Will the Sonos Play­base spark a new TV au­dio rev­o­lu­tion?

SoundMag - - Editorial - BY STEVE MAY

The high pro­file launch of the Sonos Play­base once again throws a spot­light on the mis­er­able mess that is TV au­dio.

As flatscreens thinned, their sonic per­for­mance has di­min­ished to the point of em­bar­rass­ment. For many, the sound­bar has be­come a de­facto so­lu­tion. With­out one, your favourite shows sound thin and weedy.

But while sound­bars have sold in their mil­lions, they aren’t the per­fect panacea. Most lack the abil­ity to pro­duce deep bass, which has led to a pre­pon­der­ance of 2.1 pack­ages. But not every­one wants to de­vote floorspace to a wire­less sub­woofer with the aes­thetic ap­peal of a bri­quette.

Sound­bars bring other prob­lems. They are rarely a cos­metic match for the screen they’re part­nered with, and can even ob­scure the IR zap­per win­dow.

For a time, the sound plate, or sound­base, looked like an an­swer. By dou­bling as a plat­form for the TV, they were bet­ter able to blend in with the dé­cor. And with more cu­bic vol­ume, they could also gen­er­ate a de­cent level of slam, thereby mak­ing a sep­a­rate sub­woofer re­dun­dant.

Yet de­spite valiant sound­ing ef­forts from the likes of LG, Can­ton and Onkyo, sound­bases never took off with buy­ers in the way sound­bars did - per­haps be­cause most just looked by a stan­dard speaker tram­pled by a Toy­ota Hilux.

Per­haps Sonos, with its magic mar­ket­ing pixie dust, can fi­nally make them fash­ion­able?

Soon though we might not ac­tu­ally need to buy ex­ter­nal speak­ers for bet­ter TV au­dio. I’ve no­ticed a def­i­nite trend by TV man­u­fac­tur­ers to re­dress the au­dio vis­ual bal­ance. Sound is be­ing seen as a way of adding value back into gog­gle­box sales. Sets with in­te­grated sound­bars are on the rise. LG made a noise with its 2016 OLED range, us­ing speak­ers de­signed by Har­mon Kar­don – a com­pany, iron­i­cally, now owned by arch ri­val Sam­sung.

This year Sony is us­ing au­dio to help dis­tin­guish its OLED de­but, the A1. Acous­tic Sur­face tech­nol­ogy clev­erly turns the screen it­self into a loud­speaker. A pair of ac­tu­a­tors bonded onto the rear panel can out­put 2 x 20W, sup­ported by a 10W sub-woofer in the TV’s lean-back stand.

Such glass trem­bling tech isn’t new, but Sony has found a way of vi­brat­ing the screen sur­face dif­fer­ently on each side, to cre­ate a stereo ef­fect.

It may sound far fetched, but the end re­sult is re­ally im­pres­sive.

Don’t ex­pect Acous­tic Sur­face tech to be­come the norm on to­mor­row’s TVs though. It only works with OLED. Those trans­duc­ers need to vi­brate glass, and with LCD TVs the back­light gets in the way.

Still, the mes­sage is loud and clear. TV au­dio is mak­ing a come­back. Sounds like good news to me.

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