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The Sonos Playbar is official: This sleek sound bar streams all your music for $700

The long-rumored Sonos Playbar is finally official, combining the company's excellent streaming-music software in a sleek sound bar for $700.

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Sonos Playbar
The Sonos Playbar will ship on March 5 for $700. Jason Jenkins/CNET

The Sonos sound bar is finally here.

After years of rumors, the Sonos Playbar ($700, available March 5) was officially announced this morning, combining Sonos' best-in-class streaming-audio capabilities with a stylish sound bar that can double as a TV speaker.

A Sonos sound bar has been long desired by many digital audio enthusiasts who loved the company's proprietary streaming-audio system and sleek hardware, but wanted an all-in-one player for the living room.

If you're unfamiliar with Sonos, the company's line of pricey products can stream music from nearly every service available (such as Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, and Amazon Cloud Player) and your own digital music collection, using slick apps available for iOS and Android. (Check out our review of the Sonos Connect for more details.)

The Playbar, like other Sonos products, does require a direct Ethernet connection on its own, although it can be used wirelessly if you already have a wired Sonos on your home network -- or if you add a $50 Sonos Bridge to handle the initial wired connection.

Sonos Playbar
The flat arrangement works well if the Playbar is on a TV cabinet. Turn it 90 degrees, and it can lie flat against a wall for wall-mounting. Jason Jenkins/CNET

Beyond the streaming, the Playbar has some neat features as a sound bar, too. The Playbar can be positioned two ways: flat, for TV cabinet placement, so it doesn't block your TV's IR sensor; or standing up, so it works better wall-mounted. There's an internal sensor that can detect its position and the Playbar adjusts its sonics accordingly. The Playbar has nine total drivers and uses reflection-based virtual surround to create the illusion of a true surround-sound system, similar to Yamaha's YSP line of sound bars. I've haven't heard anything that approaches Yamaha's faux-surround, so it will be interesting to see how Sonos' compares.

Sonos Playbar
Expanded view of the Playbar's nine drivers. Sonos
Sonos Playbar
The back panel is dead simple, with just a single optical input for connecting to your TV's optical output. Also note the dual Ethernet ports; the Playbar can be used as a wireless bridge to get other devices on to your home network. Jason Jenkins/CNET

Connectivity is absolutely minimalist, with the back panel sporting just a duo of Ethernet jacks (one can be used as a wireless bridge) and a single optical audio input. That may seem overly limiting, but you should be able to connect most of your home theater devices if you use your TV as a switcher.

The Playbar also interacts with other Sonos products in some clever ways. It will connect wirelessly to the Sonos Sub ($700), if you're looking to add more low end, plus it can also wirelessly connect to Sonos Play:3 speakers ($300 each) positioned as rear channels. That opens up the potential to create true surround sound from a sound bar system, similar to the Vizio S4251W. Sonos says the 5.1 configuration can handle true discrete surround channels, plus it will apply some light surround effects to stereo signals as well.

Still, the Playbar does fall prey to some to some typical sound bar annoyances. It doesn't come with a remote; instead you're expected to program the Playbar to respond to commands from your TV's remote. It's a great idea in theory (who needs another remote?), but with some TVs that setup can lead to annoying onscreen messages when you adjust the volume. There's also no front panel display, so you won't get a visual indicator of exactly how loud the volume is. In our initial discussions with Sonos about the product, they acknowledged both these issues, but said the company doesn't expect them to be major issues for most buyers.

Sonos Playbar
There's an IR receiver on the Playbar, but it doesn't come with its own remote. Jason Jenkins/CNET

I haven't heard the Playbar yet, but CNET UK's Jason Jenkins listened to a brief demo of the system and offered the following thoughts:

I spent a short amount of time listening to a range of music and surround-sound movies on the Playbar: for me both sounded good, although better with music than with movies. Listening to a segment from Dolby's test disc, for example, the pseudo-surround-sound effect was impressive.

Less impressive was the bass, in common with other sound bars I've heard that ship without subwoofers. When it's paired with Sonos' Sub, though, it's plenty powerful, with lots of thumps, crashes, and rumbles when watching "Super 8." If you take your movie sound seriously, you'll need to buy both products together, but that is very expensive.

Music fared better, with the long speaker providing a very wide stereo effect where it was needed, and a very centered sound where it wasn't.

(Read Jason's full hands-on analysis at CNET UK).

That's consistent with my own experience with subwooferless sound bars, although I'm reserving my impressions until I get a chance to listen to the system myself. And while it's nice that you can wirelessly add the Sonos Sub, the price starts to skyrocket quickly: a Playbar ($700) + Sub ($700) + Wireless Bridge ($50) leaves you with a $1,450 sound bar setup. Sure, the Playbar essentially includes built-in Sonos Connect ($350) functionality, but the total system price will push the Playbar out of reach for many.

My early take is that the Playbar looks like a well-thought-out product that will appeal to the same crowd willing to spend the extra for the rest of Sonos line. The more budget-minded will be able to put together their own systems that are less expensive and more flexible, but likely won't look as nice, or work quite as easily, as the Playbar.

We'll have a full review of the Sonos Playbar in the near future.

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