Here at DUHQ, we may not be devout audiophiles, but we do have ears and we like nice sounds.
For years, like chumps, we endured the sound put out by our TV and thought it was good enough. Looking back, I’m still sure it wasn’t all bad, but a bit more bass would go amiss, right? And a “more immersive soundstage”? Well, that all sounds life-enriching, and in a London flat, it doesn’t take too much to fill a space with music.
Surely, a good soundbar would be justifiable if it was working double, triple or even quadruple duty as a stereo, digital radio alternative, film experience enhancer and TV quality improver!
This was already in the back of my mind when, in 2014, the Yamaha YSP-2500 soundbar won a series of awards and some friends picked one up. It was a clever set-up: a series of speakers and tweeters in a slim-ish bar to sit below your screen, and a chunky, wireless subwoofer to amp up the bass. But that wasn’t all!
As was demonstrated by said friends, what was essentially just a 2.1 Dolby sound system (i.e. a stereo set-up with a separate subwoofer), Yamaha had turbocharged the system thanks to some crafty technology and good salesmanship, enabling the set-up to “recreate” a 5.1 Dolby effect by bouncing the sound off the walls of whatever room you installed it in.
From just two units, this was pretty-much-almost-exactly like a surround sound system!!
That was the pitch, and it certainly made an impressive amount of noise.
Over the next few weeks, all the necessary justifications fell into place..
Yes: our lives would be siginifcantly enriched by having a soundbar.
No: we couldn’t imagine how we’d managed to survive quite so long without one.
With those hurdles past, it was time to take the plunge. Now, in our exhaustive research, another option had come up: Sonos had just released “the Playbase”. It was retailing for £100 less than the Yamaha, but without a subwoofer!
It wouldn’t even pretend to replicate anything like “cinema-quality sound” in our 3×4 meter living/dining/kitchen space!
What sort of non-option was that?!
And so it was that the YSP-2500 was ordered, delivered and installed. And a good amount of sound was made.
Even in a far from ideal space, the “surround” effect was there (on all the many, many videos we had that supported it. Five). And the broader soundstage was a genuine enhancement to the TV’s sound – when it worked.
But that was the the rub!
The wireless subwoofer would drop out…even after we gave up on wirelessness and wired it to the soundbar.
The bluetooth reception was weak enough that playing music from a laptop was fine, so long as the laptop was within two meters and line-of-sight of the soundbar.
And playing music from Spotify, Apple Music or the internet in general? Don’t worry: the YSP-2500 doesn’t connect to the internet, so you won’t be doing that (unless you want to play it over bluetooth – see previous point).
None of that was quite bad enough to make everything unbearably awful, but come on: for an award-winning soundbar, the YSP-2500 came with a whole bunch of unexpected disappointments. And when you’re investing in a potentially superfluous bit of tech, the last thing you want is a twinge of buyer’s remorse.
Meanwhile, podcasts were bombarding me with Sonos ads. Then other friends were telling me how much they liked their Sonos speakers!
The solution was clear: listening to a bunch of know-nothing friends had screwed me. The only way out was to listen to other friends, backed-up by strangers with a financial interest in pimping some speakers!
Then Black Friday 2017 came along…
And I was checking the resale value of the Yamaha on eBay…
Blithely, we’ll skip past the underestimation of the cost of shipping a YSP-2500 across the country: on paper at least, for the resale value of the Yamaha, we were able to pick-up a Sonos Playbase and half of a Sonos:1.
Sure: we’d give up the subwoofer.
Sure: there’d be no more pseudo-surround sound.
Would we survive?
Would we and how!
First of all, the sound from both is great.
The Sonos:1 – the original Sonos product, the almost cube – puts out a fantastic noise. Bassy and rich, or thumping or delicate; it’s everything and whatever your need a speaker to be.
And the Playbase, as a sound system is phenomenal. When it’s playing music, we didn’t miss the subwoofer one bit. (Not to mention a Yamaha subwoofer that would reliably drop its connection once a night and always during the most tense and dramatic moments)
The set-up was simple. The speakers hook into your WiFi network and will immediately start streaming music from just about any source you could hope for: you laptop, phone, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon… Much like the Yamaha, the Sonos encourages you to calibrate your speakers to the room you’ve put them in by playing a series of piercing screeches that are as likely to harm your hearing as improve your speakers. But, unlike the Yamaha that includes a microphone (wired!!) and a cardboard stand to put it on, so you can simulate optimal Ear Height on your couch, the Sonos uses your phone’s microphone and guides you to do a Tai Chi-esque prance around the room.
That’s right! Not only did Sonos realise that people wanted to connect their speakers to the internet, but they also remembered that we’ve all got microphones in our pockets and you don’t need to sell me another, crappy, single purpose one!
[NB: We’re not really convinced by the Sonos calibration, actually. Every time and in every room that we’ve ever tried to calibrate the Sonos:1, it’ll stop half way through the “dance” and complain that there’s been too much ambient noise interfering with its readings. No matter how silent the floorboards, my breathing, the everything else that’s going on. And yet: the Sonos:1 has continued to pump out really great sound. Nuts to calibration!]
But weirdly, unlike when it was just being a speaker, as a TV soundbar, the bass fell away! I was haunted by a number of reviews mentioned the Playbase being “tinny” or “harsh in the treble” when watching television. It was happening again! That twinge of remorse. That pang of “we never really needed this anyway”.
However, one evening, as I disconsolately poked around the Sonos app on my phone, I noticed the Playbase – like many soundbars – offers a “dialogue enhancement” mode which defaults to on! Turn that off and all of a sudden the great bass from it’s musical performance comes through on your TV shows. Turn that off, and suddenly you’ve got the amazing TV sound enhancement system you always needed without knowing it.
So no remorse! Relief. But how did any of this make me a better person?
Well, the Yamaha just made me regretful. Fundamentally, it didn’t have the modern functionality I didn’t know I wanted. No internet connectivity. Poor bluetooth. It barely even did its native functions well, with its tendency to drop the bass. The Yamaha YSP-2500 made me a sad, Grinch-like creature, full of bile for stereo-makers and my fellow man.
While Sonos restored my faith in mankind; but not just by being a good product that lived up to my hopes. The feature that turned out to be greatest among Sonos’s set-up is how easily it brings music into your life. At the end of our time with Yamaha, the YSP-2500 was bring used grudgingly. Turned on with a separate remote. Irregularly adding a semblance of immersive bass to your film watching.
The genius of the Sonos speakers, is that they simply brought music back into our home. There’s something luxurious about filling your home with a concerto, or a beloved soundtrack, or even some pop music so long as it isn’t Taylor Swift adjacent. There’s something enriching about setting an alarm so that your home is filled with music when you start your day.
It’s the aural equivalent of an automatic bread-maker waking you with the smell of yeasty, baked goodness, without the need to dispose of a fresh-baked loaf of bread everyday.
And that’s it. That’s the secret. A good product, made well, that lived up to expectations – and then exceeded them.
The Sonos ecosystem isn’t just a good speaker: they’re a genuinely home-enriching accessory.