Hands on: Sonos Playbar

May 6th, 2013 | by Alfred Siew

Sonos Playbar

The box carrying the Sonos Playbar, like most sound bars for the living room, is pretty big. But unpack it, strip away the protective foam, and the speaker system is a nice size that fits under most 42- or 47-inch TVs common in Singapore homes.

Similarly, strip away any unrealistic expectations you have of a sound bar and you’d quite enjoy the Playbar, as I did.

As the company promises, its audio quality surely ranks above many regular sound bars you find in electronics stores.

Though Sonos doesn’t publicise how much power it has for the sound bar, the nine speakers underneath the pretty clothed cover do pack a punch. The sound fills the room, well, at least with the living room where I was, which is typical of many apartments here.

Sonos Playbar

What struck me most clearly was how little distortion there was even when the volume was turned up. Placed on my TV console table – you can also mount it on the wall below your TV – the Playbar blasted out the audio from movies and songs equally without any strain, despite its modest size.

If you’re crazy about hearing the deep impact of explosions in movies, then the Playbar is surprisingly spot on. It clearly has more slam than many small sound bars out there.

Of course, it doesn’t beat a dedicated subwoofer, but as a neat speaker to place in the living room, the Playbar sounds almost as nicely as it looks.

Its main problem, as with most sound bars, is that sound does get “trapped” a little at the speakers. Sure, the sound fills the room, but it is very clear where it is from. In other words, the speakers don’t “disappear” into the background to complete an illusion of you “being there” in a concert, for example.

Another complaint would be that the Playbar doesn’t hit the highs quite well. It doesn’t seem to extend that far when instruments such as triangles are played in some tracks.

Again, to be fair, you’d have to be listening closely to spot that. I suspect many users looking for a sound bar for the living room for music, movies and TV won’t be as picky.

Compared to your average TV speaker, or indeed many other sound bars out there, the Playbar surely does much better.

Sonos Playbar

It helps too that it is rather easy to set up. You simply plug in the power, followed by a network cable to your router to get started.

You then get control of the device via an app on your tablet or smartphone (iOS or Android), and you’re in action. Immediately available are online music services such as Spotify.

There’s one detail to note though. To hear sound from your TV, you are told to hook up to it via an optical cable. If your TV does not support one, you are out of luck with the Playbar, so do check first.

Alternatively, of course, you can hook up the optical link to your set-top box or Blu-ray player. But that means you’ll have to switch the connection between the two devices to hear audio from the Playbar.

The good news is, the Playbar obviously plays well with other Sonos products.

To access the thousands of songs on my network drive, I plugged in a separate S$99 Sonos Bridge device to the mix. If you have this on your network, the Playbar can connect wirelessly to the Bridge instead of via the router.

All I had to do next was run a setup application on a PC and point to my music folder. Once done, the Sonos app would “see” all the music and be ready to play them. Generally very easy, but one note though: if you have high-res music in the 24-bit, 96Hz format, Sonos won’t play them.

Okay, it’s not perfect, but I’d say the Playbar surely punches above its weight. As a sound bar, it is very impressive, even if the price is fairly steep at S$999.

Just be aware that it is no replacement for a true 5.1 system. True surround sound is surely much better with a separate AV receiver – decoding all your Blu-ray audio – and five separate speakers plus a subwoofer. Some of these packages can be had for under S$1,500.

Sonos also has a separate bunch of surround speakers and subwoofer to form a 5.1 setup, but if you add the cost of that, you’ll find it quite hard to beat an AV system built from, say, a Denon receiver and a set of satellite 5.1 speakers offering real surround sound.

Of course, these days, with new apartments in Singapore being so small that you won’t even have space for a coffee table in the living room, not everyone has space for a 5.1 system.┬áThis is where the sound bar could fit in very handily.

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