Home Reviews Entertainmnent Sonos PLAYBASE adds base/bass to TV (review)

Sonos PLAYBASE adds base/bass to TV (review)

Sonos PLAYBASE is the calibre of speaker that should be in every TV, giving great sound, volume, separation, directionality, and dimensionality — a sound stage — letting you hear sounds you never knew were there in your favourite movie.

Of course, at $999 it costs as much as many modern TVs, so most will put up with, for want of a better word, the pathetic sound that emanates from typical, tinny and tiny 4-10-watt TV speakers.

Sonos Playbase frontThe PLAYBASE is just that – something that sits under a TV. Add power, Ethernet, and plug it into the TV via optical in/out (Toslink) cable, download the Android or iOS app to install it, and that is it – easy. Oh, and it streams music and acts as a whole-of-house music hub as well.

You can even add a pair of PLAY 1 ($598) as rear speakers and a separate SUB ($999) or save on the bundle at $2376 for a 5.1 setup.

Describing what goes on in the glass-filled polycarbonate PLAYBASE is quite complicated. Technically it is a 3.1 speaker (Left, Centre, Right, Subwoofer) in a single enclosure – but that is like calling da Vinci’s Mona Lisa a painting.

Because in that elegant black or white PLAYBASE are six mid-range, three tweeters, and one sub/S Port – 10 speakers powered by 10 Class-D digital amplifiers. Sonos does not reveal detailed specifications but the test set-up comprised a 50m2 room (5 x 10m) and it produced room filling, voluminous, distortion-free sound at about 50% of the volume control. I would be guessing but I suspect it is at least 200W RMS.

In reviewing Sonos, I realised that it is unique – it is as much a “state-of-mind” as a quality home sound system. There is a fanatical dedication to perfection and in doing so it has ignored other makers and trends.

For example, it uses Wi-Fi G, 2.4GHz, not Bluetooth, to transmit sound. As a purist, I had to ask why not use Wi-Fi N or AC dual band but the answer was that this is all that is needed for reliable streaming. If you need more distance than Wi-Fi G provides from the router then the speakers can mesh (talk to each other), or you can use either Ethernet (or Powerline Ethernet over Power) or add a Wi-Fi access point – all options work well.

Sonos mostly only works with Sonos – for example, the PLAY 1 will not connect to any other Wi-Fi speaker system. Sonos provide a $549 CONNECT box for other brands of amplified speakers or a $749 amplified CONNECT AMP that provides 2 x 55W RMS connections for unamplified speakers and a sub-woofer output.

This is not Sonos being arrogant in any way – it is simply how they do it. But you may want to consider the walled garden issue and if you want to belong to the Sonos family or not – it is one or the other. Consider it a life purchase.

Sonos upgrade

Out of the box/set-up/build/looks: Sonos PLAYBASE

It comes in black or white and is 720 (W) x 380 (D) x 58mm (H) and weighs 8.6kg. My advice is to look closely at the TV base /pedestal size/weight, and the furniture (sideboard/credenza/shelf) and decide on the right colour.

For example, the black looks great on a glass TV cabinet shelf under a black pedestal TV but no so hot on a white sideboard. I suspect the “Ikea” white will be the more popular option.

I cannot stress enough that you need to check the TV weight including its stand. Most LED/LCD TVs up to 55” will come in marginally under 35kg with stand – the only 65” I could only find was LG OLED “picture on glass” that comes in at under 40kg. If you have an older, thicker, backlit, LCD TV take care. Note that you must not place it on a shelf below the TV as its sound signature will not work as it requires unimpeded sound from the sides.

Set-up is easy. It comes with an optical audio (Toslink) cable and Ethernet cable. Plug it in, download the iOS or Android app, and be guided through the set-up. For the test, I used the PLAYBASE and a Sony Bravia 55”. All worked flawlessly.

Sonos back

Note that it does not have HDMI or RCA composite inputs – that is the Sonos way. You must plug any HDMI devices into the TV or separate HDMI switch and use it as the device controller.

I really like the gradated holes (speaker grill). There are about 43,000 precision drilled holes and they are different sizes to help accentuate the sound.

Sonos grill

How does it sound?

Let’s say that I thought the Sony Bravia sounded pretty good – and it is for a TV.

The PLAYBASE sounds fantastic. The initial impression is that it adds excellent bass to the TV and a clarity of voice that my aged ears need.

In 3.1 mode, a variety of content from audio tracks to movies sounded excellent. Notable were:

  • Sound projection/depth/dimension - the sound “feels” like its coming from well in front of the unit – projecting out.
  • Separation - the distance between sounds on the left and right - appeared to be at least one metre from each side of the unit and that is good.
  • Tone: I use this all-encompassing term instead of bass, mid-range and treble adjustment as the app in simple mode only has a bass and treble setting was very customisable.
  • With 10 Class-D digital amplifiers covering all ranges it was crystal clear at the top end courtesy of six mid-range, three tweeters, and one woofer, all custom designed for the speaker’s acoustic architecture.
  • The inbuilt subwoofer and S-Port were as good as many down firing floor mounted woofers.

Using the standard sound signature, I would say this is balanced – neither adding to or subtracting from the original content. Balanced is good as it allows you to ramp up bass or treble using an EQ (add bass or treble) to suit your preference.

Audio signatures

There are also on/off settings for Dialogue Enhancement (it adds emphasis to bring dialogue more to the front of the soundstage) and Night Mode (it limits the system’s dynamic range).

Sonos PLAY 1I also tried it with a pair of Sonos PLAY 1 as rear speakers (5.1 mode) and while they extracted the additional sound metadata (Left and Right rear channels where the data is provided) it made little difference to the PLAYBASE’s primary purpose – to make TV viewing more pleasurable and to act as a streaming hub.

Note that the PLAYBASE only support Dolby 5.1 pass through – while that is backward compatible with 2.1 and stereo there may be some content, like Hi-res music that its encoders cannot recognise.

The PLAY 1 is interesting too – it has one tweeter for crisp treble and one mid-range that acts as a mid/woofer. Using the sound signature, I believe this is more “Bright Vocal” (bass recessed, mid/treble boosted). That is good for a standalone speaker where the main use is background music.

Sonos SUBI was not provided with a SUB for review and in many ways, that was good as it meant I was really listening to the PLAYBASE – it has done a very good job on bass and the SUB would simply reinforce that for larger rooms.

The external SUB ($999) is well designed and uses two opposed woofers in an “O” shaped cube. It can be placed flat under a cabinet or standing for the best visual effect – it makes no difference to the sound.

Everything sounds fuller with a sub delivering the ultra-low frequencies that help one to feel the dinosaurs stomping around in Jurassic Park.

Controls – few really and no physical remote

Sonos appIt can use most modern TV remote controls for power on and volume. The remainder of features requires the Sonos app for single and multi-room playback, different content in different rooms, music alarms etc.

Like other Sonos speakers, the PLAYBASE uses Sonos proprietary whole-home system Wi-Fi to stream music from nearly 40 music services, over 100,000 local and international radio stations, and almost all network storage devices. Just remember that most streaming uses Internet data.

Supported Lossy (compressed) formats are MP3, AAC, WMA, and OGG. Lossless (uncompressed) formats are ALAC, FLAC, AIFF, and WAV. It supports the playlists that created in iTunes, Windows Media Player and services like Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Spotify, TIDAL, and more.

 

 

Pros:

  • Elegant, refined looks
  • Great sound from a “BASE”
  • Acts as whole of home music hub with other Sonos speakers
  • Expansion options to 5.1
  • Excellent app

Cons:

  • Walled garden – whole of home requires a Sonos system.
  • No HDMI – not a deal breaker.
  • Trueplay room tuning app only works with iPhones (uses the phone mic to set up the room).
  • 1 expansion cost warrants that you look at dedicated AV/speaker options too.

Summary

I have had 5.1 sound for some years courtesy of a Pioneer AV amplifier and Jamo bookshelf speakers and a sub – I love 5.1 for the more immersive feel it gives TV. It gave me a great comparison and what more can I say – Sonos was extremely good for a “BASE”.

There are some drawbacks like no HDMI but that is Sonos' way. Use your TV as the central controller.

In reality, it really is a 3.1 speaker array doing a remarkable job convincing your ears you have speakers in the far-left and far-right corners of your room – an amazing sound stage/vista.

I did not expect that an all-in-one unit this slim and compact would have such a sound vista and bass that’s punchy, authoritative and energetic.

I like the clear audio setting as that is what the majority of TV is about. You can adjust that for movies or music. I found myself using the Night sound setting that at lower volumes boosts quiet sounds and automatically limits loud ones.

As a package, it is stylish and neat. Add extra PLAY 1 and SUB wirelessly only needing a power connection. It also works impressively well. Sonos is a life-time purchase.

Sonos is still at the top of the pack when it comes to support for streaming services. Sonos confirmed a free firmware update will launch later this year, bringing Amazon Alexa voice control to all Sonos speakers.

Final words: Simplicity, style and a stunning upgrade over any and every TV in existence. If you are considering a sound bar with the benefit of a whole of home music system this is it.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!