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February 12, 2013

New Sonos Soundbar Out to Put Big Sound in Small Spaces

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

The soundbar is something of a mixed bag in home theater circles; while some regard it as inherently inferior to a full-bore 5.1 or 7.1 home theater system, others regard it as a great way to put a little extra punch in an audio system. But there's a steadily growing market for soundbars, while home theater systems hasn't been growing near so much.

As a result, Sonos has brought out a new soundbar—the Playbar—specifically geared toward giving home theater systems that extra shot of aural power where it's needed most.

The market for complete home theater systems reportedly increased a meager 3 percent over the same time last year. But in a year-to-year comparison, soundbars blew home theater systems out of the water, bringing in a 60-percent increase in the same time span.

That means quite a bit of opportunity in the soundbar market, and Sonos' Playbar looks to enter with downright explosive force.

Sonos' Playbar is set to work like a standard three-channel speaker, working together with other releases from Sonos to create a full 5.1-channel surround system. Since the Playbar can act as left forward, right forward and center channel speaker all at once, it greatly reduces the amount of space required for a 5.1-channel system.

Better yet, the Playbar can assert a separate channel specifically for dialog, which improves the overall film experience by allowing the actors to be more easily heard.

Further options will be included for manipulating bass and augmenting speech effects for a more custom-tailored experience, and the speaker itself boasts nine individually amplified speakers all in one package, six mid-woofers for the low range, and three tweeters to cover the higher range sounds.

The whole package is selling for $938 starting March 5, which is pretty expensive for a soundbar system, but great for those who want big sound in a small space like an apartment or a comparatively small media room.

Sonos, for its part, believes it’ll be able to not only outpace Yamaha (News - Alert) in terms of sales this year, but challenge Bose. Cofounder of Sonos, Tom Cullen, made a clear case for Sonos' likely rise; “People don't want a complicated AV receiver with lots of inputs and several remote controls.”

Indeed, Cullen went on to elaborate, describing—and fairly accurately too—that televisions have been focusing more on their overall depth, gunning for increasingly thin profiles and slimmer bezels, and that's had something of a negative effect on overall sound quality.

Not that it's bad, of course, but rather that it doesn't have the kind of punch that can be presented by a more dedicated audio component.

Cullen certainly has a point, and with a soft economy, the rise of the home theater market has been quite apparent for some time now. Soundbars are great alternatives for apartments and the like, indeed, any place where space is at a premium. But it's hard to make a case for a soundbar that runs nearly $1000, when a full 7.1-channel surround system can be had for less.

Sonos should have a pretty solid product indeed in terms of its new Playbar, but by like token, it's still going to have quite a fight on its hands taking on the more value-minded alternatives in the field.

Edited by Braden Becker
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