September 6, 2018

All about the Sonos Playbase

For some, the revelation that Sonos would be making a dedicated sound base may have come as a surprise. The company has built a reputation around the quality of their work and the meticulousness of their craft. This dedication to what they do, means that product roll outs are often slow affairs, and Sonos has to be picky with the product that they choose to put out.

Sound bases fill a specialized niche in the home entertainment industry and don’t tend to get as much play as many of their alternatives. They tend to fulfill a smaller market than traditional sound bars and speakers. But while the development of the Playbase may have been surprising, the outcome isn’t. It suits the quality standards for performance, aesthetics, and features that consumers have come to expect from the Sonos name.

What is a Sound Base?

The sound base was developed in response to consumer needs for more compact stereo equipment for their televisions. Multi-speaker systems can be a great practical choice for larger rooms, but the wires necessitated by traditional speakers can often be unsightly, and a complex system of multiple speakers can both take up a lot of unnecessary space and be overkill in terms of sound for smaller rooms. While consumers can just make use of the native speakers in their TVs, the past few years have seen internal speaker system quality degrade as screens become thinner and more attention is focused on visual quality.

Along with its sibling the soundbar (like the Sonos Beam), a sound base is designed to provide all the stereo output you need in as compact a space as possible. In practical terms, the main difference between a soundbar and a sound base is their functionality. The former is often placed in front of a TV or mounted on the wall while the latter literally sits underneath the television. While many TVs are too large to comfortably be seated on a sound base, it’s one of the most efficient choices of speakers for TVs that can. They’re basically pedestals for your TV, and they allow you to make the most of your space without unnecessary clutter or installation.

What Features Does the Playbase Offer?

The Playbase is a bit more specifically designed than many of the other Sonos products. While their speakers and amps are intended to serve as versatile and adjustable components in your larger stereo ecosystem, the Playbase serves the specific purpose of serving as a secondary speaker to your TV. As such, it’s not quite as versatile in terms of the features it possesses, and it doesn’t include the voice functionality and integration with virtual assistants that you’ll find with the Beam or the newer range of traditional wireless speakers.

But Sonos built their brand largely on the integration of streaming functionality, and the Playbase delivers all the standards that are built into Sonos equipment by default. The Wi-Fi functionality works reliably, and it allows you to stream music from dozens of cloud-based services. It also allows you to pull music from other connected devices in your larger Sonos network. In short, it does double duty as a component for your TV and another link in the chain of your home’s large audio network.

In terms of specs, the Playbase manages to pack a lot of good stuff into a very tight bit of real estate. The interior consists of six mid-range drivers, a woofer that feeds directly into the bass port, and three tweeters. It’s certainly enough power for any small- to mid-sized room, and the bass is especially worth listening to; but if you’re looking to outfit a larger home theater, you may want to consider investing in the Sonos Amp or interface the Playbase with more speakers from the collection.

Like other new offerings from Sonos, the Playbase will work with Amazon Alexa.  This gives users another dimension for controls and additional smart features, and turns the Playbase into an Alexa device which can be used to control other home devices and automation.

What is the Playbase’s Design?

There’s something admirably boutique in the design sensibilities of the Playbase. Sonos is known for the elegant and streamlined approach to aesthetics, but the Playbase takes that to a degree that may be detrimental to their bottom line. In other words, it’s so small that it won’t be able to serve as a pedestal to a lot of TVs. Available in both white and black variants, it stands impressively squat at just over 2 inches high. The result is a platform that could largely go unnoticed on your entertainment center or conventional stand. The painstaking care they went into creating a speaker that’s both attractive and unassuming is impressive. Tens of thousands of small speaker holes manage to offer clean output from such a tiny device, but the drivers stay hidden to keep them from becoming a distraction.

As with the majority of the Sonos product line, simplicity is the name of the game where practical design considerations are concerned. Buttons along the top of the device allow you the ability to play and pause music as well as adjust the volume, and swiping on the surface allows you to fast forward or rewind music. It’s an elegant design that suits the simplified nature of the Sonos philosophy. This same philosophy reflects the output available. Recent Sonos products have seen a push towards incredibly streamlined outputs that greatly limit the need for tangled cords and cables, and the Playbase is no different. It offers an optical cord, ethernet cable, and power cord, stripping the options down to the bare essentials.

Will it Work With My TV?

This is a slickly designed piece of sound equipment, but the one main problem is that many modern TVs simply aren’t built to sit on top of sound bases due to a move towards spread leg designs in place of centralized platforms. The Playbase is able to support up to 75 pounds of weight. Its slim shape means that it can also sit comfortably underneath a TV without a traditional base and work essentially like any soundbar would. If this is the case, you’ll need 29″ of horizontal space beneath your TV and just shy of 2.5″ in vertical clearance.

What’s the Setup Process Like?

Easy. Despite a startup guide being included in the box, much of it is self explanatory. The power cord goes into the wall (or preferably a power strip), the optical cable into the TV. The optional ethernet cable allows you to connect to your modem directly, but Wi-Fi compatibility is available right out of the box. Once everything is hooked up, the Sonos app for mobile devices can steer you through the rest of the process and make sure that you get the best sound quality out of your Playbase.

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