Sonos has never been that easy to explain to newcomers, even as the company has tried to simplify its message. A distributed audio setup that streams to any room in your house? A wireless streaming system that plugs into everything from Pandora to iTunes on your home computer? Wireless Hi-Fi? Pass someone a phone or tablet with the Sonos controller app, though, and they’ll quickly see that you can play Spotify in the bedroom, listen to Rdio in the office, and watch TV in the living room — or sync them all up to play the same thing. And the Playbar may be the Trojan horse Sonos has needed all along. Once you start using the Sonos apps in the living room, it’s tough to go back to messing around with AirPlay.
A year and a half ago, we noted that Sonos was confusing to first-time buyers. Then, as now, it’s still not clear whether you need the Bridge component (you don’t), but the Playbar makes up for the confusion with a very different offering. At $699, it’s obviously not cheap, but you’re not just buying better speakers. The Playbar cuts through the pain of juggling inputs by outsourcing it to the TV, and if you have an urge to listen to music in multiple rooms, Sonos looks like a much better option. If you already use Sonos, you likely have all of your music subscription services and local sources, and the Playbar seamlessly integrates into the mix. That said, if you have no need for a multi-room setup, it’s hard to recommend the Playbar over other similarly priced and cheaper soundbars, many of which come with a subwoofer and can be hooked up to an Apple TV or Roku without much trouble.
If you already have several Sonos components or are thinking about buying a multi-room system — and have the required optical audio connections on your TV — the Playbar has a lot to offer. No, you’re not pushing the limits with 6.1 or 7.1 here, but you are getting true 5.1 surround sound without the wires, which is welcome in any room. While I’m still left wishing Sonos would build in AirPlay support, there’s nothing else on the market for seamlessly playing and juggling audio sources throughout the house. Playbar does finally bring a Sonos foothold into the living room, and it’s a big audio quality upgrade with a minimum of hassle if your TV supports it. If you’re looking for a single room setup, the home theater space is the same as it ever was.