So impressed was I with the ease of use and quality of the Play:3 and Play:5 systems I bought a couple of weeks ago, combined with making a bit of cash out of the sale of a guitar along with some birthday contributions over the weekend, this morning I ducked out and grabbed a SONOS Playbar. Here are my first impressions...
Firstly, at $1099 RRP in Australia, this is an EXPENSIVE soundbar, but given the good deal I'd scored a few weeks prior on the rest of the SONOS gear, I was confident I could get the price onto the right side of a thousand bucks, and I did. $950. Hot tip: Always haggle on the cost of SONOS gear - seems retailers have a LOT of wiggle room.
No unboxing videos here, but the Playbar is very well packaged with quality materials and the unboxing experience is not unlike unwrapping an Apple product. This sets the tone - no pun intended.
The Playbar is intended for use as a soundbar speaker to replace the crappy speakers that come in almost every modern Kate-Moss-thin flatscreen TV, but it of course comes complete with all of the nifty features that SONOS affords. It hooks up to the TV using the Digital optical out/SPDIF on the TV with the provide optical lead. Apparently, it's important that your TV passes Dolby Digital 5.1 out through the digital port should you wish to go the whole hog and build an entire SONOS surround system. My Samsung ES7500 55-inch Smart TV worked fine.
Setting up the SONOS Playbar to work with your telly
Plug in the mains power and fire up the SONOS app. Add a new component to your SONOS system by following the App's prompts, and briefly pressing the mute and volume up buttons on the Playbar. In seconds it's detected, and you're guided through a few extra steps (as compared to the Play systems) which gets the Playbar working properly with your TV.
These steps include advising you to set the TV's speaker settings to use external speakers (rather than the shite built-ins), as well as enabling the remote control for your TV to manage the Playbar's volume. This latter configuration step is done for two reasons; one, who wants an additional remote just to control the Playbar?, and two, given the height of the Playbar and how it sits in front of the TV, it could potentially block the infrared signal the TV remote control emits from ever reaching the IR receiver on the TV. Cleverly, SONOS have overcome this potential issue by mounting an infrared receiver on the bottom of the Playbar along with a transmitter on the top so it repeats any infrared signal it receives. Nifty. And thoughtful.
The setup wizard is SONOS-super-simple and takes less than a minute. It takes a little longer if you're setting up the 5.1 surround configuration (you'll need the SONOS Sub and two extra Play:3s, if you're keen). No more than 3 minutes out of the box and it's playing music.
What does the SONOS Playbar sound like? Well, it sounds very good.
Sure, I'm going to use it as the main speaker for the TV, but I primarily bought it as a streaming speaker for downstairs in the lounge room, as I wanted something a little larger than the Play:5 to better fill the room (although in fairness the Play:5 would've probably been fine in that dept, just wouldn't have worked as well with the TV), and so I was naturally apprehensive about how it would actually sound. I'd heard one in the store and reviews online are unanimously positive, but when you hook up your $1000 TV speaker, your expectations are high.
It didn't disappoint. The Playbar has 9 speaker driver's built in - 6 mid-range drivers and three tweeters (two of which are angled outward to give a wider sound field). Bass responsive is good given everything (especially the size of the speakers and the volume of the enclosure itself) , but then Playbar apparently really comes into its own when you hook up the $1099(!) (ouch!) SONOS Sub. I'm happy with the bass for now - as is my wallet.
Going the whole hog - SONOS Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound
Based on RRP prices, or even if you secure the deal of the century, a SONOS surround system is a costly investment. Here are the numbers:
- SONOS Playbar - $1099
- SONOS Sub - $1099
- SONOS Play:3s - 2 @ $479 each - $958
That's $3156 all up. Based on my experience you might be able to get it all bundled for maybe $2,600 with some haggling, but that's a big chunk of change. The advantage I guess is that you can start slowly(-ish) and expand as the bank balance allows, but there are hundreds of more economical options for surround sound - you just don't get the wireless streaming side of the house that SONOS excels at. You decide what's most important.
Final (first) thoughts
I've had the SONOS Playbar less than a day, so it's super early to say, but my first impressions are very positive. Setup is a cinch. Construction is solid and the Playbar has the feel of a quality made 'thing'. Audio quality is excellent and it really packs a punch given it's diminutive proportions. You'll be very pleasantly surprised.
The negatives for me are firstly the cost - these units are $699USD in the States and so even with a shoddy dollar we're getting fleeced here at $1099. Secondly, Line-In on the Playbar would be a great addition. Also, as I've mentioned somewhere before, the addition of Apple AirPlay speaker support would truly be the icing on the cake.
It's a great soundbar and now the whole house is flooded with quality streaming audio and I just love that.