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SONOS and PLAYBAR: Part 6 of 5

Posted on Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

"Dodge this."

When I started SONOS WEEK here at Blogography, I broke down what I wanted to say into five parts. Little did I know that a sixth part would unexpectedly appear.

Sonos gear is incredibly expensive. Whether it's worth the money is debatable. Given what it can do and how it works, it was worth it to me and my needs. I was able to afford the $350 for the pair of Sonos One speakers because I had a $120 credit at Amazon plus some tax refund money. And while I thought I might buy more pieces eventually, it was not on my radar. I have a nice Denon receiver plus a decent speaker setup and a living room wired for surround sound, and that's more than enough.

But then I had a long-time online friend notice I was reviewing Sonos on my blog who offered to sell me his PLAYBAR for cheap (well, maybe not "cheap," but for less than I could buy it new). He had upgraded to a Dolby Atmos 7.1 setup (Sonos can only do 5.1) and his PLAYBAR was sitting in his attic.

He had all the original packaging and said it was in perfect condition, so I said "Wrap it up, I'll take it."

The next day the UPS driver paid a visit and Christmas morning came early.

I anticipated that setting things up would be a bit problematic because I was having to shuffle around my existing Sonos speakers to get a surround sound system. The PLAYBAR would become the Left, Right, and Center channels... my existing Sonos One speakers (from the living room and kitchen) would become the Rear-Left and Rear-Right channels. Turns out it wasn't a problem at all. I plugged in the PLAYBAR, used the Sonos app to set it up, then was asked if I had rear speakers. Since I did, I tapped a button on the backs of them when instructed and everything was reconfigured for me automatically. Such is the joy of Sonos.

I was worried that a single PLAYBAR speaker taking the place of three speakers would destroy the stereo separation I was used to, but that was not the case at all. The Left, Right, and Center channels were fairly distinct after TruePlay tuning. The rear channels being in separate speakers were even more distinct, as expected. My go-to movie for demonstrating surround-sound is The Matrix, and it sounded terrific through Sonos.

It's a great system and the amount of wires and crap it replaces is very cool...

Bunch of old speaker stuff.
Denon receiver: $500 - Speakers: $300 - I should have just bought the $700 PLAYBAR to begin with.

   

There are some caveats to PLAYBAR, however...

  • Sonos does not support DTS, a popular multichannel sound system. A friend warned me about this ahead of time but I still find it more than a little shocking. Many an audiophile loves their DTS, and Sonos not implementing it is kinda weird. If you buy DVD or Blu-Ray for their DTS encoding option, PLAYBAR ain't for you.
  • Sonos also does not support PCM, DD+, or Dolby Atmos (among others). All you get is regular stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. If your devices can't output or convert to these formats, they won't work (I lucked out... my Blu-Ray player can be set to encode all outgoing sound as Dolby Digital).
  • PLAYBAR only supports an optical TOSLINK connection. Nothing else. Nothing. I was fully expecting to plug my devices in via HDMI cables or a single cable from the HDMI ARC port on my television. Nope. The only ports on your PLAYBAR are two ethernet ports and the single optical-in port.
  • With that in mind... some televisions don't have optical output... most televisions don't output 5.1 sound via their optical port. When I saw this was my only option, I nearly shit myself because I had no idea if my TV downgraded its optical sound to 2-channel stereo or not. I scrambled to Google it, but couldn't find my model listed anywhere. When I did find a list, all the Samsung televisions said No-No-No-No-No-No-No. Since HDMI is a current standard and optical is antiquated, this is a problem I never even considered. Turns out my particular TV is one of the rare Samsung models which can output Dolby Digital 5.1 via optical, but holy crap!
  • The PLAYBAR debuted in 2013. I don't think it has been updated since then. This means its aesthetic does not match the current black-on-black scheme which my Sonos One speakers use (along with the PLAY:5 and PLAYBASE). I'm not saying the thing is ugly... far from it, this is one beautiful piece of equipment... but it's kind of lame that even if you're buying a brand new unit you can't get a matching system. Mine are on opposite sides of the room, so it's not a big deal, but still. Would be nice if you could buy a strip to put across the metal piece so it can match.
  • The fabric covering the speaker array is a thin, stretchy dust-magnet and tough to clean. Sonos recommends vacuuming it, but if something won't vacuum off, you're kinda screwed. I used a damp towel to brush it in spots, which was better, but I worry about how the fabric is going to end up looking after years of service. There are so many audio-neutral fabrics out there which are much tougher... the choice they used here is perplexing. Ideally, Sonos would use a metal grill like they do on their other speakers.
  • The PLAYBAR is designed to sit on a table in front of your TV or be hung on a wall above or below it. The friend I bought it from said that it sounds much better on the wall. This meant I had to order some mounting hardware ($40 down the drain) and an electrical-code-compliant kit for putting the wiring in the wall ($50 down the drain). I'd like to mount it above my TV so my cats can't mess with it... but I think that's weird, so I'll end up mounting it below. Then pray my cats don't claw at the flimsy fabric mesh.
  • When it comes to music, I'm not so enamored with the PLAYBAR. I don't know what it's trying to do with the stereo separation, but it feels lacking. Fortunately I've got my two Sonos Ones in the rear channel to pick up the slack. If you're in a large room, you'd probably want a pair of PLAY:3 speakers in the rear for music (which would be expensive, but totally doable).

Some really nice things about PLAYBAR before I go...

Sonos PLAYBAR Exploded View

  • The sound on this thing, as I said, is very nice. Its nine-speaker array can separate sounds well and come in a good-looking package.
  • The "Speech Enhancement" option on PLAYBAR is surprisingly good. No more having to crank the volume to hear dialogue. I've always hated having to do that, but have found all the "enhancers" I've run across don't do a very good job. It seems to work with Sonos, probably because their speaker quality allows it to be good. On my wishlist... a way to temper it to a lower setting because on some movies it can be a bit too powerful.
  • In my old setup I had a subwoofer because the bass wasn't very punchy on my stereo. I like to feel the rumble of an explosion when I'm watching a movie. With PLAYBAR I'm liking the bass just fine. If my opinion ever changes, I can get a Sonos SUB. But for right now? I'm happy to save myself the $700.
  • I can't overstate how easy PLAYBAR is to set up. It's a simple step-by-step process with the Sonos app. Most things are handled automatically.

One horrible downside for me is that I lost my kitchen Sonos One speaker so it could fill out my rear channel. No more listening to music while I cook dinner or load the dishwasher. Replacing it is another $200, so that's the end of that.

The good news? Now that I could put my Amazon Echo in my bedroom and my Echo Dot in my garage, I have Alexa in every room of my house. All I need now is to embed an Echo Dot inside my brain and I guess I'm set.

Meanwhile, Neo has just realized he's The One and a fight has ensued, so I gotta get back to The Matrix.

   
UPDATE: And so my POWERBAR mounting kit came. It's pretty basic for $40... just a metal plate and some drywall screws. But it does the job. Kinda. There's a major problem with it.

Electrical codes make it illegal to run a power cable behind a wall. You have to purchase a electrical outlet wall kit which is code compliant. Then you can plug stuff into the outlet. But the six-foot power cable that came with my POWERBAR can't fit behind the speakers, so it has to hang below it in a big wad...

Bunch of old speaker stuff.

Kinda defeats the whole purpose. You'd think that since SONOS makes you buy a kit to wall-mount the thing that they would include a tiny power cable with it. Assumably they know that you can't run the cable in the wall, right? I mean, come on, every single photo they ever show of their stuff being wall-mounted shows the cables hidden in the wall... so how are they doing it? No frickin' clue since I can't find where they sell a short power cable anywhere. Maybe they don't care about complying with the electrical code and are mounting their stuff illegally.

I've emailed Sonos Customer Service, so I guess we'll see what they say.

UPDATE: Sonos Customer Service is all... "Uhhhh... nope, we don't sell that. We hire professional installers for our photos and they use adhesives and stuff to hide the wires!" (or something to that effect). Well, whatever. It really chaps my ass that Sonos has most every damn photo with the wires hidden, yet it's something they don't really provide for.

UPDATE: I found a Dell laptop 4.5-inch power cable that works much better than the 6-foot cord from Sonos. The plug is a tad too long, so it sticks out at the bottom a tiny bit, but it's better than the wad of Sonos cable I was dealing with. Hopefully one day Sonos will get off their asses and sell a short power cable with a small plug so you can legally get hidden wire mounting like they show in all their photos.

UPDATE: I have given up on wall-mounting my Sonos One speakers. With no screw-mount on the back, the solutions I've found are far from pretty. Furthermore, even if you buy short power cables, there's no really solution to bury the cables legally... at least not yet. Instead I'm using two IKEA 4-drawer shoe cabinets that are only 8 5/8-inches deep, wall-mounted, to put my Sonos One speakers on. They are the perfect height for the speakers to rise above my couch, but not so tall that they take up a lot of wall space. By drilling new holes to shift the top board, they can be set side-by-side. And once I drill holes in the top boards for power cables, they drop through and are completely hidden. Best solution I could find given hiding power cables in the wall was not an option for me.

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Categories: Apple Stuff 2016, Movies 2018, Music 2018Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. Cb says:

    All I have for music/tv in my condo is the playbar. For me it does just fine. Maaaybe could use the sun or an additional play 1, but I can’t play music loud anyway (or super loud tv) so this one thing does just fine.

  2. Jebb says:

    I stopped reading at “does not support DTS.” How can it be taken seriously?

    • Daver says:

      It’s seriously perplexing. I don’t know if it’s because they feel that an audiophile probably isn’t going to buy their equipment anyway, so they only bother to serve the 95% of people who won’t care… or what. It can’t be that difficult to put it in their software, so maybe it’s a licensing issue? But if that were the case, you’d think a majority of equipment makers wouldn’t support DTS, but it seems as though most of them do.

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