Sonos Playbar Review


Developer: Sonos, Price: $699


Home theater is a finicky beast. Do you go with a soundbar, or a full-on home theater system? How loud? How does the room in question impact the choice? How connected does the audio hardware need to be? And, usually most importantly, is the hardware worth the hundreds of dollars you’re likely spending? I’d argue that choosing the audio components in your home theater system is harder than choosing the TV — more variables, more choice, more uncertainty.

Founded in 2002, Sonos has been in the home audio game for over 10 years now, with their its first amplifier/networking combo boxes hitting store shelves back in 2004. It’s been quite the decade for the Santa Barbara-based audio wizards, as Sonos has become synonymous with high-end home audio. I’ve been using the Sonos Play:3 and Play:5 speakers in my apartment for a few years now, and I’ve yet to find a better way to pump streamed and/or locally stored audio throughout my humble abode. So when the Sonos Playbar and SUB came along, I was excited to see how the company was tackling home theater audio.



The Sonos Playbar exists in the same design landscape as the Play:3 and Play:5 speakers — blacks and grays combining for a neutral, modern look and feel. Where the Play speakers have plastic housing combined with metal speaker grilles, the Playbar uses cloth to cover its nine speaker cones. It’s a very clean yet powerful-looking soundbar, and the design is definitely a cut above the other soundbars you’ll see at Best Buy or Target. Connectivity is largely wireless and app-based (more on that in a moment), so four connectors (power, two Ethernet, optical audio in) are complimented by only two physical buttons (mute, volume rocker).

If your TV is wall mounted, the Playbar can play along, or it can sit in front of your TV on whatever shelf you’re already using. At just over 35 inches, it’s several inches shorter than my 50-inch Panasonic plasma TV, and the 3.35-inch height means it won’t obstruct the view. It can obstruct remote functionality if you’re sitting at a low angle, but I didn’t run into this very often.



Like everything in the Sonos ecosystem, the Playbar relies heavily on the Sonos app (free on iOS and Android), and of course your TV/home theater remote of choice. The app ties the Playbar into your network, although network connectivity is not required (in other words, you can use the Playbar as a soundbar, and only a soundbar, if you want to). Because I had other Sonos speakers on the network, I tied my Playbar in as well. The Sonos Bridge keeps everything nice and wireless, although it’s an optional accessory. If you want the Playbar or any other Sonos component on your network, you can go the Ethernet route as well.

Setup is about as easy as you could ask for. The app guides you through the steps, taking three or four minutes at the most. It even auto-programs your remote of choice to control the Playbar volume and mute functions. The digital optical audio input is your only choice, so your HDTV of choice needs to have a digital optical out. Once the app process is finished five minutes after you started, the Playbar is a no-muss, no-fuss speaker array.

If you’re connecting the Playbar to your network, you’ll get all the perks afforded to other Sonos speakers as well. Via the Sonos app, you can stream music from any computer on your network, or you can pull music down from virtually any streaming service under the sun. Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, SiriusXM, and Beats Music are all supported, so long as you have an account with the services. Your playlists and favorites get pulled down, so there is zero loss in functionality. Even free Internet radio can be pulled down through TuneIn — a particular favorite, as it lets me listen to Boston sports radio stations, despite living in Los Angeles. All of this functionality and service support makes the Playbar the ultimate music streaming home theater component.



The Playbar comes equipped with nine drivers in what Sonos describes as a 3.0 array or center, front-left, and front-right). If you choose to be so bold, you can pair the Playbar with the $699 SUB subwoofer for a 3.1 experience, or go two steps further and add two Play:3 or Play:1 speakers for a full 5.1 experience. In order to use several Sonos speakers in a home theater arrangement, one of the speakers needs to be connected to your network in one way or another. Power connectors aside, the SUB and Play speaker additions are completely wireless.

Ultimately, the addition of Play speakers for a “surround sound” experience are underwhelming overkill. Your Playbar is connected to your TV via digital optical, and most TVs, even in 2013, don’t pump out Dolby Digital through their digital optical port. Because of this, I’d recommend sticking with just the Playbar, or the Playbar + SUB combo.

5.1 reservations aside: The Playbar itself sounds phenomenal. It’s a dramatic upgrade over whatever speakers your TV has, and then some. The 3.0/3.1 solution offered by the Playbar/Playbar + SUB is loud, clear, and does any sort of media justice. Movies sound amazing, music sounds even better, and games are right at home as well. If most of your time is spent gaming, the Playbar might not be the best choice, if only because of how it processes 5.1 audio, but music and movie buffs will love this hardware.

Gaming aside, the highs, mids, and lows are come through brilliantly, whether you’re using the SUB or not. The SUB and its dual facing speakers add a tremendous amount of bass without any risk of annoying vibration. The Playbar + SUB pairing is a match made in audio heaven, without a doubt.


The Sonos Playbar is not the greatest soundbar available today, but it is the most music-friendly soundbar. The streaming app support, stellar audio quality, and thoughtful yet understated design make the Playbar a winner, even if it’s on the pricey side at $699. The SUB will run you another $699, which is a lot of cheddar for a subwoofer.

But the Playbar is not an entry-level soundbar. It’s not meant for the college dorm/recent grad crowd. Instead, it’s designed for the music buff who doesn’t want to go full-tilt audiophile, but has money to spend.

The Bottom Line: The Playbar will best most soundbars and entry- to mid-level Home-Theater In-A-Box arrays in sound quality, while offering unmatched streaming capabilities. $699 is a lot of money to spend on a soundbar, but it will sound at least as good as similarly priced HTIAB’s.

Recommendation: The music geek who wants to give their home theater a shot in the arm would be wise to consider the Playbar, SUB or no SUB.


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