Stun­ning Play­base is Sonos at its best

SmartHouse - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Steve May

The Play­base is the first new ad­di­tion to the Sonos hard­ware line up since the last it­er­a­tion of the Play:5, in 2015. It’s po­si­tioned as an al­ter­na­tive to the hugely pop­u­lar Play­bar, which was largely cred­ited with kick-start­ing the high-end sound­bar mar­ket when launched.

It may also be the best sound­ing speaker Sonos has ever made.

Avail­able in black or white, the Play­base can be used solo or in­te­grated with other Sonos wire­less com­po­nents. You can stream to it di­rectly, group it with other con­nected speak­ers, or sim­ply use it as a TV au­dio up­grade.

Sonos has, of course, got set-up down to a fine art. For those new to the brand (and we sus­pect the Play­base will at­tract quite a few new fans), it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of fol­low­ing the Quick Start guide. This boils down to con­nect­ing the Play­base to a TV, as­sign­ing Ex­ter­nal Speak­ers in the TV’s au­dio menu, then down­load­ing the Sonos app and fol­low­ing the prompts.

Con­nec­tiv­ity is lim­ited to a digital op­ti­cal au­dio con­nec­tion and Eth­er­net /Wi-Fi. As with the Play­bar, there’s no HDMI Arc con­nec­tion, 3.5mm line in­put or Blue­tooth. This sim­plic­ity is all part of the Sonos phi­los­o­phy.

Build qual­ity is out­stand­ing. The body­work is crafted from a cus­tomde­signed glass-in­fused poly­car­bon­ate and has a lovely tac­tile feel. The in­dus­trial de­sign is un­der­stated; there are no vis­i­ble seams, which gives it a clean, mod­ern look.

It’s fronted by an acous­ti­cally trans­par­ent grill, with holes that im­per­cep­ti­bly widen to­ward the edge, from 0.75 to 0.9mm. There are around 43,000 of these if you’re count­ing.

Just 58 mm tall and 720mm wide, the Play­base is in­tended to sup­port pedestal stand TVs which can be neatly parked on top. If your screen has widely spaced feet, you may be able to slide the Sonos be­tween its boots. Al­ter­na­tively you could pop the set on a re­place­ment stand from a third party sup­plier, which use the VESA mounts on the back of the screen. The Play­base can ac­com­mo­date sets up 34kg.

On-body con­trols, po­si­tioned ei­ther side of the Sonos logo, are lim­ited to Vol­ume, Play/Pause and Next/Pre­vi­ous swip­ing.

The en­clo­sure is a three chan­nel de­sign. It em­ploys a nine trans­ducer ar­ray (six mid-rangers, plus three tweet­ers) plus 5.25inch woofer, al­lied to an S-shaped bass re­flex port. The out­side tweet­ers an­gle out­wards at a 45 de­gree an­gle.

What isn’t streamed, is de­liv­ered from the TV via that op­ti­cal au­dio in­put. The Play­base in­cor­po­rates a Dolby Au­dio de­coder and sounds its best when fed Dolby Digital, be it from Net­flix or a source con­nected by HDMI, via the TV.

For the most part, the Play­base is plug ‘n’ play, but there’s some tweak­ing that can done within the Sonos app.

A lip sync au­dio de­lay can be used to com­bat any la­tency prob­lems (al­though we didn’t suf­fer from them), and there’s some rudi­men­tary EQ ad­just­ment with Bass and Tre­ble slid­ers. There’s a Loud­ness boost, if you feel the need.

The Play­base can also be room tuned us­ing the Sonos True­play cal­i­bra­tion app, which is avail­able for iOS de­vices.

Blu-ray en­thu­si­asts should note that the Play­base has no DTS de­coder. There are work­arounds for this. If your Blu-ray player al­lows it, you can specif­i­cally as­sign DTS sound­tracks to out­put as PCM. Al­ter­na­tively, your TV menu will al­low you to change the TV’s digital op­ti­cal au­dio out­put from bit­stream to PCM.

There’s ob­vi­ously a wide va­ri­ety of music ser­vices which can be streamed to the unit via the Sonos app, in­clud­ing Tidal, Spo­tify and Deezer. Al­ter­na­tively you can play tunes from a music li­brary on a NAS.

While pri­mar­ily for­ward fac­ing, the Play­base doesn’t pe­nal­ize off-axis lis­ten­ing. This is good news for fam­ily TV view­ing. It makes good use of those an­gled driv­ers to ex­tend the sound­stage (for once, hard room sur­faces are your friend).

If you want a more con­vinc­ing home theatre ex­pe­ri­ence, but you can al­ways add ad­di­tional speak­ers at the rear at a later date. The Sonos sub­woofer can also be drafted in, how­ever few will feel the need. That in­ge­nious S-port ar­range­ment al­lows the Play­base to de­liver a deep bass re­sponse that be­lies its size. In­deed, it drops sig­nif­i­cantly deeper than the Play­bar.

The en­clo­sure starts to shift air around 50Hz. This mid-bass re­sponse is nat­u­ral­is­tic and rounded, giv­ing a vis­ceral thump to ac­tion movies. V8s roar at the open­ing of Mad Max Fury Road, and there’s plenty of au­then­tic clank­ing as the War Boys pre­pare their rig for Gas Town. For such a com­pact en­clo­sure, the noise it makes is huge.

The Play­bar doesn’t just im­pres­sive with its gutty slam ei­ther. It han­dles sub­tle at­mo­spher­ics bril­liantly well too.

The open­ing of gothic chiller Crim­son Peak, in which the young Edith is vis­ited by the ghost of her mother, sends per­fectly pitched shiv­ers up the spine: Guillermo del Toro’s haunted house groans, the Play­base adding omi­nous bass weight to its ghostly com­plaints. When boney fin­gers touch Edith’s shoul­der, the sound­track boos. The child screams, high pitched and young; thun­der rolls. Noth­ing is lost in the down­mix.

This Sonos may be tuned first and fore­most for movies, but it’s con­vinc­ingly mu­si­cal too, and seem­ingly am­biva­lent to genre.

Avril Lavine’s poppy Com­pli­cated (from Let Go) com­bines crisp stereo­phonic acous­tic gui­tar with a nasal vo­cal that images dead cen­tre. The speaker is im­me­di­ately ag­ile and fast.

By com­par­i­son, Cindy Tells Me, from the 2004 re­mas­ter of Brian Eno’s Here Comes The Warm Jets, with its shades of early Roxy Music and soar­ing cho­rus, is lush and se­duc­tive.

If you like a harder edge, Ramm­stein’s Ich Will (from Mut­ter) un­spools as a tow­er­ing wall of sound. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Sonos doesn’t talk about power out­put but the Play­base goes loud and doesn’t dis­tort.

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