Sonos Playbase Review: Introduction
The Sonos Playbase isn’t like most AV speakers, though. Yes, it’s designed to enhance the audio from your TV, just like any soundbar or soundbase product, but Sonos has also designed the unit to replace your living room Hi-Fi and integrate seamlessly with the rest of its family of multiroom speakers.
It doesn't come cheap at nearly £700, but sound quality is excellent and you can stream from pretty much any music service using the excellent app. If you want to connect to external sources, this may not be the right choice for you.
Design, features and connectivity
The Playbase is designed to sit directly under your television stand and for that reason it’s large, both in its physical size and weight. Measuring 720mm across, 380mm deep, 58mm high and weighing 8.6kg, the Playbase is pretty big.
So, you’ll want to check two things before considering the Sonos for your living room. Firstly, it's worth measuring up to ensure it will fit. Secondly, to fully enjoy the sound experience it needs to placed externally, not inside a unit.
Thirdly, you’ll want to check your TV’s stand can fit on or over the Playbase itself, again it's worth measuring up . Weight shouldn’t be a problem as Sonos claims it can handle most TV sets.
This is a cool-looking speaker to look at. Its low profile, rounded-off edges and wraparound grill oozes style and luxury.
However, minimalist looks also brings with it some degree of impracticality. The only physical button on the unit itself is the pairing button on the left-hand side, with a set of of touch-sensitive panels in the centre on top used to pause, play and tweak the volume up and down.
The lack of an on/off button is a typical Sonos feature, as they wants its speakers to be always at your disposal, but I would still prefer the option.
It does not come with a remote control that may put some people off buying it. Sonos wants you to operate the speaker entirely through the smartphone app which means unlocking my phone each time I want to change something, a little annoying.
That said, there is the option to pair your TV remote’s volume controls with the Playbase.
Around the back of the Playbase you’ll find three sockets: optical S/PDIF, Ethernet and power. The minimalist theme continues as there’s no HDMI or 3.5mm input or output, no USB input, and no Bluetooth connection, not ideal.
But what happens when your Wi-Fi fails, or when your guests want to play music through the Playbase. This lack of features are not what you would expect to find in a £700 device, for me it takes minimalism a step too far.
Setting it up with your TV should be straightforward, but the only surround sound standard the speaker supports is Dolby Digital 5.1.
Sonos love multi-room functions, using the app, you can quickly pair other Sonos speakers with the Playbase for synchronised group play across your house, and it’s also possible to extend the Playbase, transforming it into a fully fledged surround-sound system, by adding a pair of £190 Play:1 speakers as rear channels and the £700 Sonos SUB for some seriously strong sound.
The app is simply great. The Sonos Controller app is designed to work with a large pool of music services – a full list can be found on Sonos’ website – but suffice to say it includes all the usual big names, from Spotify to Google Play Music and Apple Music.
Searching for songs is a snip, and works across multiple streaming services, and with this deep integration you can find the right song really quickly.
The Sonos app also gives you EQ controls, so that you can tweak the settings and make the most of the Sonos’ Trueplay feature.
Now this is where it gets interesting, the Playbase houses ten amplified drivers: six mid-range, three tweeters, and one woofer to bounce that beautiful sound. This considerable combination gives earth-shattering sound, that is both loud and accurate at any range.
The Playbase sounds fantastic, watching Kingsman: The Secret Service, explosions are in-your-face yet remain accurate, and I was also surprised at how good the sub-bass extension was. If you really want to take it all to a higher level, you can add the Playbase’s excellent Sonos Sub for an additional £700 .
Its mid-bass has a heavy tone, but yet doesn’t leak into the mid-range. But the lower bass wasn't quite as pronounced. I found the top surface of the Playbase vibrated a little when I turned up the volume, which didn't help the sound.
The Playbase is robust enough not to cause ill effects to your TV's picture, but a really high volumes the TV may shake slightly.
Listening to 30 Seconds to Mars: This is war, was pure pleasure, the power of the song really shines through the six dedicated mid-range drivers.
The Playbase soundstage sounded a little narrow, and certainly not as broad as projected by the £900 Samsung HW-K850 , which is also Dolby Atmos compatible, so will also throw sound up and bounce it off the ceiling.
Price and competition
The black version
The Playbase’s sound quality isn't quite up to the standard that I’d expected, and despite not being as immersive as the more expensive Dolby Atmos-enabled Samsung HW-K850, it has incredibly accurate sound.
What also lets it down a little is the vibrations and slight TV shake at high volumes and its lack of Bluetooth, HDMI, 3.5mm, DTS, physical remote and high-res audio support were really expected at this price point.
Overall, this is an excellent speaker that can stream pretty much anything, and can be expanded into a really big sound system, but it comes with at £700 price tag.