Whether you’re an existing Sonos owner or just someone looking to make your lovely 4K telly sound as good as it looks, a PlayBase or PlayBar makes a huge amount of sense.
With one of these you not only get a TV-boosting speaker, you also get access to all of Sonos’ considerable smarts, such as streaming of practically all of the music in existence.
But which of the two devices should you buy? Sonos will tell you it’s a simple matter of where you’re going to put it: if you’ve got a wall-mounnted telly you want the wall-mountable PlayBar, but if your TV usually stands on some sort of furniture you’ll be better served by the PlayBase.
But, while that certainly should be a consideration, it’s not the only one – so allow me to help you way up the pros and cons of each so that you can be sure you’re choosing the right Sonos speaker for you.
DESIGN: A QUESTION OF PLACEMENT
But let’s deal with that placement consideration first – should you really avoid the PlayBar if you’re not wall-mounting? I’d suggest so, yes.
The PlayBar was initially sold on its ability to fit in with both wall-mounted and pedestal-stood TVs, but there are flaws. The biggest of which is that the ‘feet’ of the thing are on the side of the PlayBar that would be against the wall if you were wall-mounting. What that means is that while the speakers fire forward if you wall-mount, they fire upwards if standing on a piece of furniture, which leads to quite an indirect sound.
Yes, you can stand the PlayBar on the ‘wrong’ side if you like, but that leaves you with raw metal against the surface of your furniture and the IR repeater facing the wrong direction, which means signals from your remote control might not get through to your TV.
In short, the PlayBase is a much better design for TVs that aren’t wall-mounted because it provides a big flat surface for your TV to stand upon. It’ll support up to 35kg, which is more than almost any modern TV, and while some models have legs too far apart to stand on the PlayBase, the Sonos’ slim design means these TVs will generally straddle it really nicely.
The two speakers are pretty different in terms of build and styling, too, the PlayBar with its mostly metal chassis and fabric speaker cover, and the PlayBase with its matte plastic shell and pattern of precision-drilled holes. The PlayBase looks a bit more contemporary and minimalist, but ultimately these two devices are both good looking and well built.
That, and the fact that each design lends itself to a different setup, means this round can only be a draw.
FEATURES: ANOTHER PHOTO FINISH
Spoiler alert: the PlayBase and PlayBar are practically inseparable when it comes to features, too.
Their connections are both equally simple and sparse: you get power, optical and ethernet. The PlayBar actually gets two of the latter so you can daisy-chain a couple of devices, but it’s not something that many people will take advantage of so not worth getting too excited about.
Whether you go for the PlayBase or PlayBar the idea is that things are kept as simple as possible – you connect all of your sources to your TV via HDMI just as you probably already do, and then send the audio from the TV to the Sonos via optical cable. Both handle Dolby Digital 5.1 and not a lot else besides, and both can be upgraded to full surround with a pair of Play:1, Play:3 or Play:5 speakers and/or given a massive extra dollop of bass through the addition of a Sub.
You can use Sonos’ clever Trueplay feature (assuming you’re an iPhone user) to tailor the sound of either speaker to your room, and both get the full suite of Sonos music streaming features, so perfectly synchronised multi-room and access to practically every streaming service under the sun.
There’s really nothing to push one in front of the other here (unless you really need an extra ethernet socket) so this round is another draw.
SOUND: MORE DIFFERENT THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT
Now this is where things get interesting. See, Sonos says you should choose between these two TV-boosting speakers based purely on placement and that the sound is largely the same. With the greatest respect, that’s not really the case.
Sure, there are lots of similarities: both do a brilliant job of creating a wide, spacious sound stage that will easily fill most rooms and transform the audio experience for anyone who’s used to their flatscreen’s own speakers, and both exemplify Sonos’ dedication to natural, neutral sound so that you feel that what you’re hearing is more or less what was recorded.
But there are also quite big differences. The PlayBase’s larger cabinet and clever woofer design make it more naturally bassy, and the delivery is chunkier, weightier and more nuanced at the bottom-end as a result. It’s also crisper, punchier and a little more detailed than the PlayBar.
But the PlayBase also has an overly zingy and sibilant treble that makes cymbals, snares and the esses in vocals too pronounced and sharp to the extent that they draw the ear away from the other good stuff in the soundtrack or song.
The PlayBar is a little softer by comparison, but while that makes its audio a bit less punchy and exciting overall, it also means it’s not got the same harshness in the treble and, ultimately, that’s the preferable choice.
Essentially, the PlayBar has a few minor sonic flaws, but the PlayBase’s one flaw is a bigger one, which is why in the sound round the PlayBar just edges it.
THE VERDICT: IT’S A WIN FOR THE PLAYBAR, BUT THE PLAYBASE WILL STILL MAKE MORE SENSE FOR MANY
So, the PlayBar is the winner on sound quality – who saw that coming? This guy right here certainly didn’t. But, ultimately, while the PlayBase is in many ways the sonic superior of the PlayBar, that issue in the treble makes it slightly less enjoyable to live with and listen to every single day, which is exactly what you’ll do if you go ahead and buy one of these Sonos TV solutions.
Let’s not get too bogged-down in the finer aural details, though, because both the PlayBar and PlayBase are fantastic devices that will transform you TV’s sound and open your eyes and ears to the wonderful world of Sonos. Before long your whole house will be full of Sonos speakers and you’ll be living the dream of practically infinite, multi-room music.
And let’s be honest, whether you’re wall-mounting or not is still the most important thing to consider when choosing which of these to buy: the PlayBase won’t go on a wall and the PlayBar doesn’t perform so well on a stand.
But if you were to take that out of the equation for whatever reason, it’s the PlayBar we’d choose.
Overall winner: Sonos PlayBar