Hands on: Sonos Playbase review

An all-in-one speaker and a handy TV stand all rolled together

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Our Early Verdict

The Sonos Playbase offers great sound out of a surprisingly compact speaker. While it doesn’t appear to have improved much upon the company’s Playbar soundbar, it will offer you another form factor to choose from for your living room.

For

  • Compact and flexible form factor
  • Gets loud without rattling
  • Trueplay speaker tuning

Against

  • Soundstage sounds artificial
  • Optical-only connection
  • Expensive subwoofer accessory

Three years after the company released its first ever soundbar, the Playbar, Sonos has created the Playbase, a new form factor that combines a stable pedestal for your TV with an audio cabinet. 

Sonos did extensive research into how people used their Playbar at home and found that most people didn’t wall mount their televisions or Playbars. To that end, the Playbase was created to allow people to set their televisions right on top of the speaker, allowing for a compact home theater solution. 

So far we’ve only had a couple of listening sessions with the new Sonos Playbase (conducted at an event held at the audio manufacturer’s Boston HQ) but even so, we came away impressed with the simplicity and sound of the speaker. It's loud without losing any details, and should be simple for most AV amateurs to setup in a few minutes.

As usual with Sonos products, the Playbase isn't cheap, but in return for your financial investment you’ll get a compact and flexible audio solution that integrates seamlessly with other Sonos speakers in your home. 

Sonos Playbase price and release date

The Sonos Playbase will be available globally starting April 4 2017. Current Sonos owners have an exclusive opportunity to pre-order on Sonos.com starting at 12:01am ET on March 7. The Playbase will retail for $699 (£699, €799, AUD$999, CAD$899), the same price as the current Sonos Playbar

Design

The design for the Sonos Playbase is a result of the company’s extensive research on how people actually use speakers in the home. Sonos asked its customers how they setup their Playbar and was shocked to find that many people had less than ideal setups – with one customer claiming that they put their soundbar and TV on the floor.

As a result of this research, Sonos realized that most people wanted to place their TVs on top of their speaker for a compact solution. 

Sonos created the Playbase with the goal of allowing you to place your television on top of the speaker without harming audio fidelity. We’ve seen this type of design before from the Bose Solo 15 Series II and LG LAB540 SoundPlate, but this is the first effort in the area from the multi-room audio outfit.

The Playbase is a solid slab of matte black or white plastic that looks as minimalistic and innocuous as possible. On the front is a vertical silver strip with the Sonos logo. The only buttons are located right above the logo, which control playback and volume. Around the back are ports for Ethernet, Optical and power. Noticeably lacking is a HDMI connection, which Sonos says it decided to leave out to make the speaker setup as simple as possible. 

The front of the Sonos Playbase features an intricately designed grille that has been tuned for audio performance and hides six mid-woofers, three tweeters, and a large ported subwoofer. The grille was designed to hide the speakers from being a visual distraction and features different hole sizes to accommodate airflow for each type of driver – there are larger holes on the sides to allow more air to pass from the angled woofers and subwoofer. 

That being said, while it may be simple on the outside, under the hood the company had to do a ton of design work to make the speaker look the way it does while still sounding good. 

The big challenge was to create a speaker you can put your TV on top of and not have it rattle. To make that happen, the bottom of the Playbase is lined with a soft material to help damp vibration and prevent scratches on furniture. 

During testing, we rested our hand on the unit while it was playing and while there was some vibration, it wasn’t enough to rattle furniture or the TV on top. 

On top of the innovations to the form factor, Sonos is also slowly adopting voice control and home automation by bringing Amazon Alexa support to the Sonos ecosystem later this year. (That said, Sonos wants to remain platform agnostic and is working to partner with other voice assistant services in the future.) 

Sonos Playbase specs

Measuring in at 2.28 x 28.35 x 14.17 inches (58 x 720 x 380mm, H x W x D), the speaker can support TVs of up to 75 lbs (34 kg) and the unit itself weighs 18.85 lbs. (8.6 kg). Sonos estimates that TVs ranging from 46 to 59 inches will fit on top of the Playbase without an issue.

Inside the Playbase are 10 custom designed drivers: six midrange drivers, three tweeters, and one woofer. The woofer is designed with an S-shaped port to help move more air for more bass depth and impact. Powering the 10 drivers are 10 individual Class-D amplifiers. Sonos has not published frequency response numbers but keep reading for our thoughts on how it sounds.

Performance

Sonos invited us to its Boston headquarters to go ears-on with the new system. We were able to listen to the speaker in a test room in the Sonos office as well as in a rented home to put the speakers in the context of a real home setting. Listening tests were performed using a mix of movies and streaming music.

Our first impressions of the Sonos Playbase is that the slim speaker creates a lot of volume for its size. During a clip of the live action Tarzan movie, we were impressed by just how loud the speaker sounded at half volume. 

Equally impressive was the bass output from the Playbase. Sonos went on at length about its custom drivers and unique S-shaped bass port and and we can hear why. The Playbase features great bass extension and impact, though cinephiles will still want to pick up the $699 (£699, €799, AU$999) Sonos Sub for room-rattling impact. If you're not a massive bass-lover or want to upset your neighbors, however, we think the bass is enough from just the Playbase itself.

One of the biggest challenges with soundbars is creating virtual surround sound by reflecting sound waves off of walls and furniture. At first listen, we were unimpressed by the artificial soundstage which felt much narrower than a true stereo setup. However, we discovered that the Trueplay speaker calibration software wasn’t used in the room.  

In another listening session, Trueplay was enabled and made a huge difference in making the speaker sound much more natural with good instrument separation, soundstage height and channel separation. Note that there’s no support for Trueplay for Android phones as Sonos finds the mic quality varies too much between different phones to make the feature work consistently. 

Of course, because this is a Sonos system, one of the best benefits is that it can all talk to other Sonos systems. What that means is that you can send music to every Sonos speaker in your home so you’re never without music while walking throughout your home. Better yet, you can use a pair of Sonos Play:1 speakers (or its bigger siblings) as true surround sound speakers if you want. With Play:1 speakers used for surround sound with the Playbase, the system produced much more exact imaging like what you would find on a traditional 5.1 system. 

Early verdict

The Sonos Playbase is a good-sounding speaker that’s made with convenience in mind. The Playbase aims to be an all-in-one music and home theater speaker and looks likely to succeed. While there are better sounding speakers on the market, the Playbase offers a simple set up and great software integration in a compact solution, especially if you’re looking for a soundbar to rest under your television. 

The Playbase comes in at the exact same price of $699 (£699, €799, AUD$999, CAD$899) as the Sonos Playbar, which seems like a good deal considering that the Playbar is a few years old at this point ... not that these two are in direct competition. Sonos sees the Playbase as a complementary product to the Playbar, giving users more choices for speaker form factors. 

If you have a wall mounted TV, the excellent-sounding Sonos Playbar is still a great choice. If you have a TV sitting on top of an entertainment center, however, the Playbase will likely make more sense. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.