Sonos PLAYBASE: Australian Review

Image: Sonos

Sonos's latest speaker is built not to go around your TV, nor in front of it. It's built to go underneath, and to blend in with your existing furniture more than any Sonos speaker before it. It's only built for a certain kind of TV, but that doesn't mean you're not going to want to try it out anyway.

What Is It?

Sonos Playbase speaker, whiteImage: Sonos

The $999 Sonos PLAYBASE is an all-in-one speaker that wants to live under your TV. Unlike a soundbar — and unlike the Sonos PLAYBAR that it's functionally identical to — the PLAYBASE is a soundbase or pedestal speaker, one that sits underneath the central stand of your TV. Of course, that presumes your TV has a central stand, a style that was much more common a couple of years ago but that now makes up around a third of new — generally cheaper — TVs on the market. The PLAYBASE measures 720mm wide and 380mm deep, and despite being just 58mm tall, packs in 10 individual speakers including a dedicated low-frequency woofer.

The front grille of the PLAYBASE, available in either a stark matte white or a stark matte black, is made up of individually drilled holes — between 0.6mm and 0.9mm, depending whether they're front and centre next to the reversible-by-design Sonos logo or curving around the left or right edges. That's the only design feature on an otherwise featureless squat, oversized-pizza-box-esque design. It doesn't need anything else, though: it's a speaker that for the most part should be hidden away underneath your TV. It has an optical digital audio input at the rear — no HDMI or ARC — and Ethernet as well as Wi-Fi, and a two-pin power plug. That's it.

Those 10 speakers include six mid-range drivers, three more directional tweeters and one woofer, all arranged across the 180-degree arc at the front of the PLAYBASE. Each has its own digital amplifier, which allows for more minute adjustment of each speaker's output power — all of which is controlled through the Sonos app, which allows general treble and bass and loudness adjustment as well as extras like Night Mode that normalises volume levels and boosts dialogue, and TruePlay tuning which optimises each speaker (or speakers) for the room in which you're listening.

The Sonos PLAYBASE is just one of six different Sonos speakers that live inside the company's ecosystem of smart, connected multi-room speakers. And you can pair the PLAYBASE with a duet of surround sound speakers for your TV-watching space, either the PLAY:1 or PLAY:3, as well as a SUB for proper low-frequency effects, to build out the speaker from a single unit to a full home theatre system. And then other Sonos speakers can also join the party, in any room around your house, to play music through the Sonos app either in groups or individually. It's legitimately the best, and one of the oldest, multi-room home audio setups that you can buy.

What's It Good At?

Image: Sonos

The PLAYBASE sounds great. For its size, and just in general. When you fire it up for the first time, it's a genuine shock to hear the range and volume of sound that the PLAYBASE can great. More bass than you'd expect from a skinny flat speaker is delivered courtesy of a trick tuned-length bass port, and treble is singingly clear — too clear, in fact, to the point that you have to dial it back a bit — and the mid-range has a hell of a lot of detail. This is a speaker that's good for music, but that also, by virtue of its angled speaker array, actually sounds lifelike for movie and TV dialogue. That's a must for a soundbar, and the PLAYBASE delivers.

It's also worth calling out how wide the PLAYBASE's soundstage is, which is not so important for a music speaker but is hugely valuable for something that's playing movies and TV. The angled speakers at the front corners of the PLAYBASE contribute massively to the sense of stereo sound that you get, and that means that this 720mm wide soundbase actually sounds more room-filling and realistic in its representation of speech and dialogue than some full-size forward-firing soundbars that we've heard. If you want a small speaker that sounds big, then you don't have very many choices from your local electronics store, but the PLAYBASE is very much one of them.

The Sonos Playbase Is The TV Speaker We All Deserve

Sonos speakers already live all around your house — your living room, your bedroom, your bathroom. You might already have a Sonos speaker in the same room as your TV. You might already have a Playbar. If you don't, though, it might be because you don't have room underneath your TV — maybe it's not wall mounted, maybe it lives on a skinny entertainment unit. That's why Sonos has a new speaker for your TV, designed to live underneath it. It's called the Playbase.

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The PLAYBASE looks good, too. Honestly it's hard for a soundbase to look good, because ideally it's all hidden away under a TV's stand in the first place, rather than a little more front-and-centre like a soundbar is, but you can tell the time and thought and effort that's gone into the PLAYBASE's design. Look at those individually micro-drilled holes that make up the entire front of the speaker's grille, for example. They let sound through, but they're miniscule and they're actually part of the speaker's enclosure itself rather than a separate piece of metal. You can choose black or white as suits your decor, but I think the white actually looks fancier.

Multi-speaker surround sound for TV and movies. Multi-speaker, multi-room audio for music. TruePlay sound tuning for each room that you have a speaker or speakers in. A reliable speaker-to-speaker mesh network that hooks into your wired or wireless network and gets stronger the more speakers you add in. Support for dozens of internet music and radio services, each with their own constantly improving libraries and playlists and interconnectivity. These are all Sonos hallmarks that any existing owner will know and should love, and you get those with the PLAYBASE. They're a huge feather in its cap. Sonos is the best when it comes to extras beyond the music, and they're a great value-add.

What's It Not Good At?

Image: Sonos

The pedestal style of 'soundbase' soundbar that the PLAYBASE is a smart addition to Sonos' line-up alongside the PLAYBAR, but it feels like they were launched in the wrong order. In my quick peruse of the range of new TVs on sale at JB Hi-Fi, cheap and expensive alike, only around a third had the kind of central pedestal stand that would work with Sonos' latest speaker. Pedestal stands were popular a few years ago, which means you'd likely be buying the PLAYBASE to boost the sound of an existing TV rather than a new one.

If you've got an existing TV, too, you'll have to make sure it has an optical digital audio output, otherwise you won't be able to connect it to the PLAYBASE, which doesn't have a 3.5mm or other analog stereo input. Like on the PLAYBAR, this is a conscious choice on Sonos' part — and makes sense since it's a surround-friendly speaker designed to be used with other surround speakers like the PLAY:1 and PLAY:3. It does lock out some older TVs, as well as the ability to quickly hook up a phone or MP3 player to play music through. Similarly, there's no quick-connection Bluetooth or any other temporary hookups — this is a speaker to hook up to your home Wi-Fi and control through the Sonos app on your phone or tablet.

While the sound from the PLAYBASE and PLAYBAR are quite similar in their aural signature — like I said before, Sonos is very good at making small speakers sound bigger than they are — the PLAYBAR does have the slight edge both in the quality of bass that it can produce and the maximum volume that it can comfortably hit before its audio starts to sound a little less measured. My TV would probably look a little sleeker sitting on my entertainment unit with a PLAYBASE underneath, but the PLAYBAR still looks pretty good, and crucially leaves the option open for me to wall mount it later in its life.

If there was one small criticism I'd make about the PLAYBASE's sound quality — and considering its size and the quality of sound that it produces, it's such a small complaint — it would be that by default, the volume of the treble is just a little too much, and that takes away from the rest of the speaker's strengths in surprisingly rich mid-range and surprisingly deep low frequency response. I'd recommend TruePlay tuning for your living space almost as a necessity straight out of the box just to make sure the PLAYBASE sounds its best. Then add a bit of extra bass, just because you can.

Should You Buy It?

Sonos Playbase speakersImage: Sonos

The $999 Sonos PLAYBASE comes a little too late to really hit home and strike a chord with new TV buyers, the kind that are statistically likely to add on a gutsier sound system. It's still an excellent all-in-one speaker and if you do have a TV whose stand would fit comfortably on that 720mm wide and 380mm deep base, and wouldn't work so well with a PLAYBAR. In my opinion, the PLAYBAR still has the competitive edge if you're planning to use it with more modern TVs in the future as well, but that doesn't make the PLAYBASE sound any worse.

It sounds, in actual fact, very good. I've heard plenty of soundbase-style speakers in my time, and the PLAYBASE — especially when tuned for a specific living and listening space — tops them all. That's a big achievement given its especially slim profile. A lot of effort has gone into this speaker. It's always been the case that Sonos makes small speakers sound good, but the PLAYBASE is the smallest speaker yet in its most crucial dimension — depth — yet it's a more impressive setup than the individual PLAY:1s I was A/B testing it against.

And it's important to remember that It looks good and it sounds better. If you want a speaker that'll boost the sound of your TV, and do all the funky brilliant wireless interconnectivity stuff that Sonos has been so good at for the last decade, and your TV is of a shape that will work with the PLAYBASE's design, then it has my most heartfelt recommendation. If you don't want or need any one of these three things, you're probably best off looking elsewhere at the PLAYBAR or at a cheaper soundbase or soundbar.

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