When it comes to home video my passion knows no bounds, but when it comes to home cinema I’m an absolute philistine. I own a decent television, but the thought of investing in a surround sound system or anything of that ilk had never crossed my mind. Citing a perceived confusion that such things involve miles of cabling and would only serve to annoy my wife and neighbours, the idea of pursuing such a solution never seemed realistic.
A couple of weeks ago I started thinking about upgrading my sound equipment. Living in a block of apartments with plenty of neighbours to annoy I’d resigned myself to a pair of good quality headphones, even going so far as to casually throw out a request for info on Twitter and stepping in to a branch of Maplins (with hilarious results!). I had other apprehensions- a good 70% of everything I watch is in mono. Would I really feel the benefit of cutting edge audio equipment?
By curious coincidence the guys at Sonos offered to send me their new Playbar to test out, as they’re currently after the opinions of bloggers on film. With nothing to lose but the patience of my loved ones and neighbours I decided to accept their kind offer and within days a huge box arrived in the mail (NOTE – I don’t get to keep it, it’s going back!). In said box sat two smaller boxes, one containing the aforementioned Playbrand the other a router type piece of kit called the Bridge. The Bridge connects to your ordinary household broadband router via lead, and enables everything else to work wirelessly. Things are controlled by a virtual remote control that is downloaded to a smart phone or tablet computer, from which music can also be streamed.
As an unashamed Apple fanboy the first thing I look to when investing outside of that brand is the build quality of a device. The Playbar is reassuringly solid. That isn’t to say that it’s particularly heavy (apparently it will fit to a wall with ease), but it *feels* like quality. If that makes sense. Cheap plastic ain’t to be seen, with brushed metal housing the presumably very complicated innards (seriously though, go here for proper breakdown of the impressive sounding things inside). It took me around 10 minutes to get the whole thing up and running.
Set up over with I got to giving the device a test drive with a couple of likely candidates. Obviously I started with the opening scene from Apocalypse Now. A masterpiece of sound editing, it’s a sequence I know inside out, with the gradual introduction of layered sound and noise perfectly exhibiting the capabilities of the device. I threw on a couple of other notable sequences; the battle of New York from The Avengers, the opening prologue from The Dark Knight Rises, and the evolution montage from The Tree Of Life. All impressed. But I guess they were always bound to. They’re films that sound incredible, but as mentioned above, the vast majority of what I watch at home are presented not in surround sound, but in mono.
With that in mind I tried out Criterion’s recent Persona Blu-ray, with the avant-garde sound of it’s opening section having recently stood out to me when reviewing that particular disc a month or so ago. The added kick given by the sound bar exemplified the detail of the piece impressively. “Precision” is probably the word which best describes how it sounded. On a similar note I viewed The 400 Blows and White Dog with the unit. Both are presented in mono, and the results were similar. Detail was enlarged, and it was a satisfying experience. Over the next few days I screened Frances Ha, Badlands and the Stone Roses concert film Made Of Stone, the latter of which was broadcast television (everything else was Blu-ray), and played music through the unit to, streaming from a range of devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro). This is particularly impressive.
There are a few concerns with the Sonos Playbar. Power consumption is a major issue. The Playbar and Bridge use a combined 17 Watts when idle, and Sonos advise that one leaves the device on standby 24 hours a day. Dust is a real problem too. These concerns aside, the Playbar is a great alternative to a bulky surround sound unit, especially if, as in my case, space is a concern.