I thought my home theater setup was perfect until I tested the Sonos Playbase.
If you have a TV without any external speakers, you may frequently find yourself tweaking the volume just to keep the audio at comfortable levels. That's when you know it's time to buy external speakers, but sometimes they aren't very good, especially if you want a set that works well for listening to music, movies and TV.
Sonos recently sent me a Playbase review unit, which I took home over the weekend for testing. I have a really basic surround-sound setup with a sound bar at home, a Vizio product that retails for about $300, and I really didn't think Sonos could prove its product was worth $700.
I was wrong.
The Playbase is a lot larger than I expected. That stinks if your TV is mounted on a wall or sitting on a fireplace mantle as it was in my house. If you don't have a table underneath the TV, the Playbase won't work with your setup. Thankfully, I had another HDTV on a stand that I decided to use for testing instead. It can hold TVs that weigh up to 77 pounds, which meant balancing my 55-inch HDTV was a cinch. In fact, the entire setup process was a breeze.
To get started, plug the Playbase into an out and connect an audio cable to your TV. You may need to move to get behind your TV in order to access that port, though, so ask a family member to help hold your TV while you squeeze behind it.
Next you'll move to the Sonos app, which you'll need to download to your smartphone from the iTunes App Store or Google Play store. During this process you'll configure the Playbase with your current home Wi-Fi network. It's also where you'll connect the Playbase to your existing Sonos speakers, if you already have some at home.
There's this really bizarre Trueplay setup inside the app. It makes you walk around the room while waving your phone up and down as it tries to analyze the acoustics to make sure you're getting the best audio. I felt like a shaman performing some kind of weird ritual and hope the neighbors didn't see me. After that, it was time to kick back to watch a movie. Tough job I have, right?
The first thing I noticed was how well I could hear quiet conversations and how balanced they were with other loud noises during movies and TV shows. I didn't once run into any audio issues that forced me to turn the volume up or down during an episode of "Newsroom" or while watching parts of "Star Wars: Rogue One."
The audio sounded powerful and clean, especially during action scenes, and I was able to clearly hear a spaceship whiz from my right ear to my left as it blew across the screen. There's no distortion in the audio, at least that I could hear, and I felt like I was sitting in a movie theater.
I've tested plenty of speakers over the years, but I don't think I've ever been as impressed as I was the second I started playing music through the Sonos Playbase. The speaker was particularly impressive while I was watching Jason Aldean perform his song "Any Old Barstool" live during the Country Music Awards. I almost felt like I was in a private showing, at least if I closed my eyes, and could easily make out all of the instruments in the song and feel the natural-sounding base as I leaned back on my couch.
It was clear my home audio system had been upgraded at this point, especially in terms of clarity, volume and balance. Still, I missed the surround sound experience from my own soundbar, and unfortunately things get very expensive if you want a surround sound Sonos experience.
To do so, you'll need to buy a pair of Sonos Play:1 speakers and a Sonos Sub to add to the Playbase, which means you're looking at about another $400 (or $300 if you can find a bundle deal) for the Play:1 speakers and $699 for the Sub. I was still pleasantly surprised with the Playbase, though, even without all of those add-ons.
If you don't already own a soundbar and need to improve the audio for your current TV, the Sonos Playbase is a no-brainer, so long as it's in the budget. It's a cinch to set up, there aren't a bunch of cables to run around your house, it syncs perfectly with other Sonos speakers and sounds amazing. It might be a tougher sell to folks who already have surround sound, however, or who aren't already invested in the Sonos ecosystem.
It's also great if you already own Sonos speakers. I love the support for multiroom sound, which is what you're Sonos is best known for. Sonos loaned me a Sonos Play:1 speaker and I loved that I could take my iPhone or Android device and control the music coming out of either Sonos speaker in my house. Maybe you want one song in the living room, for example, and another in the bedroom. Or perhaps you want the same song playing through all of the speakers in your house. You can do that easily.
Still, while I dig the Playbase and its performance, it's still a little rich for my blood. I can tell a difference between it and my standard surround-sound soundbar, but I also see no reason to kick my current soundbar to the curb. Movies and music sound perfectly fine with my current setup, and I have a true 5.1 surround-sound experience in a package that costs a fraction of the Playbase.
Correction: This story was revised to correct the name of a speaker feature to Trueplay.