Soundbars put a premium on convenience – that's kind of the point. By combining center, left and right speakers into a single unit, a soundbar improves on the sound from your TV without all the equipment that a full home theater set up requires.
The $700 Sonos Playbar ups the ante on convenience by packing in features not found in other soundbars, and it provides an entrée into the company's well-regarded wireless multiroom music playback system. You may start with the soundbar, but once you're hooked, you'll be salivating for more.
As with all powered soundbars, the Playbar doesn't need an audio-video receiver, reducing the amount of wires and space. It's so simple that it doesn't even come with a remote. In most cases, it will work with the remote that controls your television, and you access the rest of the controls through an iOS or Android app.
The intuitive app really opens up what the Playbar can do. Connect the soundbar to your wireless network through Sonos's $49 Bridge adapter and it becomes a hub for digital audio content: Stream music files from your computer, tap into Pandora or Slacker Internet radio, or access your subscription music services.
In addition to more features, the unit offers some sound improvements over similarly priced soundbars. Despite its slim profile, it creates the illusion of a wide sound field, as if the speakers were spread further apart than they are. While it can't compete with a true 5.1 speaker system, the Playbar offers better-than-average bass for a unit without a subwoofer. Dialogue resounds clearly, and the speaker really shines for music, with rich bass and crisp treble tones – something most soundbars fail at miserably.
But that's only the beginning of the potential soundscape you can create. You can add a wireless subwoofer and surround speakers to create a more traditional home theater set up. And you can add other Sonos speakers in other rooms to create a whole-home system. The Playbar isn't just a soundbar; it's the beginning of a sound system. [$700; sonos.com]