, for a soundbar, it does an excellent job. It's also extremely loud and we didn't notice any distortion even at maximum volume, which is largely thanks to the brilliant build quality.

Sonos Playbar front

^The Playbar's orientation makes a difference to sound quality

Sonos Playbar review: Surround sound

Of course, you're not just limited to 3.0 sound. Adding a Sonos SUB gets you 3.1 sound and it makes a big difference. For starters, the entire system is rebalanced to take into account that the Playbar needs to produce less bass, as that job's now done by the SUB. It gives you that real low thumping bass that movies really demand, really making soundtracks come to life. The SUB's not quite as loud and as thumping as some standalone subwoofers, but it's designed for and balanced with the Playbar. This means that the SUB doesn't dominate the sound and you still get the full range, rather than a muddied bass-heavy mess. Adding the SUB, we found the overall sound a little bright at first, but turned down the treble to get the balance that we wanted.

If you want to go that one step further, you can add two Play:3 players into the mix (£259 each, available in black or white) to act as the rear surrounds. Sonos asks you the distance you sit from the rear speakers, so it can adjust the audio, but we found the default settings a little quiet for our room, so we had to increase the rear volume a little.

Adding surround-sound speakers gives a much wider sound-scape and makes watching movies a much more immersive experience. Our only minor complaint is that the sound at the front is still narrower and easier to pinpoint, although this is largely down to being limited by the width of the bar.

The Playbar will decode all Dolby Digital soundtracks, but it doesn't support DTS. If you're using a Blu-ray player and lossless audio codecs, such as Dolby TrueHD, your TV needs to be able to pass on decoded PCM audio to get the surround track. This downscales the audio quality (you only get the full high-quality bit-rate using HDMI), but you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference.

We also have to warn about delay. Although Sonos has used the 5GHz spectrum to communicate with the other components in the system, latency over wireless is more of a problem than with wired speakers. In a normal music-only system, Sonos simply gets all of the players to synchronise around a time code. It adds a slight delay, but when it's audio only you can't detect this. However, add in visuals and you can get noticeable lip sync problems. To get round this, we had to reduce the audio delay on the TV; we managed to get the sound in perfect lip sync and matched up to our wired home cinema system. This is another good reason to hook it up to your TV, as you don't get the same options if you connect a set-top box or Blu-ray player directly.

Page 1 of 2Sonos Playbar review: An elegant soundbar that comes at a price

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