Digital Life


Sonos embraces surround sound with Playbar

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Sonos multi-room audio adds a beefy soundbar designed to sit under your television.

The Sonos Digital Music System is the gold standard when it comes to multi-room audio, with speakers around your home creating their own private wireless mesh network. While the sound from a single speaker is impressive, you can use two Sonos Play:3 or Play:5 speakers as a stereo pair and also add the Sonos Sub for some extra low-end power.

Using your smartphone, tablet or computer as a Sonos remote control, it's easy to play the same song in every room or send different songs to different rooms. You can listen to music from your home digital music library, subscription music services, internet radio stations or local devices such as CD players. It's possible to cobble together similar functionality with Apple Airplay gear, but it still can't match the elegance and features of a Sonos system.

The release of the Sonos Sub last year highlighted one of the few frustrations with a Sonos system; it's only designed for music and won't hook up to a home theatre to offer surround sound. Admittedly purists want to keep their hi-fi and surround systems separate rather than compromise on a hybrid system, but that's a financial luxury that many of us don't have. If you want more from the Sonos system, or simply need a standalone soundbar to boost your television's sound, the Sonos Playbar could be just what you've been waiting for.

The $999 Sonos Playbar is basically a three foot long overgrown centre channel speaker, designed to sit above or below your television. Soundbars are actually one of the fastest growing categories in home theatre audio, driven by the fact that the new generation of paper-thin televisions tend to deliver paper-thin sound. A soundbar lets you beef up the sound from your television without going to the hassle and expense of buying an amplifier and several speakers.

The Sonos Playbar has nine built-in amplifiers and drivers, delivering the impressive sound we've come to expect from Sonos. As for connectivity it features a single digital optical input designed to connect to your television (most new televisions have one). Now the television can pass the sound from live broadcats or your AV components straight to the Playbar. 

The Playbar obviously takes a home theatre amplifier out of the picture and home theatre purists will be quick to point out that it's far from "true" 5.1-channel surround sound. Yet the Sonos Playbar does deliver impressive results, offering crisp but rich sound which doesn't distort even when you crank it up. It hooks up to a Sonos mesh network and can work in conjunction with the Sonos Sub and two Sonos Play:3 speakers at the rear. Admittedly you're not getting the full separation of front speakers, but the results can still put a budget 5.1 system to shame.

Of course at this point you've spent enough money to buy a half-decent 5.1 amp and speakers, but the beauty of the Playbar is that it has all the functionality of a normal Sonos speaker so it can handle multi-room audio as well as home theatre sound. It won't appeal to everyone, but the Sonos Playbar is the missing link that some music and movie lovers have been waiting for.