Let me start this off with the obvious: Sonos is a pretty legendary name these days. The company's product portfolio is pretty simple and easy to navigate, but each item serves a few specific purposes that help potential buyers decide which one to purchase. The selection of speakers, soundbars, and amps all fulfill different audio needs, whether you want a multi-room setup like Artem and/or a stellar surround sound experience.
But in order to reach those who do not wall-mount their televisions, Sonos has come up with its own version of a soundbase. The Playbase (heh) is aimed squarely at those people. Similar to the Playbar, it is designed to produce sound that your TV's speakers simply can't. At $699, it's a bit of a large pill to swallow, but the simplicity and quality that the Sonos name represents help to justify it. The differentiating factor between this and the Playbar, however, is the fact that you can set your television on top of the Playbase — and yet, it still looks clean and stylish, and even gives off the feeling that it belongs in your living room.
Not only do you get some rich, fantastic sound from your TV shows, videos, and games, but you can also add the Playbase to your pre-existing multi-room or surround sound setups... or use it to start your own if you're wanting to jump into the Sonos world.
|Form factor||Even though it's wide enough to sit underneath a TV, the Playbase is still sleek and stylish. Most TVs fit on it, though those with the "claw feet" may have some trouble.|
|Sound||A truly beautiful thing, the sound quality is absolutely superb. The bass is especially spectacular. It's great regardless of whether it's music or something from your TV piping through it.|
|Streaming||With a huge list of services to choose from, you can also have the Playbase play music from multiple online sources or your home media/UPnP servers all on its own.|
|Setup||This process was more painful than I would have liked. The WiFi setup continually failed when I initially received my review unit and I was forced to use an ethernet connection. Afterwards, I was able to set it up to work wirelessly.|
|Value||At $699, the Playbase is a hard sell to those who are not already invested in the Sonos ecosystem. The simplicity, sound quality, and style are all well and good, but this is pretty clearly for those who already own one or several Sonos devices.|
Design, build quality, & setup
In many cases, the television is the centerpiece in a living room and since the Playbase is meant to be the thing upon which you set your TV, it follows that it should look nice. There are two color options available: matte black and white. While the former would have looked better with my entertainment center setup, I received the white version to review. Sitting on top of a black shelf underneath a black TV flanked by a black PlayStation 4 and Roku, it sticks out. Simply put, I recommend getting the black one. While the color took some time to grow on me, the overall design was something I immediately loved.
I like minimalism. Something about simplicity and understatement draws my eye — for my fellow PC gamers, this is one of the main reasons I am drawn to Fractal Design's cases. The Playbase pulls your attention, even though it's fairly featureless except for the Sonos logo. That eye-catching aspect confuses me a bit because the Playbase is not very tall (only 2.3"), especially when viewed head-on. It's wide, solidly-built, and can hold TVs up to 77 pounds — most televisions should fit on top, though units with the "claw feet" may have some trouble.
The Playbase packs in ten drivers (six midrangers, three tweeters, and one woofer) that provide a pseudo-3D sound experience that startled me the first time I heard it. According to Sonos, every bit of space inside is used for something, but all you will see is the logo, play/pause button (flanked by the volume keys), the pairing button along the left side, and the power, optical in, and ethernet ports around the back. The latter is generally unneeded, though I had to use it in my setup process initially — the Playbase stubbornly refused to connect to my network.
Regardless, I got it all working and the WiFi streaming works flawlessly. You are also able to connect your TV's remote to the volume control of the Playbase, which was a helpful touch. Adding streaming services was also a breeze; between Google Play Music, Pandora, and Plex, I was all set. Oh, and I threw in my foobar2000 UPnP server for good measure (which is a separate setting, but it contributes to the overall experience).
The one setup aspect that was missing for me was Trueplay, which is limited to the iOS version of the Sonos app. It helps you configure the speaker to your room, but I used it with the out-of-the-box arrangement and it worked just fine.
While it's great that the Playbase looks and feels nice, one of the main draws of this product is its sound quality. Throughout my time with this review unit, I have had it plugged into my Samsung TV which has my PS4, Roku, and Steam Link connected to it. On its own, the Playbase will optimize sound output for its three channel setup, which works fine for most things.
Overall, the Playbase easily fills my living room, kitchen, and office with clear, wide, dynamic sound. Frankly, when sitting in front of it, I had the feeling that I had other speakers in the left and right corners of the room. Not all content puts out this three-dimensional illusion, but when you play something that does, it's pretty awesome. My living room is very open and spacious, and yet I still had this experience. Do remember that how you have set up your area will impact how the sound travels.
The bass is my favorite part of the overall Playbase sound. It's got the potency, punch, and rumble to make me smile. Natural-sounding bass is not always a given in some of these products — I've heard that the Playbar has more of an artificial quality to it.
In my out-of-the-box configuration (i.e. sans Trueplay), no level of sound was too harsh. I tested this with several different things, which included Destiny (PS4), Doom (PC/Steam Link), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC/Steam Link), Dark Souls III (PC/Steam Link), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Blu-Ray), Bones (Netflix), various YouTube videos, Google Play Music, and FLACs from my UPnP server. I am a bit sensitive to strong treble, which I noticed in a few songs from Play Music, but it was nothing major. Again, I am just a bit sensitive to that.
Further onto the standalone music point, the Playbase certainly holds its own. I cranked up metal from the likes of Amon Amarth, Eluveitie, and Sonic Syndicate without fearing for distortion or damage to the speaker — my ears were an entirely different matter. It was the perfect dinner companion when my wife and I had some people over for Easter and it was extremely sufficient when we had some friends visit for an evening get together.
Where Sonos gets a lot of credit is in its unified app experience. The amount of stuff to find here is rather ridiculous and slightly overwhelming to a new user, but it starts off pretty easy. Setup is a fairly simple process and Sonos walks you through it all, even offering suggestions if you hit a hiccup.
Once you're in, you have a slew of things to tackle — I immediately delved into the settings. There is an option for alarms, a Night Sound mode, and a Speech Enhancement toggle. You can even connect your TV remote to the Playbase and use it to control volume. Navigating the menus is a simple process and you're free to arrange things to your liking.
I used the app predominantly for music streaming. Once you select the services that you want, you will be asked to connect your accounts. Afterwards, everything will appear in the hamburger menu for you to choose to stream to the Playbase. This is nothing new and this is how it works with the rest of the Sonos speakers. Whenever music is playing, traditional media controls will appear in the notification shade or in the app itself, just like any other player.
Overall, my time with the app was mostly pleasant. Other than the feeling of being overwhelmed initially, I like the one-stop-shop mentality that Sonos has opted for. I am bummed that the Android version is missing out on Trueplay that the iOS version has, but that doesn't detract from the actual app experience.
I feel like I should wrap this up by saying that I wish I had never received the Playbase for review. The thought of going back to my TV's built-in speakers makes me want to cry inside, as does the fact that I am going to want to buy some sort of external speaker setup to fill the sonic void in my home. I have always appreciated good audio, but Sonos has opened my eyes (ears?) to what I've been missing.
In the end, however, the Playbase leaves me with two polar opposite answers to the question of whether you should buy it or not. On one hand, if you're invested in the Sonos world (or really want to be) and $699 does not phase you when it comes to buying audio equipment, then I can definitely recommend the Playbase. But if you're looking to expose yourself to the audio world beyond what your TV can do on its own, the Playbase is a much harder recommendation. You can find comparable sound quality from other products for much less than what Sonos is asking.
No matter what, I am almost always wowed by Sonos and would very much like to be a part of the experience that the company and its products offer. If you're in the same boat as me, I honestly don't think that the Playbase is the best place to start. This is clearly meant for people who are all-in with Sonos and who don't mind dropping this kind of money to add to their home setups.