• Our Sonos Playbar Review



    Until recently, my wife and I used Bluetooth speakers when we wanted to listen to music at home. I figured Bluetooth speakers were the most flexible solution. Pretty much every phone, tablet and computer sold in the last 10 years has it. Bluetooth support is also built right into Android/iOS/Windows so you donít need any special software to use it. There are also many, many different Bluetooth compatible speakers available at all price points.

    Still, Bluetooth isnít a perfect solution. I wonít cover all of them here, but for us the 3 biggest shortcomings are the range, support for multiple users or lack thereof, and the fact that the Bluetooth speaker will playback everything thatís playing on your phone including alerts.

    In terms of range, our phones will only stream reliably while weíre in the same room. This is inconvenient if we need to leave the room temporarily with our phone.

    However, the bigger problem is the lack of multiple users. When you turn a Bluetooth speaker on, it usually tries to connect to the last device that was using it. This is fine if Iím the only person trying to use the speaker. However, what happens when Iím around and my wife wants to use it? Switching users can be a hassle.

    Then thereís the fact that Bluetooth speakers playback alerts from your phone. It can get quite irritating when you get a bunch of alerts during your favorite song.

    With these problems in mind we figured weíd try out a Sonos. Sonos has been around for a while, so they have a fairly mature lineup of speakers. Iíve actually wanted to try one for a while but various issues with them me from trying it.
    By issues I referring to the fact that a Sonos solution isnít cheap. They start at $200ish for the entry level model and go up from there. Donít forget, the point of buying a Sonos is for whole home audio. You gotta pick up a couple of them to really take advantage of them.

    In some ways, theyíre also not terribly flexible. Most donít hook up to your computer or TV like a regular speaker would. Heck many models donít even have a input!

    They also lack Bluetooth and no devices have native Sonos support built-in. That means youíll need to download a special Sonos Controller app to use them.

    Each Sonos has its own brains; You tell it to play music and it goes out and retrieves the music from your preferred music service and plays it back. Itís actually a lot like a Chromecast in this respect. It can also playback local music files stored on your device but youíll have to do it via the Sonos app.

    This means it wonít be able to play music from any videos youíre watching on your device. At least, not using the Sonos player app. That said, there are 3rd party apps available that do bridge some gaps in functionality. Thereís an app, Sonos Tube that will allow you to watch YouTube videos on your iOS or Android phone while playing back the music on your Sonos.

    Airplay 2 support is also now available but youíll need at least one compatible Sonos speaker in your network to use this. The Playbar isnít compatible so youíd need to pick up a compatible model and then group it with the Playbar to gain this functionality. Iíll cover this more in a different article.

    Iím not an expert on Music streaming services; our family uses Apple Music though we also have Prime Music (Canadian) because itís included with our Amazon Prime subscription. The fact that we use Apple Music is one of the reasons why I chose a Sonos because I donít think it works with Amazon Echo or Google Home. I need to mention that the Sonos isnít compatible with Prime Music in Canada.

    Thereís also the Apple Homepod to consider but itís for Apple only itís also too expensive, thereís only one model available (did I mention itís very pricey?). That said, it uses AirPlay 2 which will have more options.

    That said Iím thinking of switching to Spotify eventually as it works with all these as well as Sonos. Spotify is just music and doesnít have a smart speaker offering, so Google and Amazon have less of a reason to block Spotify from their services.

    Since I wanted a few units to get the full benefit but wanted to save some money at the same time I purchased most of my Sonos speakers used.

    Hereís the situation: We have an open concept kitchen which is connected to our family room. The family room has a TV mounted over the fireplace, which is surrounded by a built-in. The built-in has a Bluetooth speaker which is not connected to the TV because I forgot to run wires from over the fireplace to the built-ins. The kitchen has another Bluetooth speaker.

    The speaker in the built-in is powerful enough for both the kitchen and family room, but the kitchen is far enough away that weíre at the limit of Bluetoothís range. To solve this issue, we have a second speaker in the kitchen. Of course, the second speaker doesnít help if we need to leave the room and take our phone with us.

    Thereís also the matter of whoís listening to music. Switching users with Bluetooth speakers isnít usually a trivial matter.

    The Answer?



    While looking at the different offerings from Sonos, it occured to me that I could solve a lot of problems with a Playbar. We could improve the sound from the TV plus eliminate the need for separate speakers in the kitchen and built-in. A Sonos would also make it much easier for both myself and my wife to listen to music plus it would solve the range issues associated with Bluetooth.

    Further, we can have the music weíre listening to follow us if we leave the room provided we have additional Sonos speakers.



    Considering all the speakers I expect it to replace, the rear panel of the Sonos is the picture of simplicity. Power, a pair of ethernet jacks and an optical cable hookup. Thereís no HDMI, USB or 3.5mm input or output jacks.

    Connecting it to your TV is very simple. Run the optical cable from your TV to the Playbar and then plug it the power cable. Thatís it.

    In the conventional sense, a Sonos isnít very flexible. They donít have lots of inputs and donít have Bluetooth. However, the fact that a Playbar connects to a TV makes it the most flexible model available. Since the TV acts as a switcher for the Sonos, you stream any source connected to it this includes; Chromecasts, Apple TV, XBox, Playstation, VCRís, DVD players, computers, etc.

    Of course, leaving your TV on just so you can stream the audio source is a bit of a waste in terms of electricity.

    Another nice touch is that itís able to learn remote codes from your TVís remote control. This eliminates the need for a seperate remote to control the volume.

    It would be nice if the Playbar had an HDMI ARC port. This would allow your TV to send the audio to the Playbar via the HDMI ARC port. It would also allow your TV to control the Playbar via this port. Anyways, the Playbar is a couple of years old now and I donít think they had HDMI ARC back then. For now optical/infrared works quite well.

    Of course, too much simplicity does have some drawbacks. It doesnít support Dolby Atmos or DTS X. My semi-educated guess is that the Playbar probably could support them, but Sonos figures there isnít enough demand to pay the licensing fee for them. I figure most of the stuff I watch isnít encoded with Atmos anyways.

    Still, I could see a lot of synergies between Sonos and Atmos. Think about it, each Sonos speaker is wireless and only require power to work.

    While there are a pair of ethernet jacks on the back of the Playbar, I didnít need to use either of them for my setup. In fact, I have 5 different Sonos in the house and none of them required an ethernet connection at any point.

    I know they are used for Sonosí separate Mesh WiFi network but perhaps itís now a vestigial feature. My house has a 3 Google OnHub mesh routers so I get strong signal everywhere in the house. My guess is maybe the Sonos mesh network is only required if you run into signal issues.

    Setup is very easy:
    Download the Sonos controller app
    Sign up for a Sonos account
    Plug the Playbar in and or press the play and volume buttons
    Choose which speaker youíre trying to connect
    Set the room and name

    Next add your preferred Music streaming service(s) and youíre good to go.

    You can attach multiple streaming services to the Sonos controller. There are pros and cons to this approach. The biggest pro is just that, you can connect multiple services. You can create a playlist that contains music from different sources.

    Itís also nice how you can create shortcuts to your favorite features for each service. For example, you can make a shortcut straight to your fav iTunes playlist

    The downside to this is that you canít use the same app you normally use for listening to music. Be in Apple Music, Google Music, Spotify or whatever. Further, the Sonos controller only works with Sonos speakers. You can put on a pair of headphones and use it to listen to music. This really discourages me from using it to create playlists.

    Still, Sonos and Apple now have Air Play 2 support with certain Sonos models. Unfortunately itís only for models with touch sensitive controls. That said, you can still add AirPlay 2 to the Playbar if you add a compatible model to your Sonos network. Compatible models include the Play:5, the upcoming smaller sound bar, the Beam and the Play:One which starts at around 200USD/250CDN. Apparently you have to group one of these newer speakers with your older one to get Air Play 2 support.

    Anyways, since it can access your streaming service, it can also access any Playlists you have with it.

    Once youíve got everything hooked up you can use your phoneís microphone to calibrate the Playbar. You walk around the room holding your phone while swinging your arm around slowly. This helps the Playbar to learn the shape of your room.



    I was impressed with the heft of the Playbar, considering its size, itís a lot heavier than it looks.

    Thereís non-removable fabric speaker grill over it. According to pictures on the Sonos website the Playbar has 6 midrange/bass woofers and 3 tweeters for a total of 9 speakers. One tweeter faces forward while the other 2 are angled outwards on the sides. The idea is that the 2 outward tweeters will help to widen the soundstage.

    There are 2 woofers on the sides and 4 facing forwards.

    Itís worth pointing out that the Playbar is designed to either sit on a flat surface like my fireplace mantel or wall mounted. Its orientation is different for each.

    The Playbar is shorter when itís sitting while itís taller when itís wall mounted.

    How does it sound?

    Before I talk sound quality I want to point out how I perceive speakers. In my head thereís a scale when it comes to speakers; one one end you have very lifestyle oriented products which are design to blend into your house and then there are sound oriented ones that usually rectangular boxes which look like traditional speakers.

    The fact that the playbar is a soundbar firmly places it on the lifestyle end of the spectrum meaning it must make certain compromises in order to look sleek.

    For me, I was mostly looking to upgrade my TVís sound rather than replace a bunch of floor standing speakers. Think family room, not home theater.

    You can use the Sonos controller to adjust the balance, bass and treble. Thereís also a loudness setting as well as a voice enhancer.

    The midrange woofers do a decent job with bass though youíll need a Sonos Sub if you want
    really low frequencies.

    Sound quality is good for a lifestyle-y product. The loudness setting does help enhance special effects and adds a bit of a kick to the mid range, though it occasionally does make the Playbar sound a little processed.

    While the Playbar does a good job of creating a wide soundstage, you need to be sitting in its sweet spot if you really want to hear noticeable separation from the different channels.

    Conclusion:

    The Playbar is very convenient and easy to use. Further, it becomes a more powerful and flexible solution if you add more Sonos speakers.

    Then thereís the price; for the price of the Playbar you could pick up a soundbar with a subwoofer, a Bluetooth speaker and then have money left over for a couple months of Netflix.

    But hereís the thing; the Playbar is more than a speaker, whether you have one or many, using it is really simple and thatís the point.

    While sound quality is very good for a soundbar it isnít able to transcend the limitations imposed by its form factor.

    The Sonos Playbar is a elegant solution that answers many questions I never really knew I had.

    ⅘ Howies

    Pros:
    Easy to setup
    Easy to use
    Good sound quality for a soundbar
    Integrates with other Sonos speakers

    Cons:
    Expensive
    Optional subwoofer is expensive
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Our Sonos Playbar Review started by howard View original post
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. keason's Avatar
      keason -
      The playbar sounds a lot better with a sub and satellite speakers. It isn't as good as a high quality home theatre system but takes up a lot less space. If you get the Sonus One (Alexa compatible) you can can also group speakers together in a Airplay 2 group.