Shoot the shit with any audiophile, and when Sonos comes up, they’ll have good things to say. The Santa Barbara–based speaker designer is well respected. But that hasn’t meant smooth sailing for the breakout brand.
A spike in the popularity of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, has hurt Sonos. So has the rise of higher-end speakers integrated with home wi-fi technologies like DTS Play-Fi and Google Chromecast. Sonos’s CEO of the last 14 years, John MacFarlane, even stepped down in early 2017 (to be replaced by Patrick Spence). In response to the market, future Sonos products are being designed with built-in microphones and compatibility with smart-home services from Amazon, Google and — potentially — Apple. But they aren’t there yet.
The Playbase ($699) is the first Sonos speaker released under the new order. It’s designed in the same minimalist vein as Sonos’s other speakers and it also works in the same way, via the Sonos app or Spotify. The Playbase sounds great, as one would expect, but it’s essentially the same product as Sonos’s four-year-old Playbar ($699). True, the Playbase has a little more power, with 10 drivers instead of the Playbar’s nine, but ultimately the biggest difference is its shape.
The Playbase sounds great, as you would expect, but it’s basically the same product as Sonos’s four-year-old Playbar.
The Playbase is a flat speaker designed to rest under your TV (as long as the TV weighs less than 75 pounds), whereas the Playbar is typically wall mounted. If your TV is mounted, the Playbase may look anomalous in your media setup. Both Playbase and Playbar are equal parts TV speaker and wireless music speaker. They’ll drastically improve the sound quality of your TV-viewing experience if you’ve gone without speakers on your TV for a while. (4K TVs look beautiful but don’t sound great; thinner TVs lack center channels.)
If you already own other Sonos speakers, you can group them with the Playbase or Playbar to merge everything into one multi-room system. This means if you’re a roaming TV watcher — the kind to walk from room to room while still listening to Jeopardy! — you can hear the TV from wherever, as long as your other rooms have Sonos speakers.
Neither Playbar nor Playbase comes with any Alexa-, Siri-, or Google-Assistant-enabled skills. Sonos has promised that all of its speakers will be compatible with Amazon Echo and Dot later this year, but an exact date hasn’t been confirmed. And unless you have a Sonos Connect ($349), you won’t be able to pair it with any other non-Sonos device.
So who should buy it? Anybody who already has other Sonos speakers and is looking for a soundbar for their non-wall-mounted TV. It’s a very good soundbar on its own, but what you’re paying $700 for is Sonos connectivity. For those with some patience, it may be worth waiting for the brand’s Alexa-enabled offering to hit shelves. And hopefully that one will come in black.
1. The Sonos Playbase seriously sounds great. Its 10 drivers — six mid-range, three tweeters and one woofer — drastically improve the sound quality of any home theater.
2. You can create a home theater soundscape with the Sonos speakers you already own. If you pair the Playbase with the sub and two Play:1 speakers, you can create a complete 5.1 system.
3. It’s a soundbar for the majority. Sonos claims that 70 percent of all TVs are not wall mounted. While the Playbar is great in many ways, it doesn’t look great when paired with a TV that stands on its own. That’s where the Playbase thrives.
4. You can listen to your favorite shows without watching them. If you already have several Sonos speakers, you can group them with your PLaybase, turn on your TV and then listen to it even when not in the TV room. It’s great for still hearing those talking heads while you brush your teeth.
1. $700 is expensive. You can buy a number of great soundbars (with a sub) for between $200 and $400. And if you buy a Connect Amp ($349) you’ll be able to connect that system with any existing Sonos speakers you own. If you buy the Playbase and Sonos’s wireless subwoofer, you’re looking at $1,400.
2. Does it really fit under all TVs? The Playbase is 14.96 inches across, so there’s a small chance your TV’s single-foot stand will hang over the side; or, if your TV has a split-foot stand, it won’t be able to straddle it. Check your TV’s dimensions beforehand.
3. If your TV is mounted, this can look weird. Sure, you can make it work…but it’ll look weird. Plus: it’s bright white.
4. It lacks an HDMI port and might not be fully future-proof. Because it only supports an optical connection, there’s a good chance it won’t be able to support future surround sound technologies like DTS:X or Dolby Atmos. It might not seem like a big deal now, but years down the road, when every show you’re streaming is supported by those technologies, you might not be getting the best experience.