Sonos Playbar

by Volker Weber

Gentlemen, get your credit card all charged up. You will want to spend money. Quite a lot of money. Well spent.

This is the PLAYBAR. It is many things: a soundbar for your TV, a ZonePlayer for your music, the left-center-right for a 3.0 system. With a SUB it can turn into a 3.1, and if you add two PLAY:3 you will have a 5.1 surround system. You only need to throw one tiny weeny optical cable between your TV and the PLAYBAR. Everything else is wireless, safe for the power leads of course.

Remember when I bought a new Samsung TV about half a year ago. There was only one reason: I needed a digital optical out so I could start testing the new SONOS gear that was entering final testing. It took a while to arrive at vowe's magic flying circus, but then, one day, the FedEx truck pulled up and delivered a huge package. Inside was the PLAYBAR. I updated the software on my SONOS, installed new controllers on iPhones, iPads and Androids. Then I was ready to go. One cable to the Samsung S/PDIF and one power lead. "Add a SONOS component", press two buttons, associate the SUB, learn the TV remote, and then . . . I was blown away.

I had tied the analog TV out to my ZP120 before, since I did not like the TV speakers at all. But this was always a bit difficult. While I had programmed the SONOS line-in to auto-play any incoming signal, I had two volume controls daisy chained. One was the TV, and the secondary was the ZP120. Not a good WAF.

This changes now. You tell the TV to switch off the internal speakers and play on external only. The PLAYBAR learns the TV remote. Yes, it has an IR eye, which turns it into the first SONOS player, that can be controlled from a standard remote. There are IR blasters at the back, so you can still control your TV, if you place the PLAYBAR in front of the TV.

This is what the PLAYBAR looks like on the inside. Nine speakers all driven by their own Class D amp. You can place it flat on a table or mount it on a wall. The PLAYBAR assumes that the wires come out of the back, and its sensor tell it which way is down, so it always can tell left from right, no matter how you mount it.

When the PLAYBAR was designed, it was meant to be on equal footing with a pair of PLAY:3, as far as music playback is concerned. The engineers outdid themselves and were able to almost reach a PLAY:5 pair. I think the PLAYBAR can be your only stereo, giving you two things in one: great TV sound and great music.

We can take it from there and add a SUB for earth shaking bass. And if you are rich, you can waste two PLAY:3 to make it a 5.1 surround system. Since those are quite mobile, you don't have to deploy them all the time. Add two of your existing players to the TV zone for cinema night, and then remove them later. They will go back to their old settings once removed from the TV zone.

The PLAYBAR has similar connectors to a PLAY:5. Two ethernet ports, power and instead of the line-in there is an optical digital in. If your TV does not have an optical digital out, you are in the same place as I was half a year ago. No PLAYBAR or a new TV.

The PLAYBAR zone adds two settings: night mode and speech enhancement. Night mode compresses audio in order to save yourselves from your neighbor's ire. Speech enhancement does exactly what it says.

With PLAYBAR, your TV is the command center. You hook up all your peripherals like cable box, sat receiver or Apple TV to your TV via HDMI and then select the source from the TV. Audio goes out the S/PDIF to the PLAYBAR, and that will understand both PCM and Dolby Digital Surround. I think they should have added DTS as well, but I am no expert in this field.

I have been testing PLAYBAR for a while and I was unable to log any substantial bugs. This is a high quality release from SONOS, much like SUB. When the PLAY:5 then S5 came out, I thought that SONOS could not do any better. I was mistaken. Both the SUB and PLAYBAR play on a whole new level.

I told you that today would be an expensive day. I told you to save your Xmas money. Now you need it.

vowe recommends ueberall-musik.de. Make sure you let them know you came from vowe.net. It might save you some money. And no, I am not getting any commission.

Comments

Nice! Sounds like a must have. Damn you, Volker ;-)

Markus Dierker, 2013-02-12 15:14

I know what I want now. But first... let me check if my Philips TV has an optical audio out. Currently, the TV connects to a Play:5 via line out.

Heiko Hebig, 2013-02-12 15:20

Oh wow, how does Sonos always know exactly what I didn't realise I *totally* needed!

Stuart McIntyre, 2013-02-12 15:21

The solution I was waiting for! The 3,5mm Klinke connection to my Play:5 is less than optimal.

Christoph Rummel, 2013-02-12 15:31

When checking your TV, ensure it meets your full requirements.

My TV has an optical audio out, but this only supports 2.0 audio. If I feed 5.1 audio into the TV, whether it's from broadcast TV, a gaming console, or a blu-ray, all I get out is downmixed 2.0 audio.

The PLAYBAR will upmix any 2.0 source to 5.1, but it can't get back the discreet 5.1 channels that your TV may have lost.

If you only plan to use the PLAYBAR in a stereo configuration, this information isn't important, but if you want true 5.1 then you may need to manage the audio connection outside of your TV.

Ben Rose, 2013-02-12 15:34

oh - wow!

Jens-Christian Fischer, 2013-02-12 15:36

I realize that what I am asking sort of defeats the purpose, but can you connect the optical in to a receiver and channel the sound through that? I, like many, have a receiver which connects to my tv as the out and a bluray player, PS3, XBox 360, a sonos connect, and sometimes a Wii. If I buy anything, it would have to fit into that world. Most TV's don't have 3 or 4 HDMI outputs these days, and when they do, they are not mounted in any place that is easy to get to once you mount the TV on a wall. I get that this is meant to replace the typical receiver setup, but I don't want to rip out cabling and replace a receiver and an existing sub woofer.

The IR blasters on the back is a brilliant move. WOW.

John Head, 2013-02-12 15:42

John, if you already have a receiver and speakers, I don't really see how this fits in. Of course you can feed audio from the receiver, but you would sort of dumb the Playbar down to a Bose soundbar.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-12 15:46

Damn you, Volker.

Damn you *sobs*

I've been looking to upgrade my 12 year old 5.1 Surround Sound system. This looks just that little bit out of reach, financially. But what a wonderful solution for the living room. Inspired creativity and pretty design. WAF is quite high, I imagine.

How does one become a tester for these wonderful toys?

Stephen Mooney, 2013-02-12 15:59

For someone in the exploring into home ownership, are there any data points in this community how much one should set aside for the Sonos equipment, e.g. in relation to the number of living rooms and bed rooms in the new house?

Just kidding? No.

Ragnar Schierholz, 2013-02-12 16:20

Home ownership is six digits. Sonos is four digits. Not a blip on the radar.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-12 16:22

@John Head - As my TV won't output a 5.1 signal, I use an external optical switch as a source for the PLAYBAR. It works just fine, although DTS sources are not supported.

In combination with a Harmony Remote this can be pretty seamless, otherwise you're still juggling multiple remotes. I have the Harmony automatically change my optical switch over to match my TV source.

Ben Rose, 2013-02-12 16:28

Perfect timing, Sonos. Well played.

Just setting up a new TV in the living room, and it has enough HDMI inputs that I was thinking about losing the old receiver, but I was wondering what I would do about the audio. Now, I can get killer audio (I haven't heard it, but I trust Volker's ears) and tie into my existing Sonos setup for music at the same time. Pretty sweet! And the price is significantly lower than I expected after reading the review, too. Not cheap, but perfectly reasonable to me.

Rob McDonagh, 2013-02-12 16:38

Finally! I've been waiting for something like this for ages.

Stefan Tilkov, 2013-02-12 16:39

well, this comes a tad late. my home ownership started in 2011, was not only six digits (Switzerland, sigh) and my home automation cum audio cost me nearly six digits. if the Kalaidascape could only work with BluRay, it would have that as well...
I would nevertheless swap all that IMMEDIATELY to Sonos if I could afford. But then theres the Holiday Appt and the high WAF, so I might put this in there. and need the new TV as a consequence.

Damn You, Mr Weber, You just cost me a lot of Money. Thomas, ich komme.....

Chris Frei, 2013-02-12 16:52

Chris, I am saving you guys lots of money. If you buy the wrong stuff, you need to swap.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-12 16:55

I know, I know, vowe is a good mother. Ich hab ja schon mal mit Thomas über Lieferungen in die Schweiz gesprochen, jetzt muss ich das wohl mal machen.

Chris Frei, 2013-02-12 17:06

"Home ownership is six digits. Sonos is four digits. Not a blip on the radar"..

well, when you put it like that...

Its definitely on my list.

John Cawrey, 2013-02-12 17:14

Ben filled in the missing piece for me (and I missed it in Volker's original story). This does not do DTS. I have a DTS setup in my media room. I know most folks who stream don't care about DTS, but if you still use physical media, that is a big loss. So this won't replace my home theater, but this may be perfect for the bedroom

John Head, 2013-02-12 17:35

Ordered at my Favorite Sonos dealer. That's you Thomas Lang. vowe is a good mother!

Markus Dierker, 2013-02-12 17:53

Ordered, vowe is a good mother, as usual. My 2-year-old Philips TV has digital output, but only as coax; have ordered a cable and coax-to-optical adapter (~40 Euros) and hope I'll at least get around having to buy a new TV …

Stefan Tilkov, 2013-02-12 17:59

Thanks a lot to Markus and all the others of you.

But be patient. I would not expect SONOS to deliver all devices on March 5th. But I know that I was the first reseller ordered the PLAYBAR. So my customers - you - might be in a good position in the queue.

Thomas Lang, 2013-02-12 18:00

@Thomas: Patience is my bigest virtue. Not. ;-)
Aber es gilt ja bekanntlich: Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude!

Markus Dierker , 2013-02-12 18:24

Moved the tip jar to the side bar now. :-)

Volker Weber, 2013-02-12 18:34

My TV has got a koaxial SPDIF only :-(

And my TV is to short (76cm, Playbar is 90cm) :-(

And my wife despises a larger TV in the living room :-(

What the heck, political talkshows are best without sound anyhow...

Felix Binsack, 2013-02-12 19:57

Felix, I believe the coax problem can be solved (see above). And who cares about the size? It may mean you can get rid of an amp and some speakers in exchange :-)

Stefan Tilkov, 2013-02-12 21:53

Felix, you could listen to good music while watching the silent politicians :-)

And regarding the koax output: a customer told me today, that there are converters from koax to SPDIF available.

Thomas Lang, 2013-02-12 21:54

I've used such converters in the past and they work well. Just a shame they need an additional power brick.

Ben Rose, 2013-02-12 22:20

Thanks for the great review! I don't think the missing DTS decoder is an issue for the intended use of the PLAYBAR: being connected to a TV set. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe TVs will only output either PCM or Dolby Digital audio (from its internal DVB-C/S/T sources) to their digital S/PDIF output anyway. However, lacking a TV set myself, I have no idea what happens when an external player (Blu-Ray, DVD, Settop-Box) is connected to the TV. If the TV indeed does a "pass through" of the digital audio it receives via HDMI, the missing DTS capability might be a bit of a problem after all. Though, from what I gather, most TVs are unlikely to support this kind of feature or would only output PCM stereo. Can anyone share any insights on this?

@Stefan, @Thomas: These digital coax -> Toslink adapters are normally pretty cheap - as low as 10€: http://www.amazon.de/dp/B002QWFUIW/
I even remember buying (and soldering) a "do-it-yourself" kit from ELV Elektronik many years ago for 10 DM.

@Ben: If I am not mistaken, the adapter above includes a 6V power supply rated at 250mA. So, with a little luck you may be able to run it off a USB port (provided your TV offers this).

Jörg Weske, 2013-02-13 00:56

@Jörg: Your question is indeed interesting, as with the Playbar announcement, some people might be interested to understand if a setup can be realized moving the Sonos solution from the "Living Room" into the "Home Cinema" area, where you usually operate with an amplifier/ projector kind of setup - excl. a TV.

It would be interesting to see a kind of setup including a consolidation device for Blu-Ray, DVD, DVR, etc. plus a projector and a 5.1 Sonos environment. Sonos is assuming the TV to consolidate all the inputs - what alternatives could be used instead?

Torsten Otto, 2013-02-13 09:07

Very interesting product!

I have a lot of HDMI sources (PS3, VCR, PC) connected to the TV, but the TV (probably due to copyright and DRM restrictions) does not forward sound it receives from HDMI-sources to the analog cinch output.

I don't know if TVs usually behave differently on the optical output, as I have no amplifier/receiver to connect for testing.

Anyone any experiences with this setup?

Alexander Kerwien, 2013-02-13 10:07

I have used one of these optical switch units with the PLAYBAR successfully.

http://tinyurl.com/cwschmw

I believe it shipped from Germany, they forgot to include a UK adapter, so it may be cheaper on amazon.de

The switch works well and the IR capabilty allows me to switch between sources automatically using my Harmony One remote. There is a second optical output that allows connection to another receiver too, perhaps one that supports DTS.

I have optical connections from my Humax PVR, AC Ryan PlayonHD2, Panasonic Blu-ray and my TV - which allows audio from my Wii U and other devices connected directly to the TV. I then connect the output to the PLAYBAR which just treats them all as one source. There are no undesired clicks or pops when I change source.

@Jörg - Nice idea about hijacking a USB socket for power, but I'm guessing that most devices that have USB also support an optical connection.

Ben Rose, 2013-02-13 10:23

As usual, I learn something when I read your blog - WAF! Nice.

skip brandon, 2013-02-13 11:01

@Alexander: I would assume that the sound output on the optical output will work. Otherwise SONOS will have some major issues.

Thomas Lang, 2013-02-13 12:09

@Jörg: My Panasonic gives me the option to "forward" the input signal he receives in the same type (including DTS) or to convert everything to PCM. Since "forward" is the default option I'd probably have to configure this once the Playbar is connected.

Oliver Regelmann, 2013-02-13 13:29

Great Product! and it'll be interesting to see how it comes up against the Yamaha YSP models. The early murmurs I hear is that it is better at Music production than Film/TV audio production as some of the dialogue can get missed in high action scenes etc.

I would love to get one, but my stumbling block is I have 2 Play 5's in stereo mode and the Play 5's wont hook up to the Playbar for 5.1 as the Play 3's will. Strange choice of setting??
This would mean having to buy 2 extra Play 3's for this purpose.

Craig Riches, 2013-02-13 16:39

@Craig - Film/TV audio varies depending on your configuration. With the full set-up, including SUB, the dialogue is pretty clear. Without the SUB, I find the centre channel a little lacking - presumably they have to upmix the LFE into the front channels and you end up with a result that isn't the 5.0 you might expect.

The Play:3 and SUB devices connect to the PLAYBAR using a low latency 5.4GHz wireless link. The Play:5 contains only 2.4Ghz wireless units, so this type of link isn't possible.

Ben Rose, 2013-02-13 17:34

Looks great. I wonder if:
- a 5.1 sound is possible with a playbar, sub and connect:amp for the satellite speakers?
- the sub will ever become available in matte black

Davy Vanherbergen, 2013-02-13 20:40

Davy, you only have satellites in the back. And they have to be PLAY:3. Playbar uses 5 GHz to talk to SUB and the back channels. That is a technical requirement to guarantee low latency. Also keep in mind that the back satellites are silent unless you are playing 5.1 material.

I wonder that too. And I believe it won't become available any time soon.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-13 20:48

@Torsten Otto: How is this for a "consolidation device": http://www.belkin.com/de/null-Belkin/p/P-F7D4515

Vowe once reviewed that thingy: http://vowe.net/archives/013147.html
But maybe you are looking for something entirely different...

Markus Dierker, 2013-02-13 21:22

Volker, the back speakers is indeed exactly what I was referring too. My room layout (and the two toddlers I have running around) doesn't lend itself well to have two PLAY:3's as the back speakers. I do have speaker cables available in the ceiling, waiting to be connected to B&W M-1's. I was hoping to drive them from a CONNECT:AMP so they could complete the Playbar and combine into a nice 5.1 sound. I can only hope that will become an option in the future...

Davy Vanherbergen, 2013-02-13 21:24

@Oliver: Thanks for the clarification. It's good to know that at least some TVs do support audio forwarding. So the PLAYBAR's missing DTS might in fact be an issue for some customers. Yet I presume that adding this option merely is a software / licensing problem that could possibly be included with a future firmware release for the PLAYBAR if enough customers complain about it to SONOS.

I remember that the first Western Digital WDTV media player was missing DTS downmix capabilities - much to the annoyance of many customers. However, WD refused to add this feature due to the additional licensing costs that they would have had to pay for all units already in the market. The 2nd generation WDTV Live offered DTS downmix - at pretty much the same price, though... With the PLAYBAR selling at about the tenfold price of the original WDTV there should be a little more room for later "adjustments", one may assume. ;-)

Jörg Weske, 2013-02-13 21:26

Seems I'm lucky that I've been waiting to purchase a new A/V receiver.

Just wondering if my TV set (Toshiba 40VL743) will deliver the audio signals properly (it has an S/PDIF out).

The manual reads:

"Automatic: This mode offers Dbly Digital (if available) or PCM at the digital output

Dolby Digital -> Dolby Digital
Dolby Digital Plus -> Dolby Digital
MPEG -> PCM
HE-AAC -> Dolby Digital"

Sven Bühler, 2013-02-13 21:27

Ist nach dem einrichten der Playbar bei reinem Betrieb am TV zwingend ein WLAN erforderlich?

Christian Hirth, 2013-02-14 10:39

Wenn Du die Playbar vom PC/Mac aus steuern willst, dann geht das ohne WLAN. Vom PC zum Router, vom Router zur Playbar.

Hat der Wünschelroutengänger WLAN verboten? Dann würde ich kein Sonos kaufen, denn die Player selbst machen ja ein SonosNet auf.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-14 10:44

Mir ging es darum, ob es möglich ist die Playbar als reine TV-Lösung (Soundbar) zu benutzen ohne Router/WLAN (ggf. nach Ersteinrichtung) mit der TV Fernbedienung ohne SonosNet?

Wünschelrouten sind bei der Dichte an WLAN-fähigen Geräten hier im Haushalt strengstens Verboten... ;-)

Christian Hirth, 2013-02-14 11:49

Wenn Du an den Klangeinstellungen nichts ändern willst (Night Mode, Speech Enhancement), dann macht der alles von alleine. Aber warum?

Volker Weber, 2013-02-14 14:12

Ich durfte heute die Playbar hören und muss sagen: WOW!
Selbst als "nur" 3.0 (also ohne Sub und ohne die beiden Play 3s) ist der Sound schon klasse!

Heiko Müller, 2013-02-21 21:18

Großartiger Bericht! Den Playbar habe ich mir jetzt nicht gekauft, weil ich das T-Home Audio über Fury II auf die 5.1 Anlage schicke (warum bauen die TV Hersteller immer noch Verstärker und Lautsprecher in ihre Produkte ein?). Bin aber zufällig vor zwei Tagen im Saturn auf das Sonos Programm gestoßen. Langes Gesicht an der Kasse, ich wollte ursprünglich nicht viel mehr als 100 € für einen WiFi Transmitter ausgeben. Nachdem ich das aber in nullkommanix zum Laufen bringen konnte, bin ich nochmal hin, CONNECT:AMP und PLAY:3. Das war's was ich immer gesucht hatte.

Wermutstropfen:
- NAS ist nicht problemlos, ich brauche vielleicht einen neuen Router, weil mein Speedport nur NTLM unterstützt (Windows 2000 Professional) und SONOS nicht. Ein neuer NAS, soweit geht die Liebe nicht, bei den heutigen Stromkosten.
- kein Controller für WP8 oder Windows RT, ein iPad wollte ich mir nicht als Fernbedienung kaufen.
- SPDIF: eigentlich schön, eine elektrische Entkoppelung via LWL zu haben. Problem: Die meisten Amps unterstützen nur 48KHz/16Bit Stereo. Deshalb ist beim Wiedergeben von FLAC eine analoge Verbindung tatsächlich besser.

Toll:
- meine Vinyl-Sammlung brauche ich jetzt nicht mehr zu digitalisieren, weil die Napster Qualität mit dem SONOS Zeugs echt schön ist. Das erspart mir Wochen:-)

Danke Volker!

Thomas Baumgärtner, 2013-04-07 19:30

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vowe.net is a personal website published by Volker Weber a.k.a. vowe. I am an author, consultant and systems architect based in Darmstadt, Germany.

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