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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Beautiful, rich sound
Great, modern design
Amazing smart features
Slight lack of input/output options
If you’re in the market for a Sonos soundbar, the Playbar is worth considering for its excellent connectivity and great sound response.
The Sonos Playbar is one of the most premium products you can buy from a reputable home audio brand. Outside of the standalone smart speakers, the Playbar is probably the most versatile speaker in the Sonos range that can still hold its own among audiophiles. While this all comes with a high price tag, you get the tried-and-true Sonos experience, complete with app-controlled, whole-home audio, TruePlay room tuning, and an impeccably premium home entertainment device.
At almost 35.5 inches wide, the Playbar is admittedly one of the largest soundbars we’ve tested, and that’s quite possibly by design. The speaker array (we’ll get to that in the sound quality section) takes up a lot of space, and the substantial cabinet adds oomph to the package.
When you set the soundbar flat on your entertainment center, it measures about 5.5 inches deep and only 3.4 inches tall. The height is arguably most important, allowing for a pretty low profile underneath your TV. When oriented this way, you only see a flat, soft black mesh speaker covering and a thin, gray-metal strip along the bottom, giving it a really sleek look.
The build quality on the Sonos Playbar is among the most substantial we’ve seen in a soundbar.
If you’re mounting it on the wall, you’ll see a much wider swathe of gray-metal, but you’ll also see the Sonos logo prominently. As with many of their products, the Sonos logo on the Playbar can be read perfectly front to back, back to front, or even upside down. So, no matter how you have it oriented, it won’t look odd. The flat rubber strips that act as feet for the unit to sit on also look good, forgoing the usual four-point system for something a little sleeker. This actually serves to block any cables running behind the speaker, hiding them from sight. Sonos clearly paid a lot of attention to design when building the soundbar.
Quality is an important note because, at almost 12 pounds, the Playbar is definitely one of the heaviest soundbars you can buy. That’s good if you want something that will withstand a bit of wear and tear, though less great if you aren’t entirely comfortable mounting something heavy to your wall. The added weight seems to help with sound quality, allowing the Playbar to accommodate six speakers, giving it louder, more supported sound than a typical soundbar of its size.
Like any other Sonos speaker, you don’t really need to know anything to set this up. First of all, there are only a few ports on the back. There’s a digital optical port (the only real way to transmit audio to this thing from your TV), plus a couple of Ethernet ports. Other than the AC input, that’s really it for input/output.
That’s fine because once you plug it into your TV, you’ll download the Sonos app onto your smartphone and the on-screen prompts will take you through the rest of the setup. It will help you locate where to plug your cables in using helpful pictures, it will make sure that the speaker is picking up TV sound before moving on, and it will even walk you through setting it up with your Wi-Fi.
There’s also a cool room-tuning feature called True Play that actually uses your smartphone’s microphone to help the speaker determine various reverberating and resonating qualities in your room. You’ll have to walk around your living room, looking a little silly waving your phone in circles, to get the best result, but we found it was really worth it.
We spent some time with it in our home setup though, and whether you’re watching the news, looking for theater-quality sound experience, or just want to put on some tunes for a party, the sound quality is beautiful.
That isn’t where the connectivity ends, though. This speaker is Wi-Fi enabled, which is helpful and limiting at the same time. Using the Sonos app, the experience is near-seamless, and we found it really pleasant. If you go outside the app however, using an option like AirPlay, it got a little flakier on connecting. What’s more, there isn’t a Bluetooth option here. So while the app offers instant control once it’s set up, guests won’t be able to stream to your Playbar via Bluetooth—they’ll need to get the app.
That said, as long as you set up your streaming services through the Sonos app (which is really easy to do), you’ll love how easy it is to queue up music and control your speaker. That’s great because there are only three physical buttons on the device (Play/Pause, Volume, and Mute). But if you have more Sonos speakers, you’ll be able to control all of them with the app, even sending different music to each one independently.
Oddly, the market for soundbars seems to put functionality and design above sound quality. This is possibly because it’s so hard to make a soundbar sound as good as a matched pair of tower or bookshelf speakers. But, like many of the other speakers Sonos offers, the Playbar is a beautiful example of just how full and rich a soundbar can sound.
Let’s break down the specs: there are nine total independent Class-D amplifiers that drive six mid-range woofers and three tweeters. Obviously, the tweeters support the high end of the spectrum, while the woofers cover much of the meat of your sound. They’ve strung the woofers together in a phased setup so that they act as a pseudo-surround array, meaning if action is taking place on the left side of the screen when you’re watching TV, that’s where the sound will resonate.
These drivers, bolstered by the heavy, substantial enclosure, provide room-shaking bass when turned to about 80 percent volume. We did find that the bass got unpleasant if you cranked the speakers fully up, but the volume here is plenty for most room sizes at around 50 percent.
Like many of the other speakers, Sonos offers, the Playbar is a beautiful example of just how full and rich a soundbar can sound.
In true Sonos fashion, we don’t have a clear idea of the frequency range, the dB levels, or the impedance. Instead, we have some marketing speak like “room-filling sound” and “Speech Enhancement”. We spent some time with it in our home setup though, and whether you’re watching the news, looking for theater-quality sound experience, or just want to put on some tunes for a party, the sound quality is beautiful.
Beyond the app setup and connectivity, there are a few tricks up the Playbar’s sleeves. First, there’s the Speech Enhancement we mentioned, which did actually serve to provide a clearer representation of the spoken word. This was more helpful when watching movies than TV because the vocal compression used on TV makes something like this less necessary than the wide dynamic range you get in cinematic epics.
Dovetailing with this quite nicely is Night mode. When activated through the app, this mode lowers the overall volume of the speaker for gunfire and explosions, while actively and intelligently raising the volume during quieter moments on screen. This means that you’ll be able to hear important dialogue, but you won’t wake up the whole neighborhood with loud explosions either. Finally, the phased speaker setup did actually provide a somewhat believable “surround” solution. This isn’t quite as substantial as something like the emulated surround you’ll get from Samsung’s or Yamaha’s products, but it was a really nice touch for a standalone unit.
While Sonos is certainly a premium brand it isn’t in the stratospheric price range of audiophile speakers. That’s by design because Sonos is aiming to create a premium audio experience for a wide subset of “average” users, not just pros and audiophiles with deep pockets.
Because it’s Sonos, you won’t find many discounts. The Playbar is $699 (MSRP) and rarely changes in price range, though it is occasionally cheaper on Amazon. That’s a lot to spend on a soundbar, especially when you can get most of the sound quality for half the price. But we really were impressed with the bass, even without a subwoofer, and found the quality to be supported by the brand name.
Sonos Beam: The Sonos Beam cuts the Playbar’s price roughly in half, and offers basically all of the connectivity features. But if you want something with more volume and better bass response, the Playbar should be your pick.
Sony Z9F At right around the same price, you can get a 3.1 setup from Sony. You’ll get an included subwoofer for a wider response, but you won’t get the Sonos convenience.
Bose Soundbar 700: Bose’s entry in this price range offers fewer woofers in the enclosures, but much flashier tech and Digital Signal Processing. There’s a lot of the smart functionality here too, but not quite the level of convenience offered by the Sonos app interface.
The Sonos Playbar can easily be paired with more options from the Sonos line to create a fuller entertainment system, making a good starter for someone planning a living room setup.
The sound quality is great, the convenience and reliability are excellent, and the style is really beautiful. If you can stomach the price, and you don’t need the added versatility of Bluetooth, there’s a lot to love about the Playbar.
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