Sonos now has two TV speaker options. This is the Sonos Playbase, which, as you should have guessed, is a soundbase, sitting beneath your TV and aiming to bolster your TV’s sound quality. It joins the Playbar, a soundbar, which can sit in front or below your TV, or even be wall-mounted.
And – spoiler alert – if you believe Sonos, that’s pretty much where the differences begin and end. Just as the company keeps things simple when it comes to naming its products, so it aims to keep things simple with this new product.
Simply, if you don’t wall-mount your TV – as Sonos claims around 70 per cent of people don’t – then the suggestion is you would prefer a ‘base to a ‘bar. Now, with the Sonos Playbase, you have that choice. In terms of sound quality and specifications, Sonos says the Playbase is nigh-on identical, despite a noticeably different design. So, is it simply a choice of which shape suits you better?
Sonos says it set out to build a product that delivers “multi-channel, room-filling sound, but blends perfectly into your room”. The end result, Sonos claims, is the “thinnest and coolest” Sonos speaker to date.
The Playbase stands just 5.8cm tall, 72cm wide and 38cm deep (the Playbar is 8.5 x 90 x 14cm). It weighs a not inconsiderable 8.6kg compared to the Playbar at 5.4kg – the glass-finished top surface – the rest of the speaker is plastic – will have a lot to do with that.
All the pieces from a Playbase
Inside there are 10 custom-designed drivers and amplifiers: three tweeters, six midrange drivers, and a woofer for those bass notes.
The Playbase looks compact, light and almost delicate in the flesh, especially in white (it’s white or black), but it’s been built to withstand TV screens up to 60 inches in size and weighing up to 35kg (which is about twice as heavy as the average 50in+ 4K TV in 2017).
As on the Playbar, there’s no HDMI connection, instead the Playbase connects to your TV using a digital audio optical cable. The only other connections you’ll find are for Ethernet and power cables.
There’s no Bluetooth here, again, as is the case across the Sonos range, instead the Playbase joins your broadband network, and connects to any other Sonos devices over wi-fi.
In short, the specifications are the same as the Playbar: you can connect to the Sonos Sub, you can connect to a pair of Sonos speakers for a “5.1” system, and there’s Trueplay for fine-tuning to your room (setup requires using the iOS Sonos app), and Dolby Digital 5.1 support (but not DTS).
You will need to make sure your TV can output 5.1 audio over optical to hear 5.1 soundtracks at their best, though – some TVs will downsample to stereo.
There’s no support for HD soundtracks, such as Dolby TrueHD, or high-resolution audio, as recently added to Tidal in the form of Tidal Masters.
If you were hoping for a spec upgrade compared to the Playbar, you’re out of luck.
Sonically, Sonos is clear it was aiming to make the Playbase sound every bit as good as the Playbar, with a similar sonic character.
Pushed on differences between the two products, a “slightly deeper bass” on the Playbase was said to be the only significant difference.
The company tested dozens of speaker arrays before settling on the final design, which incorporates a whole new S port design, inspired by the port on the Sonos subwoofer.
Naturally, thin TV sound is the enemy here, with Sonos wanting to deliver clearer dialogue with TV programmes, precise control of sweeping surround sound effects with movies, and impressive music performance.
We had the chance to listen to the Sonos Playbase in a test room at Sonos HQ.
Beyonce got things started, showing-off the Playbase’s deep bass and competent handling of some fast, bright drums, while Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place sounded smooth and warm, with the husky vocal coming through clearly.
Gregory Porter’s Musical Genocide needs a faithful delivery of real drums and bass, as well as that silky voice, and sure enough it sounded natural and revealing.
Switching to film soundtracks and Dolby’s Spheres demo gave a quick show of surround sound steering. Much like the Playbar, the ‘base did its best to fill the room and sweep sounds around the room.
Jungle Book showed the Playbase capable of punch and dynamics, without losing dialogue clarity, while the intense ‘under attack’ scene in The Revenant was suitably expressive.
Paired with two Play:1 speakers to act as rear surrounds, the Playbase made a good job of filling the gap between the front and back of the room, while placing speeding arrows neatly around the room (and your ears).
We didn’t get a chance to hear the Playbase versus Playbar comparison, but on this showing, we’re certainly excited to see how the new soundbase fares in our test rooms for a full review.
Sonos simply hasn’t made many false moves along the way, as the Sonos reviews section of this site testifies.
Software and hardware developments may come a little slower than some would like, but the company tends to get it right when they do arrive.
The Playbase soundbase looks unlikely to blot that copybook. While some might bemoan the lack of development in terms of specs and features – HDMI, DTS and high-res audio are three no-shows once again – the Playbase sticks to what Sonos knows. And what Sonos still does best.
If you’re thinking of a new TV speaker, or adding Sonos to your TV setup for the first time, the Playbase looks likely to tick a lot of boxes for a lot of people.