Sonos Inc. on Tuesday unveiled its Playbar, a high-fidelity sound system designed specifically for television sets.
The Playbar marks Sonos’ entry into the rapidly growing market for sound bars, single speakers that generally offer better quality than what’s available on TV sets. Sales of sound bars have picked up in recent years as consumers look for cinematic sound quality without the hassle of having to set up multi-component surround sound systems.
For Sonos, the connected TV is also interesting because many are now capable of streaming music through third-party services such as Pandora, Spotify, Sony Music Unlimited, Rhapsody, Slacker and others.
“Music is getting reinvented,” Sonos CEO John MacFarlane said. “Music services are now streaming at 256 to 320 bitrates. That’s a big improvement.”
At 320 kilobits per second, the MP3 sound file is considered close to CD quality. That improvement, however, is not translated on many TV sets, which have generally put sound quality far below picture quality and other features.
“As flat panel TVs get thinner and thinner, sound is often neglected,” because high quality speakers would add bulk to the TV’s profile, MacFarlane said.
The trend towards crappy sound began in the late 1990s, when digital music files had to be compressed to fit on early MP3 players with their vastly limited storage. Portable music players, sold with inexpensive, mass-produced earbuds, sacrificed quality for convenience.
“That’s beginning to change,” MacFarlane said, citing efforts by Beats Electronics and, most recently, Neil Young’s PONO project to introduce a music player and a music service that features better-than-CD-quality sound.
As for the $699 Playbar, Sonos packed in six mid-woofers for deep, rich low-frequency sounds and three tweeters for high-frequency details. The device, which plugs into a TV via an optical jack, can stand alone or be paired up with a subwoofer or additional speakers.
The Playbar will hit store shelves on March 5.