The Playbase is an example of that oddest of AV products – the soundbase.
In effect it’s a soundbar that allows you to place your television directly on top of the speaker, potentially saving space that might otherwise in front of your TV by a soundbar.
Sonos Playbase review
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’s pricey, at £700, but sound quality is excellent and you can stream from pretty much any music service under the sun using the excellent app. Those wanting to connect external sources, though, might want to look elsewhere as that’s one of the Playbase’s few weaknesses.
Sonos Playbase review: Price and competition
Another weakness is the price. Sonos’ larger speakers are generally not cheap, and the Playbase is no exception. At £700 the Playbase will leave a big hole in your bank balance, and might be hard to justify to your significant other.
At that price it sits between the Bose SoundTouch 300, which costs £600, and the Samsung HW-K850 at £900 , both soundbars at around the same price. But if you want a decent soundbase you don’t have to spend this much. The more basic, but sonically excellent, Cambridge Audio TV2 is a brilliant buy at £260 as is the Sony HT-XT3 at £300.
Sonos Playbase review: 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 sizeable, although it should fit neatly on most AV cabinets.
So, you’ll want to check two things before considering the Sonos for your living room. First, if you can even fit this beast on a surface. To benefit from the best sound possible you’ll want to also ensure that the soundbase isn’t housed inside a shelving unit, as that negatively affects its sound profile.
Second, you’ll want to check your TV’s stand can fit on or over the Playbase itself. Weight shouldn’t be an issue as Sonos claims it can handle up to 35kg of weight, which should cover most sets. But if your TV has feet on either side it’ll end up straddling the Playbase, not sitting on top of it. In this case the critical measurement will be the gap between the bottom of the TV and your AV cabinet. Too low and the Playbase simply won’t fit.
Still, this is a great-looking speaker to look at. Its low profile, rounded-off edges and wraparound grill at the front exude minimalist luxury. I tested the speaker in white, but it’s also available in black, which also looks great.
Minimalism also brings with it some degree of impracticality, however. The only physical button on the unit itself is the recessed 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 the company wants its speakers to be always at your disposal. Nevertheless, I would have liked the option to completely switch off the Playbase without having to yank out power cord each time.
If that’s not a deal-breaker for you, the lack of a dedicated remote control might well be. Sonos wants you to operate the speaker entirely through the smartphone app but having to unlock my phone each time I want to tweak the volume from the sofa, isn’t ideal. Fortunately, however, it is possible 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. There’s no HDMI or 3.5mm input or output, no USB input, and no Bluetooth connection. This is where Sonos’ search for simplicity, for me, is a step too far.
I’m all for using my home network, but what happens when your Wi-Fi drops out, or when your guests want to play music through the Playbase? In this day and age Bluetooth is a must-have and the lack of it here damages the appeal of the Playbase.
Perhaps more importantly, the sort of setup Sonos envisages the Playbase being used in – that of connecting your audio sources to your TV and having that pass audio to the soundbase itself – isn’t as straightforward as you might think. You not only need to ensure that all your sources are passing the correct signal to the TV, but also that the TV is passing that correctly through to the Playbase itself.
Still, at least most devices should be able to cope as the only surround sound standard the speaker supports is Dolby Digital 5.1.
Of course Sonos is all about multi-room, and here it excels. 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 over time, 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 explosions and the stomp of dinosaur feet.
Sonos Playbase review: App
Sonos takes great pride in its app, and rightfully so. 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 and Tidal to Google Play Music and Apple Music.
Searching for songs is very simple, and works across multiple streaming services, and with this deep integration you can find the right song ultra quick, be that on local storage or online.
The Sonos app also gives you EQ controls, the option to adjust the audio delay in case you experience lip sync issues when watching TV and movies and, for iPhone owners, the ability to tune the speaker to your room using Sonos’ Trueplay feature. To my ears, the Playbase sounded great out of the box but if you’re experiencing boomy or ringing bass this might be just the thing to keep unwanted resonances in check.
I did, however, find the app a little counterintuitive at times, with audio settings such as EQ, hidden behind three-layers of menu.
Sonos Playbase review: Sound quality
The Playbase houses ten amplified drivers: six mid-range, three tweeters, and one woofer to rock your socks off. The combination of these drivers delivers an earth-shattering sound, that is both loud and accurate throughout the frequencies.
There is no support for high-res audio playback through the Playbase, which is disappointing. The Playbase also lacks DTS support and cannot decode the signal natively. A slight annoyance, as on many Blu-ray discs, the only English surround track is DTS-based and not all Blu-ray players will convert between the two for you.
Despite these shortcomings, however, the Playbase sounds fantastic. Watching Transformers: Age of Extinction, explosions are in-your-face yet remain accurate, and I was also surprised at how good the sub-bass extension was. In some scenes during the film, it almost sounded as if a subwoofer was connected to the Playbase. Of course, there wasn’t, but if you really want to annoy your neighbours, you can reinforce the Playbase’s excellent low-end by purchasing the Sonos Sub for an additional £700 .
Its mid-bass has a heavy slam, but yet doesn’t leak into the mid-range. But though the bass is relatively tight I did find it to be a touch uncontrolled. There are a few reasons which might explain this, one of them being its plastic body. I found the top surface of the Playbase vibrated a touch when I cranked up the volume.
The vibrations consequently impact the sound. This does also raise the question: Will the Playbase cause ill effects to picture on your TV? Presuming you use the Playbase as intended by placing your television on top of it, your TV’s stand will absorb all the vibrations and these will potentially shake your television’s display.
The Playbase’s mid-range frequencies are forward-sounding and listening to music on it is a pleasure. On the joyous 24K Magic: Bruno Mars album songs burst with life and Bruno’s voice really shines through the six dedicated mid-range drivers.
Finally, the high tones are a tad sibilant and for those who have sensitive ears, you might find the Playbase tiresome for long listening sessions. You can always EQ the treble down a notch through the Sonos Controller app. Despite its sibilance, though, the highs have fantastic extension and don’t have a roll off at the top-end, resulting in crystal clear cymbals.
Unfortunately, its soundstage isn’t as impressive. I found the Playbase 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. On the plus side, I did find the Playbase’s instrument separation impressive and its imaging to be accurate.
Sonos Playbase review: Verdict
The Playbase’s sound quality is what I’d expect from a £700 speaker, and despite not being as immersive as the more expensive Dolby Atmos-enabled Samsung HW-K850, it has remarkably accurate sound, that’ll make the audiophile in you smile.
However, the Playbase is anything but perfect. The vibrations resonating from the top of the speaker are disconcerting for your TV’s lifespan and its lack of Bluetooth, HDMI, 3.5mm, DTS, physical remote and high-res audio support are all questionable.
If none of the above bother you, though, this is an excellent speaker that can stream pretty much anything, and is expandable to boot. If you have £700 to spare, it’s well worth considering.
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