Sonos makes some of the best whole-home wireless audio gear I’ve used, bar none. I’ve tried Bluetooth and Zigbee models, wired and unwired gear, and nothing comes close to Sonos’ ease-of-use and reliability. It is, in short, the Jobs-era Apple of consumer audio — everything just works, and if it doesn’t, Sonos will have a fix eventually.
So it comes as no surprise that their latest product, the slab-like Playbase (or PLAYBASE, for the shouty), works as well as anything else they offer and can turn your living room into a surround-sound wonderland.
The Playbase is basically a stand for your standalone TV. The whole thing is 2.28 x 28.35 x 14.96 inches and can hold TVs up to 77 pounds. You still need to put both the Playbase and the TV on a table unless you dump it on the floor. However, it tries to meld into your AV cabinet seamlessly. This means you can drop a fairly large TV on top of this thing and it will still work. The 10 internal speakers — six mid-range, three tweeters and one woofer — ensure that you’re pumping a full range of audio out of the front grill and long, winding woofer channel.
Like most soundbars, the Playbase works best with movies and media. Connected to a Sonos SUB sub-woofer and a pair of satellites it makes for a superlative surround-sound system and, on its own, it can play almost any audio without flaw. This is not an audiophile’s system, to be clear. A Devialet Phantom will afford far more clarity at high volumes and reams of blog posts can be written about “better” home audio gear from more expensive dealers. However, for a fan of good audio, it’s great. The setup is simple. The mobile app connects to almost every major streaming service, and TV and movies played through this slab are well-balanced. Plus, if you set things up in party mode you can rock the whole house with the Playbase as the main attraction.
Further, Sonos offers a service called Trueplay that tunes the speakers to your room using your phone. This usually adds a modicum of clarity to movie audio and improves music immensely, especially with surround-sound setups.
The Playbase costs $699, and with that you get precious little in the way of accessories. The kit includes an optical audio cable, a power cord and an Ethernet cable. Setup is as simple as connecting your TV’s optical out to the Playbase. This obviously means you need a TV with optical out. In my setup I have a surround-sound receiver with no speakers attached that switches the various devices in my AV nook — PS4, Xbox and cable box. This sends the HDMI to the TV and then out from the TV to the Playbase. This convoluted system works well enough, although having a receiver and a Playbase is actually unnecessary as long as you have multiple inputs on your TV.
The best thing about Sonos is the mobile app. This app allows you to switch from playlists of Spotify music to streaming satellite radio to Pandora to your TV. You can set up a special night mode that reduces the sound of explosions in film and an audio enhancement mode that sufficiently improves dialogue so as not to require you to turn the whole system up to 11. Anyone on your wireless network can connect to the Sonos gear and select music and adding a Sub or satellite speakers is as easy as plugging them into a power outlet.
I love Sonos for its simplicity. Each device has only three inputs — power, optical in and Ethernet – and the setup is seamless. I’ve never lost a speaker accidentally, never suffered an outage and, except for some issues with playlist retention, playback has been simple and seamless. While users with wall-mounted TVs definitely don’t need the Playbase, folks with a free-standing television — a constituency that Sonos knows well — will love this addition to their living rooms. The Playbase comes in black and dirt-attracting white — I dirtied the white model with an errant, dusty thumbprint, and you will too. However, we must all suffer for interior design.
In short, the Playbase is another great product from one of the best home theater companies on the market. It’s pricey, sure, but it works flawlessly and sounds great. Sonos has taken over the mantle of best affordable home audio from folks like Sony, Bose and Onkyo, and it’s unlikely to give it up any time soon. The Playbase makes sure of that.