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When we heard Sonos was making a sound base, we knew the company was taking a hell of a risk. That's because many of today's TVs simply won't fit on top of them.
A sound base is a flat box of a speaker designed to sit underneath a TV's stand. That's fine if your TV has a central pedestal stand, but many TV today are supported by legs splayed far to either side, and many standard sound bases don't fit under them.
But the Sonos Playbase is no standard, well, anything. Just over 2 inches tall, it's squat enough to nestle beneath larger splayed-leg TV sets. Most smaller ones won't fit, however, so the potential audience for the Playbase is smaller than that of the Sonos Playbar, the company's more conventionally designed sound bar.
That's too bad, because the Playbase is the best home theater component Sonos has created. With gorgeous looks and vista-like sound, it's the kind of do-everything all-in-one speaker the Playbar never was. While the sound bar really needs the optional (expensive) Sonos Sub, the Playbase does perfectly well without it.
The Sonos Playbase is available now for $699 (£699, AU$999), the same price as the Playbar. Between the two, as long as your TV fits, the Playbase is by far the better option.
The Sonos Playbase is a seemingly solid piece of (quality) plastic, available in either black or white. Around the front of the speaker curls a grille designed to completely hide not only the drivers but also a bass exhaust port on one side. The controls and minimalist aesthetic resemble the latest Play:5 speaker.
The top of the speaker is reinforced and designed to hold televisions up to 75 pounds (34 kilograms). You can also use the Playbar with the new splayed-leg "clawfoot" style of stand too -- if the space between the tabletop and the bottom of the screen can accommodate the Playbar's 2.28-inch (58mm) height.
We tried a number of different clawfoot TVs with mixed success. The 55-inch LeEco X55 and 65-inch Vizio D series worked best, straddling the Playbase with ample clearance, while a 55-inch TCL Roku TV and a 50-inch Vizio E-series didn't. If you want this style of speaker and your TV doesn't fit, there is a $150 third-party Playbase stand available.
The Playbase comes without a remote, but using the Sonos app you can program your TV clicker to mute and alter the volume of the speaker. Note that it no longer has an onboard calibration mic -- Sonos' Trueplay app removed the need for that.
The Sonos Playbase is a home theater component first and foremost -- one that just happens to integrate with Sonos' excellent multiroom music system. It connects via an optical cable to your TV and will decode Dolby Digital but sadly not DTS as well.
The Playbase includes six midrange drivers, three tweeters and a woofer feeding a bass port, which the company calls the S-tube. This port snakes through the chassis, giving the unit its weighty bass response while also passively cooling the components inside. (And yes, Sonos engineers told us they'd considered calling it the PlayBASS.)
Like other Sonos speakers, the Playbase uses Wi-Fi to stream music from dozens of services and network devices using Sonos' proprietary whole-home system. While Sonos was one of the first such systems, it now has plenty of competition from the likes of Bose's SoundTouch, DTS Play-Fi, Samsung Shape, Google's Chromecast Audio and more.
Apart from the optical cable, the only other connections are Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Unlike most competitors, the Sonos lacks a Bluetooth connection, but due to the number of music services Sonos supports, we don't think you'll miss it.
If you feel that the Playbase isn't giving you enough of the deep stuff, the unit will connect wirelessly to the Sonos Sub ($699, £699, AU$999), and you can complete the system with a pair of Sonos rears for a 5.1 surround setup if you wish.
While iPhone users can use Trueplay to setup this device, Android and other iPad users are in the dark. We chose to side with these users and leave the speaker uncalibrated, although we did adjust treble and bass according to each room's needs.
We used the Playbase on top of a home theater unit and in a partially open cabinet as well. Be aware that the speaker will need unfettered access to bare walls to give the wide soundfield, so if you place it inside a cabinet it can sound hemmed in. We connected the device by optical cable to our Oppo UDP-203 player and also to a Vizio 4K television. For part of our testing we also added a pair of Play:3s as rears and the Sonos Sub.
The Sonos Playbase may be as flat as a pancake, but it belts out a tall stack of sound. We were impressed by its sonic scale and found the audio transparent and precise in ways that elude most other sound bars and bases.
The first Blu-ray up was "Deepwater Horizon," about the offshore oil rig mega-disaster in 2010. The explosive deluge of water, mud and oil had more dynamic impact than we usually experience with sound bar or base systems. Not only that, the Playbase projected a wide, nearly wall-to-wall soundstage.
We had a Sonos Playbar on hand to compare, and the two weren't so different, but the Playbase's bass had more oomph. Compared against the Bose SoundTouch 300, however, both Sonos speakers lacked the "stickyness" of the Bose's wide effect -- it disappears if you turn your head.
Returning to the Playbase we added the Sonos Sub, which delivered tremendous power to the sounds of the oil rig's massive explosions and turmoil. For once there was no boom, thickening, or bloat so typical of sound bar/base subwoofers, the Sonos Sub's low bass was sure-footed, deep and clearly defined. At first the Sub didn't call attention to itself, but when the disaster flick's churning mayhem was going full-tilt, the Sub made the CNET listening room shake and quake!
With the World War II drama "Hacksaw Ridge," we brought in a pair of Sonos Play:3s for use as surround speakers, and even though we were sitting less than 5 feet away from the Play:3s, we were barely aware of their locations. They disappeared as sound sources, and with the Playbase they together filled the room with sound. Again we were pleasantly surprised by how well the Sonos system reproduced dynamics, the war film's treacherous battle scenes were free of overt compression. The $1,499 Samsung HW-K950 sound bar system was nowhere as potent as the complete $2000 Sonos system.
Convinced of the Playbase's home theater skillset, we turned to music with jazz pianist-singer Diana Krall's "Live in Rio" concert DVD. Krall and her big band sounded natural, a cut above what we normally get from sound bar/base systems, which are usually dull or tizzy with music. When we removed the Sonos Sub and Play:3 surround speakers, there was less bass and the soundstage flattened, but the clarity and poise of the Playbase were intact.
We next compared the Playbase with the $250 Fluance AB40 sound base speaker, which is amazingly good for the money. It may be just a stereo, two-channel sound base, but it projected a wide and spacious soundstage with movies and music. With the "Mad Max: Fury Road" Blu-ray, the AB40 was outclassed by the Playbase on every count -- clarity, dynamic, bass oomph, dialogue -- but the AB40 put up a good fight.
Finishing up with CDs and other two-channel music recordings from Radiohead and Drive-By Truckers, the Playbase didn't disappoint. David Bowie's final album, "Blackstar," sounded absolutely terrific, with pitch-perfect tight bass, lively dynamics and Bowie's vocal that all rang true.
The Sonos Playbase is right up there with the very best sound bars and bases on the market, whether used on its own or in conjunction with the Sonos Sub and/or the Play:1 or even Play:3 speakers. Considering its feature set and build and sound quality, we think the price is reasonable. If you're not beholden to Sonos' ecosystem and want more of a pronounced wide effect, however, you could also consider the excellent Bose SoundTouch 300.