What We Like
- An unassuming but distinctive design.
- Fantastic audio performance throughout.
- Plenty of useful extras that work well with in-home setup.
What We Don’t Like
A relatively new addition to the consumer landscape, Sonos was founded in 2002 in Santa Barbara, California. They have quickly become a company synonymous with smart speakers and home integration, so let’s see how their soundbar foray pans out.
Sonos made a name for themselves by perfecting a radically simple kind of speaker design that combined the plug and play experience which consumers craved with powerful internals that would deliver beyond what seemed possible for the size and scale of the housing. In this regard, the Playbar is very much a Sonos offering through and through: the design is unassuming but attractive, and the product as a whole has a very contemporary feel about it.
The Playbar is a relatively slim device at just 3.35 inches in height. This may seem fairly trivial, but taken alongside another design element it shows the kind of attention to detail you can expect from a Sonos product. One problem which many consumers have encountered when setting up soundbars is that they tend to block the remote sensor on televisions depending on a combination of placement and height. Not only has Sonos engineered the Playbar to be small enough to avoid this problem where possible, it also accepts remote signals that enter its front panel and echoes them out of the back of the device so that they are guaranteed to reach the TV. It’s a small touch, but a huge quality of life improvement.
Whilst many soundbars are designed around the idea of multiple configurations (usually either table top, placement on a TV stand, or wall mounted), the Playbar takes this versatility to the next level. It has a second remote sensor which means it will be better able to pick up signals when on the wall, and another sensor detects the device’s configuration and adjusts the audio to suit it. This means you should be hearing the best possible sound regardless of placement.
Before we talk about what the Playbar has got, let’s take a look at what it’s lacking. The most prominent example of this is a remote control. Many Sonos devices are built around the idea of mobile phone integration, and this device is no different. You will need to download the Sonos Controller app onto any compatible device in order to get the most out of your Playbar. Similarly, Sonos guides you through the process of configuring your existing TV remote control to work with the Playbar. This is fine in theory, and we appreciate having one fewer remote to contend with, but your mileage may vary significantly in terms of how well this works depending on TV model and responsiveness.
Like many soundbars at this price point, the Playbar is designed to work with other products from the same manufacturer in order to create an in-home, multi-room audio solution. This means that at least one of your Sonos devices will need a wired ethernet connection. If wiring the Playbar isn’t practical for you, a $50 Sonos Bridge may be required to achieve the wireless effect you desire. If you do opt to wire-in the Playbar, a second ethernet port means you can basically use it as a wireless bridge which is especially useful if you didn’t already have ethernet access in the living room.
The hallmark of a Sonos device is the sheer variety of sources on offer from which to stream content. You have your standards like Spotify Connect, Apple Music, and Pandora, but there are hundreds of apps on offer which are compatible with the device.
Before diving in to talk about the audio performance, let’s take a look at how the Playbar delivers more broadly. Set-up is, for the most part, a pretty painless process which is guided every step of the way by the Sonos app. There were a few steps which required some more advanced tech know-how (specifically when it came to sharing media libraries from a laptop), but these should not be huge issues to deal with. One complaint we have is that the Sonos app, while extremely functional and packed with features, is a little unresponsive and could use a UI overhaul. Sonos updates the app fairly regularly, so this could just be a problem with the latest build.
In discussing how well the Playbar performs, it is important to remind ourselves that this is ‘just’ a soundbar and not a fully-fledged speaker. This reminder is necessary because the Playbar sounds about as close to a home stereo set-up as you’re likely to find from a soundbar, and while this is excellent news indeed it can mean that we start to be more critical about more specific elements of the listening experience.
While the Sonos performs exceptionally across the board, it doesn’t quite have the presence and subtlety of delivery to outperform a dedicated, music listening setup.
A gorgeous design conceals internals that far surpass those on offer by most other soundbars. The Playbar works seamlessly, offers a whole host of features, and delivers a totally superior audio performance across the board.