December 26th 2012 4:11 pm

84
8.0
final rating

reviewed on
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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Media support No comments great!
  • Video quality No comments good
  • Audio quality Typically good Sonos-quality. Not the best you can get, but certainly above average. good
  • Ease of use Set up takes just a few minutes, though could take a bit longer if you need to rewire any of your component connections. great!
  • Design and form factor No comments good
Detailed review
The Playbar is a soundbar with Sonos built-into it and I believe is the first product from the company that's designed specifically for use with a television. To set it up you're supposed to connect your cable box, Blu-ray player, Xbox, etc directly to your TV and then use the optical out on your TV to feed audio into the Playbar.

That meant a lot of cable rearranging for me, since I already have a receiver in my living room (and no second TV to set this up with), but otherwise the setup was pretty straightforward and I had everything going in just a few minutes. And though Sonos designed the Playbar specifically to receive audio from a TV, you can really connect it to anything with optical output. I tried it out with an optical connection from my Xbox 360 and it worked just fine.

Sound quality was good. Not the best you could possibly get, but certainly good enough for most people. On its own the Playbar's nine speakers were surprisingly good at offering enough separation for a virtual surround sound effect. If you want the real thing, you can pair the Playbar with a Sonos SUB subwoofer and a couple of rear-positioned Play:3 speakers to get 5.1 channel surround sound (assuming your TV passes through a native surround sound signal -- I'm guessing that most do not, though I don't know for certain). Setting that up is easy -- though a Playbar, SUB, and two Play:3 speakers will set you back about two grand. When I asked Sonos CEO John MacFarlane whether they were considering bundling these together at a lower price, he said they were going to study the market and see if there was enough demand for it.

As I mentioned above, that the Playbar has Sonos's wireless streaming technology built-into it is the big reason why anyone would pick this over another soundbar. It functions just like any other zone on your Sonos network and after watching a little TV I was able to switch to listening to music in just a few seconds. The Playbar does have a few options and features another Sonos component like the Play:3 or Play:5 doesn't have, like if you're listening to music and it detects audio coming from your TV it will automatically switch to what you're watching (you can disable this feature). Another is a setting for enhancing dialog when you're watching a movie or TV show. I was skeptical that I'd notice any difference with this enabled, but I was able to hear the improvement immediately.

After a couple of days of using it, I'd say it's perfect for a current Sonos user who doesn't already have a surround sound system (or is looking for a good option for a second television). It's guaranteed to be a huge step up from the built-in speakers on your TV, and the Playbar will fit right in to the rest of your Sonos network.

It gets a bit more complicated for anyone else. At $699, it's definitely on the expensive end for a soundbar (although there are certainly more expensive options out there), but the Sonos integration sort of puts the Playbar in a category all its own. If all you're looking for is something better than what the speakers on your TV offer, you don't need to spend this much. The real reason to pay a premium is to get something that's a lot more intelligent, so to speak, than a regular soundbar, and that can stream music directly from services like Spotify and Rhapsody. If I were in the market for a soundbar, that alone might be reason enough to pick this over the alternatives.

Comments (4) subscribe to this review's comments

a1by

Frankly if they priced it at $499 it would have been a no brainer. $200 more and it really makes it hard to justify just to get some better sound for a tv
randyharris

Peter, can you speak about the quality of surround sound content that you may have played while watching a movie? I'm curious how it compares to a more standard setup with a receiver, how the Sonos routes the sound through the TV and then to the SoundBar.

Thanks,

Randy
DLoop

Need to be careful to find out what your TV actually outputs via its optical port. A number of TVs only output Dolby 2.0 rather than a 5.1 signal. Other than that it is a useful addition to the Sonos range.
simieski

As well as what DLoop mentioned above, the only other fault I've found so far whilst researching this product for purchase, is that the Playbar will not play DTS content through the TV's Optical Out (it's only input!!). This is a major floor in my opinion. Most high quality MKV files use DTS for sound. I'd be interested to get anyone elses thoughts on this.

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