Good news if you don’t have neighbours: Sonos has today announced a fancy new speaker system that is designed to sit under your telly: The Playbase. Giz UK got to check it out last week - here’s what we learned.
On it’s own it does look a bit weird - and dare we say a bit ugly - but the idea is that your TV sits on top of it and it will blend into your surroundings, so you won’t even notice that it’s there. Most people never actually bother to mount their TVs on the wall, Sonos “Sound Experience Leader” Giles Martin told me - which is why a device that sits under the TV makes a lot of sense. So it can comfortably fit a TV up to 65” in size on top.
Inside there are 10 transducers - 9 regular speakers pointing from the front, and a subwoofer towards the back. Together, they create a 3.1 surround system, and apparently the thinnest speaker Sonos has ever created - even if to my ignorant eyes and ears is still looks pretty massive. There’s so much to pack in even the small “Sonos” logo strip on the front contains 6000 holes so that it is “acoustically transparent”, and sound can pass through it.
This is where it gets a bit awkward: Though I’m a nerd, my ‘expertise’ is more on the services side - I’m interested in what devices can plug into. When it comes to sound, I’m essentially an ignoramus. I mean, the music I like best is punk - so while my Sonos system at home might be capable of accurate recreating a symphony hall in Vienna, the aesthetic I’m mostly going for is a grimy inner city pub where the band play mostly out of tune.
So with these caveats aside, on hearing the demos Sonos has set up, it was fairly instantly impressive. It’s designed for home theatres, so I was shown clips from The Jungle Book, The Revenant and Spectre - and the Playbase did a (predictably) good job of showing the sonic qualities of each, from Mowgli’s timid voice, to the roar of a tiger - to the collapse of a building in Mexico after James Bond had attempted to take out some bad guys.
Of course, being a Sonos system it also works in tandem with other Sonos kit if you have it - so if you have a couple of Play 1 speakers knocking about, you can transform them into 5.1 surround speakers, and Sonos’s separate subwoofer will give the sound some extra oomph too, but even on its own, the Playbase sounds great.
One of the big messages that Sonos appears to be trying to push, given how much it was emphasised, was that though its hardware is eye-wateringly expensive if you’re on a modest income, it’s worth the investment as it will actually get better over time: Software updates will unlock new functionality and the team at Sonos will tweak your speakers to make them perform that little bit better. He characterises Sonos’s dilemma as a “moral decision” about whether to force software updates upon customers - to subtly tweak their tunes. But he also believes it is a no brainer as what they do will make improvements to the listening experience, without the customer having to do anything.
For example, Martin described how after speaking with Rick Rubens and Hans Zimmer, he worked to improve the original Playbar by adjusting the array pattern - to make it better handle film as well as music. Quite how this was determined I’m not sure - I asked whether it was an art or a science - and though Sonos has a team of engineers who do all of the maths and the measurement, the bottom line as far as he’s concerned is “Does it sound shit?”
The good news is that from my brief interaction with the Playbase - it appears that Sonos have nothing to worry about here.
The only bad news? If you want to pick up a Playbase, not only does it weigh 8.6kg - but it will set you back a hefty £699. But chances are if your house is already decked out in Sonos gear, then you probably have that sort of money to throw around. It'll be available from the 4th April - and existing Sonos owners can pre-order now from the Sonos website.