There’s a new Sonos speaker! But it’s probably not what you were expecting. Unless you were expecting a soundbase - because that’s exactly what it is.
Have no idea what a soundbase is? Allow us to clear that up and fill you in on the other nine things you need to know about Sonos’ latest, perhaps greatest, creation yet.
1) It’s essentially a PlayBar that you can plonk your telly on
A soundbar is great if you’re wall-mounting your telly and want to do the same for your speaker but if, like almost every other person, your TV stands on a, umm, stand, a soundbar is going to look daft propped up in front of it.
The solution? A soundbar that isn’t a soundbar at all, but a base upon which your telly can stand, majestically, like the proud centrepiece of your lounge.
That’s what the Sonos PlayBase is - a PlayBar that’s been remoulded as a pedestal for your TV.
2) It’s super-solid, despite being riddled with holes
Of course, if it were that easy, idiots like me would be making things instead of simply writing about things that other people have made and, clearly, a huge amount of engineering expertise has gone into crafting the PlayBase.
The design is simple and seamless, but also supremely solid. Solid enough, in fact, to take the weight of a 34kg TV without even a hint of flex. Got a TV heavier than that? It must be ancient if so, because almost no telly weighs that much these days.
And while the PlayBase is super-minimalist, with just one ‘proper’ button (for pairing) and a couple of touch-sensitive buttons (for play/pause, volume and skipping tracks), it’s not without funky, nerdy details, such as the 43,000 holes that come in five different sizes to regulate airflow across different sections of the speaker.
3) It sounds practically identical to the PlayBar
Sonos doesn’t want you to choose between the PlayBar and PlayBase for sound reasons, and it’s gone to great lengths to ensure the two devices sound practically identical.
We're looking forward to putting the theory to further test once we get our review sample of the PlayBase.
Who’re you calling a nerd?
4) And that sound is pretty special, whether playing music or a movie
Sonos has got quite the reputation for great sound, and it’s certainly not going to do that any harm with the PlayBase.
What’s most impressive is the width of the soundstage that this relatively compact unit produces. Play a movie and the array of ten speakers fills the room with sound that stretches a long way to the left and right, albeit not entirely around you as a surround sound package would.
Play some music and you get a proper stereo presentation with detail, dynamics and sparkle.
And the whole thing’s weighty and full-bodied to an extent that's genuinely suprising. To say it sounds better than the average flatscreen would be like saying the Pacific contains more water than the average paddling pool.
5) Want proper surround sound? You can have proper surround sound!
As with the PlayBar, the PlayBase can be partnered by two Play:1, Play:3 or Play:5 speakers that will act as the surround-left and surround-right satellites and create a proper 5.0 system. Want to add the .1? Pick up the Sonos Sub and you’re all sorted.
Best of all, unlike most surround sound systems each individual speaker is wireless, so you don’t have to run cables right across your lounge - although they do all need power sockets.
6) HDMI is not an option
As with the PlayBar, Sonos has gone for a super-simple setup, which means there’s just one audio input - optical.
The idea is that you feed all of your sources (console, set-top box, etc) into your TV, and then your TV passes the sound off to the PlayBar.
Some rivals are more advanced, in that they accept multiple sources, including HDMI, which they then take the audio from before passing the video up to your TV. That can result in better sound, but it also makes things a bit more complicated, and that just isn’t the Sonos way.
7) In many ways it’s just like any other Sonos speaker
Which is to say that it can play music from all of the same sources those other speakers can. Open the Sonos app and you can connect to Spotify, Tidal, Amazon or Apple Music.
Internet radio is supplied via TuneIn and all of the digital tunes stored on your computer, phone or NAS device are fair game, too.
Oh, and as of a few months ago you can send music to Sonos speakers directly from the Spotify app, which is even more seamless if you’re a subscriber to the world’s most popular music streaming service.
8) But hi-res audio is still off the menu
There might be lots of chatter around about better-than-CD, hi-res audio, but Sonos isn’t really interested.
There are good reasons for that (dubious quality of some masters, lack of places to get them), but with MQA and Tidal making great strides in streaming super high-quality files, it’s a bit of a shame that Sonos still shows no signs of supporting the format.
At least not yet.
9) Voice control is on the way - at some point
Sonos has been talking up Alexa support for its speakers for a while now, and we’ve even seen it in action, albeit very briefly.
The PlayBase doesn’t have its own mic, so you’re going to need to add an Echo or Echo Dot to add voice at a later date, but the integration still looks lovely and we’re very excited for when it goes live “later this year”.
10) The PlayBase will (probably) be out soon and will (definitely) cost $700
Sonos is being pretty cagey about when the PlayBase is going to be available to buy, but the samples I saw at the demo event looked far more like final articles than half-finished prototypes. I’m going to guess that you’ll be able to order one in a matter of weeks.
What we do know for sure is that it will be available in either black or white and will set you back US$700 - exactly the same price as the existing PlayBar.
That’s a fairly serious chunk of change, check back in the near future for the full review.