Sonos Playbase Review Page 3:
Elusive 5.1 Sound, Price, and Verdict
5.1 or 2.0: Elusive 5.1 Sound
The Sonos Playbase receives its audio signal via an optical cable (sometimes called TOSlink). Almost every modern TV supports this, and it’s pretty handy: you choose whatever source you want on your TV, and then the TV pumps that audio out its optical port to your Playbase (yes, a cable is included!). Here’s the problem: depending upon both the make of your TV and the source of your audio, your TV might only output 2-channel sound to its optical port… and the Playbase.
Generally-speaking, if you get your content directly on your “Smart TV” (i.e. one that supports services like Netflix on its own), you’ll likely get 5.1 sound out that optical port. But if you have an external, HDMI-connected device like an Apple TV, chances are the copy protection built into HDMI will limit your TVs optical output to 2.0 sound.
If your TV outputs 2.0 this can be frustrating if you stop to think about it… but the Sonos Playbase does a pretty stellar job of recreating the wide, surround field that originally existed. Still, it’s getting a lot less data, and it’s not going to be perfect. For our testing, we were quite happy with the Playbase’s sound of our TVs 2.0 output right up until we tested it with 5.1. The difference was remarkable for movies and other content that really take advantage of 5.1.
Short of getting a new TV (and there’s no guarantee your new TV will treat HDMI-based audio any differently), you do have one other option: an in-line audio extraction box (I use this Monoprice HDMI switch box, but there are plenty of other options available, as well). Plug all your HDMI devices into this, and then just send the HDMI output to your TV … and the optical output to your Playbase. This might create a scenario where the Playbase gets the audio before the video appears on the screen, but the Sonos app allows you to easily adjust that delay to sync it all right back up again.
At US$699, the Sonos Playbase is a sizable investment for your home theater, but for many of you it will pay off. In addition to playing sound from movies and television, you also get a high-end speaker capable of filling a large living room with all of your music (yes, Apple Music is natively supported, too!). Having the Playbase also eliminates the need for a receiver, since your TV will be doing all the routing (or you’ll get an inexpensive HDMI switchbox to do the routing and optical audio extraction!).
An equally-important factor is Sonos’s commitment to software upgrades. The original, 2009 PLAY:5 (then dubbed the ZonePlayer S5), can take advantage of all the latest Sonos features, including Trueplay, and is a first-class citizen in a Sonos system. I have two of them in my home, and there is literally nothing about them that makes me want to replace them. They still feel new, in large part because they get all the new features.
I expect the same of the Playbase: it is yet another Sonos product that will see software upgrades – some possibly quite significant – for years to come. This means it will likely last you two or three times as long as other sound bars or bases might. This, to me, is one of the largest factors to consider when contemplating Sonos’s value.
The simple beauty of the Sonos PLAYBASE is that it disappears into your entertainment center, providing great sound without being visually distracting. It’s easy to forget just how small the Playbase is, especially when its sound seems to be coming from a much wider field than the Playbase’s width would imply.
I’ve very much enjoyed having the Playbase to test here, and so has my family. It quickly became an integral part of our listening lives here and, to me, that’s the best review I can give. Try it out and hear how it works for you. Sonos offers a 45-day return policy to make this easy!
Page 1: More Sound Than Would Appear, Not Just for TV and Movies
Page 2: Mixing TV and Music, Enhancing TV, and Subwoofer
Page 3: Elusive 5.1 Sound, Price, and Verdict