Your TV sounds rubbish. No, honestly, it does. It’s just the nature of the thing. Ever-thinner TVs have meant ever-smaller speakers, and no amount of processing jiggery-pokery can fully compensate for those physical deficiencies.
That’s why the hi-fi world is awash with soundbars and soundbases. These all-in-one, largely plug-and-play units are the quickest, cheapest and neatest routes to better TV and movie sound, and that has made them seriously popular.
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But what if you want more than that? What if you want a neat, TV-boosting speaker that also doubles up as a music-streaming supremo capable of accessing practically all of the music in the world at the jab of a touchscreen?
If that sounds like a tall order, well, it isn’t - and Sonos makes not one but two devices that fit the bill: the Playbar and its new sibling the Playbase.
Sonos will tell you choosing between the two depends on whether you’re looking for something to wall-mount under your wall-mounted TV or a base you can plonk your TV upon. With respect to Sonos, there’s more to it than that.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the Playbar is a bar and the Playbase is a base, and while there are more things to consider than just design and placement, those are still the biggest and most significant differences.
If your TV is wall-mounted and you want to mount a speaker system underneath it, the Playbar is the obvious choice - even though the wall bracket is a £40 optional extra.
It does have rubberised ‘feet’ so it can be placed on a shelf or other piece of furniture, but they’re on the same panel as the wall-mount screws, which means that when placed as such the drivers are facing upwards rather than forwards – something that badly impacts the sound.
You could ignore the feet and stand the Playbar up on its edge, but that involves raw metal rubbing against the surface of your furniture and potentially obscuring the bottom part of your TV’s screen.
You also risk blocking the IR sensor and therefore preventing signals from your remote getting to your TV – the Playbar has an IR repeater, but it’s designed to work only at the “correct” orientation.
All of which means if you’re not a wall-mounter, the Playbase makes more sense. It’s a simple, minimalist slab with a large, flat surface to place your TV upon.
It needn’t be more complicated than that, but you can opt for an even neater set-up by adding a Sanus WSTV1 swivel mount, which basically replaces your TV’s existing pedestal stand with something that incorporates the Playbase and makes it look as if that is the pedestal.
There are differences in the materials used in the two devices too, with the Playbar having a metal and cloth outer shell and the Playbase being entirely plastic - but each device is equally stylish in its own way.
See all our Soundbase reviews
The only real feature difference between the Playbar and Playbase is the Playbar has one extra ethernet socket, taking its total to two.
That can be handy if you want to daisy-chain devices, but it’s not something many people will take advantage of. Most, we suspect, will choose to simply make use of Sonos’ prodigiously reliable wi-fi.
Other than ethernet, the Playbase and Playbar have just power and optical connections, with the latter being the only method of getting sound from your TV to the speaker. That’s right - neither allows for HDMI.
Sonos’s argument is: having a single optical connection from TV to speaker makes everything simpler. There’s certainly some truth to that, but we can’t help but feel a soundbar or soundbase that accepts almost any input, strips out the audio and then sends the video to the TV is actually just as simple and ultimately more flexible.
More after the break
It can be tricky, for example, to ensure your TV isn’t downgrading your source’s audio signal before sending it to the Sonos as Dolby Digital (the only surround format it recognises).
But that’s a similarity rather than a difference, as is the fact that both the Playbase and Playbar can be expanded to proper surround sound through the addition of two Play:1, Play:3 or Play:5 speakers, and/or can be granted a huge extra dollop of bass via the Sonos Sub.
Going the whole hog in such a way doesn’t result in a better surround experience than a more traditional AV amp and 5.1 speaker set-up but it is far neater, with each element being wireless except for the power connection.
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There’s nothing to separate the Playbase and Playbar when it comes to music streaming either, as both devices are as fully featured as any other Sonos speaker.
Whether you subscribe to Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music or Deezer, you’ll be able to instantly access all of your chosen service’s tunes via the Sonos app, plus integrate any music stored on your phone, computer or NAS device, and access internet radio thanks to TuneIn integration.
And, should you be lucky enough to own more than one Sonos speaker, you’ll be able to seamlessly integrate the lot into a multi-room system.
Ultimately though, there’s little to separate the Playbase and Playbar in this category, unless you really feel the need for that extra ethernet socket.
Now this is where things get interesting. Sonos has specifically tuned the Playbar and Playbase so they sound as similar to one another as possible, with the aim of making positioning the only factor in deciding which one to buy. The truth, though, is that the two actually sound significantly different.
Both have a rather impressive ability to produce a wide soundstage and project it a good distance into the room, assuming you’re using the Trueplay setting (and you should).
Both also aim for neutral and natural sound, prioritising tonal balance over huge quantities of bass, and that’s a good thing as far as we’re concerned.
But in terms of bass, the Playbase’s physically larger enclosure and clever S-shaped woofer allow it to produce more natural deep notes. The bass here is impressively weighty and full-bodied, but also quite tonally nuanced and flexible.
By comparison the Playbar sounds as though it’s compensating for a lack of natural bass with more of it, and as a result the bottom end is more monotonal.
The Playbase is the punchier, more attacking speaker. However, it’s also overly zingy and rather sibilant, to the point it distracts and detracts from the rest of the presentation. Cymbals and snares sound grating and draw the ear away from what is otherwise an enjoyable sound.
The Playbar may be a little softer and less enthusiastic in its delivery overall, but it’s also more controlled in the treble and, ultimately, that makes it the more enjoyable listen.
If you’re lucky enough to be flexible in the positioning of your TV-boosting speaker, we’d recommend the Playbar. It’s got a handful of flaws whereas the Playbase has just the one, but it’s the comparative size of these flaws that makes the difference.
Even when taken together, the Playbar’s slight lack of punch and bassy nuance are less of a deal-breaker than the Playbase’s grating treble. The Playbar’s likeably smooth balance is never annoying, and that makes it both more flexible in terms of content, and consequently nicer to live with.
There’s not a huge gap between the two, though, so if you’ve decided that you want to transform your TV’s sound with a Sonos speaker (and who could blame you?) and aren’t wall-mounting, the Playbase still makes more sense.
But, ultimately, it’s the wall-mounters that will be getting marginally the better of these two Sonos devices.
FOR: Neat design; wide, spacious and smooth sound; simple set-up; expandable with extra speakers; all the streaming imaginable
AGAINST: Bass is a bit unsubtle; could be punchier; only really suitable for wall-mounting; only handles Dolby Digital 5.1
VERDICT: Marginally the better-sounding Sonos TV speaker, but only really suitable for wall-mounting
FOR: Sleek, minimalist design; weighty, natural and tonally nuanced bass; punchy, big and wide sound; expandable with extra speakers; all the streaming imaginable
AGAINST: Treble is overly zingy and sibilant; only handles Dolby Digital 5.1
VERDICT: One serious sonic flaw marrs what would otherwise be an easy winner