A minor comment...
"As it is it just has, sadly, to go back to Sonos."
Different punctuation or a slight rearrangement of words would avoid the need for repeated parsing. For me, anyway.
Oh boy! I just turned my crap 10-year-old Sony Bravia TV into a home theatre by replacing the limited speakers inside the Bravia’s enclosure with a Sonos Playbar. I'm blown away. The Playbar is a substantial piece of kit. Sonos Playbar Sonos Playbar It weighs 11.9lbs (5.4kg) and its dimensions are 3.35” high, 35.43” long …
"One word to explain it all: "Apple""
Not really - you can get decent AV amps that are Airplay compliant for perfectly reasonable money given what you're getting - and it'll be 5.1 (or more depending on how much you want to sink into speakers).
OK, we aren't talking pocket money stuff here, but if you play your cards right, something like the Sony STRDN840 can be had for £200 if you sniff around.
Might cost about the same again (or a bit more) if you get some decent speakers for it (IE anything not bargain basement) but I'd wager an good entry level AV amp with a middling set of 5.1 speakers will make any soundbar sound pretty aneamic, for the same money.
That's certainly my plan - telly, AV amp (mebbe that Sony, although I might get a Yamaha THY-199 matched amp and speaker kit for around the same price as that Sony first as I'm not flush at the moment), Chromecast in the amps HDMI socket.
It's surprising what you can find if you take an hour to do the research, and while I'm not against soundbars as a concept (they do fill an audio hole fairly easily - and normally at a more reasonable cost..) but when you start looking at stuff that is the same price as a good mid range AV amp, then you need to be asking serious questions about whether the convenience is worth the extra money over a couple of hours of fiddling with speaker wire.
For some people, it will be. Not for me, ta. I'm not made of money*
Also, fuck proprietary protocols.
*I'm made of pizza and beer.
A £500 system of half decent stereo gear would urinate all over the overpriced Sonos rubbish.
Depends on your criteria.
On sound quality, I don't doubt it. My brother has sunk a quite silly amount of cash into Sonos' pockets. Although they sound good enough at parties. Especially with his crap taste in music... I've not had a chance to compare them to anything better. But I'm pretty sure that he'd struggle to tell the difference even in a blind audio test. Some people neither notice, nor care about this stuff, past a certain point.
On wiring the Sonos wins hands down. It's one box wired to the telly. Then the option of using some other speakers in the set-up if you want. Obviously they need power, but you don't have to run wires round the room to satellite speakers. And you can easily move stuff, when you move the furniture.
On flexibility Sonos wins hands down and massively. In fact it's a slaughter. If, like my brother, you've gone the Sonos route, then you can have a big family party. The kids have got something horrible playing on the speakers that he's moved out into the garden. Maybe the cricket's on telly, just using the soundbar. But brother is cooking something, so has slaved the speaker in the kitchen to the soundbar, so he can hear what's going on, and come in to see any wickets. Then there's another in the dining room - for whoever's sitting in there stuffing their faces. All can be playing the same, or different, things - and change at the flick of a switch on a laptop, a tablet, or anyone's phone who's downloaded the app.
Or they can all be taken into the sitting room, and set up for surround sound on the telly. Or any other combination.
Simplicity: Once you've set up your Sonos, you don't need to muck around with another remote. It takes its sound off the telly. And stays set up how you did it, until you change something with phone, tablet, PC. Or you turn on device, and fling sound at chosen speaker.
Me, I'd have something cheaper, with better audio quality for a reasonable price. When I've got the time, I'll do some research into this as I've no idea what to get. But then I don't have a garden, house or kids, or frequently have 20 people round at once. There's only one sitting/dining room in my flat, so unless I exile guests to the bedrooms, we're all stuck with the same music. But for ease of use I find the Sonos stuff quite impressive. Even my brother can work it. I'll take a bit more complication for lower price and nicer sound quality.
It's all built into one single unit though. When you built up a hifi you could buy all from one manufacturer or buy the best of each type.
I got some nice floor standing speakers for £60, already had a Marantz amp. It sounds far better than any "mini" hifi or plasticy compact stuff. Good hifi doesn't cost much.
If you are obsessed with minimalism or live in a broom cupboard then sure, these small devices are okay.
@jzlondon. For me, sound quality IS the only criteria when evaluating AUDIO equipment.
Price also has a major influence, as, like Mr. Raith, I'm not made of money either. My current system, since my Quad 33 karked it, is a 30 year old NAD amp, driving a pair of 25 year old Linn speakers. Sounds bloody marvellous to my aging lugs, and the pair of them cost me less than a ton. Isn't fleabay great?
Of course, YMMV.
I get jzlondons point about the connectivity, but is there really that big a market for multiroom sound of quality better than the average AppleTV connected to a Line-in/spdif could provide?
I realise some people have large houses and have an upstairs 'play room' (gaming, films, music etc) but surely in that case, you'd be better off with, say, two apple TVs and two AV amps set up, rather than two sonos soundbars that will have compromised audio from the outset due to the design parameters?
I'm not trying to be arsey to jzlondon, but even my techy mates who are substantially better rewarded for their work than me (it's a running joke that I know more than most of them and am paid worse than all of them ;-) ) run seperate hifi systems tuned to that room, and have Apple TV or a Squeezebox rather than the Sonos stuff as it allows them to really mix and match the equipment to suit.
I suppose that the Sonos stuff must appeal to people who want better than average sound, better than average connectivity, but aren't fussy about detail stuff - takes all sorts, eh?
They're aiming it at people who want small speakers so lots of money has to be spent on things like automatic EQ to make it sound as though the speakers were bigger. A cheaper way to do this is to build the speakers bigger in the first place but then the wives and girlfriends out there wouldn't let people buy them anyway.
I'm not disputing that some men are whipped, but there are plenty of women who are in similar situations. My issue was with the way you implied that women weren't people, which may not have been intentional but it's the way it sounded, "the wives and girlfriends out there wouldn't let people buy them".
And "some of them" isn't a word!!
(Touchy? AS IF!!!!!)
They must have hunted hard to find a reviewer who didn't have any modern kit at all. If he'd owned a Blu-ray player, he would likely have found he gets utter silence when playing movies as there is no DTS support in the playbar and it's impossible to get surround sound in many set-ups, even if they have an optical port on the TV.
I'm obviously being dumb and as I don't have any Sonos components - do you need any other components for the Playbar to work or can you just buy this on it's own?
I think for the £600 price tag, you can do a lot better in terms of what kit you get for your money...
Soundbars are generally inferior to proper speaker systems and, if you can put up with not having connected WiFi and various other 'toys' on top, then you may as well ignore Sonos. Sorry, just my opinion for over priced WiFi lego bricks!
Playbar will work without any other Sonos components. The Bridge is just a link in to your network - one Sonos component must then the rest communicate wireless through the mesh network (meaning range is determined by distance between Sonos units, not to the central router). In reality it can be any Sonos unit connected to your network, the bridge is just a cheap method of doing so without having to sacrifice where you want to place a speaker or how you tidy a cable up.
to replace, say, a pair of speakers with decent sized drivers and a cheap and cheerful amplifier. I hate it when I have to use the TV speakers - uniformly crap, I feel, if only from the limitations of the packaging - to watch something that isn't going through the DTT/PVR box.
Why this urge for tiny speakers and wireless connectivity?
Take a look at Musaic as well - they're a UK based startup in the Sonos space - they're currently raising funds on Kickstarter for the first models:
Before anyone else points it out, yes it is my brother's company.
Either tap the HDMI audio channel directly (device -> sound bar -> TV) or take the digital out provided by most modern TV sets and play that.
For rather less money I feed the TV via TOS optical into a HiFi DAC, through a Marantz amp and out of a pair of floor standing speakers. The result is only stereo, but is head and shoulders above any TV speakers.
Wonder if it supports Audio Return Channel over HDMI. The 10 year old Sony won't but my 3 year old Toshiba does, as does my Pioneer audio system/bluray player which cost I think about £250. It means you only need one cable between the TV and the audio system - for bluray playback it pushes the video over the cable to the telly, and for watching TV the TV pushes the audio the other way down the same cable to the audio system. Even better, when you press standby on the TV it switches the audio system on or off with the TV too!
For the same reasons as the reviewer, we went for a soundbar by Philips - a full home theatre isn't of interest but TV speakers are sucky. We got the same kind of improvement in experience for £200.
The speech clarity is the biggest boon, although it's not perfect. It totally failed to help in the latest Riddick film because his voice is so deep, but luckily not being able to tell what he was saying in no way detracted from the film.
Call me a snob, but whenever I see the word "Sonos" followed by it "blowing" someone away, I smack my head in despair. Doubly so when it's a super expensive device attempting to recreate a home cinema listening experience out of one single box under your telly.
I feel the same way about those single-box Bose systems you always see marketed the hell out of at airports - they've just put a largish speaker in a box, turned the loudness and base equalisers up to 11, and gone "wurrrgh, that goes LOUD, better put a big price on it".
"Call me a snob..."
Fine: You're a snob. Who also can't spell "bass".
The reviewer made it crystal clear that he was comparing the Sonos to an older TV. Given that's what most people will have, it's a perfectly valid comparison to make. And, yes, pretty much anything would beat that.
As for why anyone would pay £500+ for something like this: you do know that the UK has some of the smallest homes on Earth, right? Many of us can barely find space on the wall for the TV, let alone for a subwoofer, amplifier, and veritable multitude of speakers. (And let's not forget the wiring involved too.)
Yes, there are compromises made with these small form-factor designs, but they're still plenty good enough for the 99% of customers who don't still think they're so special that they can hear the difference between FLAC and high-quality MP4 audio files. (Despite all the research proving that practically nobody can actually do so.)
...from the same shop, a stereo amp, two small bookshelf speakers, take the sound output from the 2 phonos on the back of the telly and it'll STILL sound massively better than the TV. Add a cheap CD player and you've got a good hi-fi in the front room - add a Squeezebox classic second hand and you can stream all you like. (And the second hand squeezebox will be the most expensive item you buy).
Seventeen hundred quid? Seriously?
Well the TV is not ancient but it is an S series which are to be honest crap, I saw one lose a 4 way comparison against 3 other Sony TVs (W & X won - draw).
I have a 5.0 setup (floor standers as stereo pair) and a resonable receiver. This sound bar sounds like it is filling the gap between TV sound and HC sound. But it is at lower end HC prices.
Requiring a phone to set it up - hmmm not good.
Never understood small speakers, they usually sound grating
I am really, really struggling to understand why the author bought the Play 3s to start with. The sound quality of Sonos really isn't _that_ great, for the money. It makes a ton of sense only if you want whole-house audio, with speakers in every room, that is fairly unobtrusive. (to put the SQ issue in perspective, I just bought a 6 year old pair of Epos M12s from a man who replaced them with Sonos - and as he said, it was a huge step down in quality).
So if you can afford to buy a ton of Sonos and put it in every room - and you are not technical enough to use AirPlay to build something similar yourself - then it is OK. But ONLY if you can afford enough Sonos speakers to really make it worth it! So if you are in an income bracket where you can do that, the Playbar shouldn't even be a second thought - it works, it fits your system approach, take it to the checkout.
But as the author states, he can't afford it. So what good are the Play 3s? They are a whole-house audio solution that is lacking the funding for expansion to the whole-house.
For £400 to 500 or so, the author could have gotten a pretty nice AV receiver, and a decent sat/sub package in a bundle deal from any high street audio store (Richer Sounds or similar). That would have included a centre channel speaker. And full multi-channel decoding, and video switching capability.
IMHO, sell the Play 3s to someone that needs whole-house audio, and go buy a good system for your AV needs...
To be honest, if audiophiles want to go for wireless streaming then they should be looking at the CM100 (now Sonos: Connect). This is designed to connect in to your stereo system/amp, allowing you to stream while also maintaining audio quality (remember Sonos does support FLAC).
For some reason, while still selling the the latest generation of their original unamped and amped units Sonos hide those on their website and try to push their speaker inclusive units. No issue for the likes of me with no real ear for music quality (or so I claim), but useful for those wanting to expand on existing setups.
If cheapskate audiophiles want to go for wireless streaming, they should go for the old Squeezebox stuff, which is still reasonably easily available second hand. And if they are rich audiophiles, then the Squeezebox Transporter goes for over five hundred quid second hand on eBay.
It's a damn shame that Logitech stopped selling the Squeezeboxen.
"It's a damn shame that Logitech stopped selling the Squeezeboxen."
However, Squeezebox is not dead. The software is open source and there are various hardware solutions from smartphones to Raspberry Pi to new dedicated audiophile hardware that is under development (google communitysqueeze).
You obviously haven't heard a decent set of speakers connected to a sonos connect amp, or connect standard.
Granted the play five is nothing special but is great for being semi portable, garden etc during BBQ.
I have a connect amp in my dining room with a pair of monitor audio bx2 connected.
In the lounge I have the connect standard, wired up to a two channel quad amp and monitor audio gold speakers, when played back using the controller with the new flac steaming service it sounds better than any of my previous setups.
Spot on. Has the Register ever had an objective review of audio equipment? Compare this with the reviews of computer hardware. Subjective?
While we're complaining, when are you going to get Catherine Monfils to review the Olympus OM-Ds? (I'm aware that her reviews are subjective, but she is a talented photographer and the results are all available for us to inspect, whereas we can't hear what the audio reviewers heard.)
I've owned a couple of Philips Home Cinema (DVD player + 5.1) set-ps, each of which has died an ignominious death (and frustrated me with the cabling). Pretty sure a £600 soundbar, that needs extra hardware to actually get hold of the audio, isn't the answer I was looking for!
Nice to see I'm not the only curmudgeon, with a wallet full of moths, on the forum today.
Is the Marantz MCR510 network streamer plus a decent set of shelf stander speakers. That gives you TOS optical playback, Internet radio, Spotify et al, DLNA and AirPlay. As it sells for £250 you can get a pretty damned good set of speakers from the £600 the Sonos costs and still have change.
Seriously - the Reg need to get someone to review stuff who actually understands the tech, not someone whose reaction is akin to that of a lost Amazonian tribesman seeing a car for the first time...
The Playbar is overpriced and was out of date at launch. No HDMI connectivity on a product like this is ludicrous, as is a lack of support for BluRay HD audio codecs. I'm a huge fan of Sonos' audio streaming solution - I have 6 zones worth at home - but the Playbar isn't even tempting. By the time you've bought the bar, the requisite two rear speakers (which need mains cables - hardly convenient) and the sub, you could have bought any number of better quality, more attractive options.
Sonos were well ahead of the curve on home audio streaming when they launched, but they've been treading water ever since - no support for high-def audio, no video streaming - both of those are long overdue. The system is great for what it is, but it's badly in need of an update.
The Playbar has an Ethernet port, so the author could connect the TV to that and use the Sonos Wifi to reach the Internet. Just a thought. Anyways....
I've got Sonos in three rooms and love the flexibility of the system.
My den has a Sonos amp into an 40-year-old pair of AR-2ax speakers, and it sounds bloody marvellous.
Living room: ZP90 line out into AV amplifier & KEF speakers - really good sound (not as good as the old ARs tho').
Kitchen: Play 5 - great, it goes loud, sounds pretty good, and can be wiped clean too.
I went to a Sonos-only dealer before buying, to audition the Play 5. The chap produced a tablet and opened Spotify, and was very surprised that I wanted him to play particular tracks that I know the sound of. He said that customers usually say "Oh, play anything you like, I don't mind". He was also reluctant to turn up the volume in case it disturbed the office staff below, until I insisted. All of which is, I feel, quite revealing of some people's priorities.
I don't think most people can tell the difference. It's like VHS to DVD to blu-ray. Everyone could tell how much better DVD was than video, because of the blurriness and the wonky audio. A lot fewer can spot if blu-ray beats DVD, and even fewer care.
The same being true of tape to CD to whatever. We've actually accepted a drop in quality since CD, despite the industry's attempts to go for DVD audio and SACD. mp3 is still better than tape - and that's good enough for most.
I remember the first time I heard mp3. A friend of mine who had a decent-ish sound system, had got 100s of tracks on one CD from somewhere. They were really horrible, must have been a terrible bit rate to get so many on. It put me off looking at digital music for years. And yet he didn't even notice how crap it sounded. The fact that people are happy to use the bundled headphones with mp3 players shows this too.
People's knowledge, talents and interest are just different. I've mixed live music. So I always spot those little mistakes, eg. when people fade up the mic too slow on live telly or radio. Or when the system is ringing and about to feed back (which it always seems to be whenever I hear X Factor). Most people don't notice, because they haven't trained themselves to. Why would they?
Hmm... the author laments the fact that his TV is too old to have an optical out connector for audio.
Err, if it were newer, and did have an optical out, where would he plug it in? (No fair guessing an organic orifice.)
The Playbar has a single optical in. which is being used by his Apple TV player.
His Apple TV unit only has optical out (no optical in).
Thus, he's claiming to watch TV, with greatly improved audio, that does everything except play the audio of the TV channels he's watching. Meaning, he's not really watching TV (local channels) on it.
1. The soundbar needs at least 2 optical inputs, and some way to switch between them (or else the user needs to buy a separate optical switch)
2. The soundbar needs L/R Audio In (line in - RCA ports) for older TVs' audio out
3. (Optional) Soundbar needs RF in, so it can do its own TV channel tuning, thus leaving the TV's audio signal out of the loop entirely.
Shame on The Reg for this poor excuse of a review/click bait. Instead readers could have been told of the British technology implemented by Yamaha in their one-box plus sub genuine surround-sound Digital Sound Projectors. Anyone considering such a Sonos would be well advised to listen to and purchase a DSP instead.
...if all you want to do is to improve the sound of flat-panel screens.
Much simpler is to get a small, active centre channel speaker, that can accept the L/R analogue stereo outputs from the TV.
I had exactly this scenario to resolve for my parents who found it difficult to understand the speech of some characters/news readers on TV.
The solution I found was the small, compact ZVOX Mini speaker, which you can find for around £199 - the only downside is the small credit card sized remote control (for volume), though this isn't needed if the analogue TV output varies with it's own remote.
PS Anyone else notice while commenting that there's a "Sonos" Play3 advert directly underneath the comments box..... :(
I have to admit I thought it was over priced and still do but I have spent the money and love my Sono's kit.
The flexibility and functionality are great. It finally managed to convince my wife to put the CD's in the attic. I put my 3 in the kitchen for a family get together then wasn't allowed to take it back to my office :) Had to buy another one
What about power consumption?
You never see people talking about that, but Sonos is dreadful. Each individual piece must be left permanently in standby, consuming ~5-10W, by design. If you switch them off at the wall, the mesh network doesn't like it and can take several minutes to sort itself out when you switch it on again.
Until they drastically lower standby consumption I'm steering clear, great though they undoubtedly are.
The take-home here is that flatscreen TV audio is uniformly crap. Almost anything sounds better. You need separate speakers in some form. You can usually get an Airplay (and lots of other things) compatible AV amp for £200 or less. (I paid £169 for Pioneer 527, which also comes with a microphone to set up speaker delays, speaker and room acoustics matching). You don't actually need to spend much extra on speakers to get pretty good sound. The AV amp will switch among your DVD player, set top boxes, etc.
(I'd also like to nit-pick a couple of posts, and point out that criteria is the plural of criterion. You should write "Sound quality is not the only criterion ...", or "Sound quality and price are not the only criteria...". Don't they teach ancient Greek in school any more?)
Of course any sound bar will sound better than typical crap flatscreen speakers. There are plenty in the $200-$400 range with similar speaker sizes/configurations to the Sonos bar and with wireless subs that will presumably give you better bass response. Too bad those weren't reviewed.
A decade ago I used to spend a lot of time in Richer Sounds. I eventually settled on a huge Kenwood DTS capable amplifier, 5.1 and 100W RMS per channel and solid wood, beech veneer 5.1 Eltax speakers (my wife got to chose the finish as she said the front speakers were so large they were effectively pieces of furniture...)
We don't have a big living room and indeed from the sofa the 32" HD Toshiba TV we have is big enough for us (as in "it's all we have the space for") and, like the article writer, I find the standard TV speakers are not very good except for day-to-day stuff, as soon as we put on a film (irrespective of source - DVD, Blu-ray, External HD (plugged into BR player), Freeview HD box) then we switch on the Kenwood amp.
If we can't have big visuals we might as well have big audio!
I can't imagine replacing my Kenwood amp when it finally dies with a soundbar - I will be back to Richer Sounds and grabbing myself a new amp - this time with HDMI and ethernet/wi-fi connectivity too... (and 7.1, THX, etc...)
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