They say the best way to stay ahead of the competition is to zig when they zag. While NuVo Technologies and Pure expand into the consumer multi-room audio market that Sonos now dominates, Sonos is readying an assault on the home-theater audio market with the new Playbar, a wireless speaker bar designed to be deployed at the base of flat-screen HDTV.
The Playbar, which will be available March 5 for $699, looks like a typical self-amplified home-theater soundbar. It’s a single-cabinet speaker system housing nine drivers (six mid-woofers and three tweeters), each of which is driven by a discrete amplifier. It connects to a TV’s digital-audio output (using an optical cable) and can play the audio from whatever source is sending audio to the TV. It’s capable of decoding a number of common audio streams, including Dolby Digital, but it can’t decode the high-definition audio streams used in Blu-ray discs (Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio).
Buyers will have the option of supplementing the Playbar’s bass performance by adding a $699 Sonos Sub subwoofer (to reproduce low-frequency effects), and they’ll be able to build out a complete 5.1-channel audio system by adding the Sub and a pair of Sonos’ Play:3 self-powered speakers ($299 each), for the surround channels.
I predict Sonos will have a difficult time convincing consumers to shell out nearly $2,000 for a complete surround-sound system—even if it is wireless—but the Playbar alone could be a hit if it sounds great. This isn’t the type of speaker that home-theater enthusiasts will buy—especially since it doesn’t support Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA—but I don’t think those are the buyers Sonos is focusing on. Single-cabinet home-theater speakers are very popular, and the Playbar is the only one that can also play music as part of a Sonos multi-room audio system.