Background

When the Sonos Playbar first came out, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase it for my living room. Here is why:

Just less than a year prior, I bought a soundbar made by Yamaha (YSP2200). The Yamaha had great sound but I hated how I could not easily integrate it into the rest of my house with the two Sonos Play:5 speakers I had on hand.

Then, I came across an excellent deal1 on a Cullen Circuits modded Sonos Connect that provides 96 KHz sample rate over S/PDIF and component. The Connect allowed me to integrate the soundbar into the Sonos system. However, playing music through the soundbar required me to turn it on and switch to the right input (which I would later need to switch back when I wanted to watch TV). I despise not having tasks like these automated so this was an imperfect solution at best.

Fast forward to my purchase of the Playbar: the Playbar is a step-up in fidelity in comparison to the Yamaha model. The sound is far more clear and the soundstage wider. I do miss a subwoofer but that is an upgrade that will come in the future (and boy does a Sonos Sub make a difference on the low end!) Plus, the Playbar provides seamless integration with the rest of my home’s audio.

Now, to the point of the article

If there is one thing I’m disappointed about with the Playbar, it is that Sonos did not build in support for more modern audio codecs (I am looking at you, DTS). I simply do not understand this oversight. Furthermore, there’s the fact that Dolby Digital (which is supported by the Playbar) is not output in 5.1 from the vast majority of TVs in people’s homes and even those that have recently come to market; most TVs will output PCM 2.0 (stereo) for any source plugged into the back of the TV.

When adding two Sonos Play:1 or Sonos Play:3 speakers and a Sonos Sub, the Playbar will process that source into a 5.1 signal. While the Playbar does a decent job at this, I have always preferred to listen as the sound engineers intended and that means that I want the best audio signal I can get out of my system. For my home-theater, I had to find a way to get the Dolby Digital signal.

The solution

What I have come up with is a method that splits the audio off of the HDMI signal and sends it directly to the Playbar, thus bypassing the TV and the issue of a sub-par audio signal. Here is the setup:

  1. Purchase J-Tech Digital’s HDMI to HDMI + SPDIF/RCA stereo extractor to extract the audio signal.
  2. Set the audio extractor in-between an HDMI switch and the TV/Playbar; e.g., sound travels as so:

As I mentioned above, the advantage here is that the Dolby Digital (5.1 surround) source passes through to the Playbar. This works well and is a great solution for the various audio sources I imagine most PlayBar owners have.

I use an HDMI switch made by Kinivo. It’s unique from most HDMI switches in that it will automatically change the source based on the most recently activated device. In short, once I’m done watching TV and want to switch over to a video game, all I have to do is turn on the PlayStation and the Kinivo switch handles the rest. Nice!2

If you don’t care about the auto-source-switching and/or don’t have an HDMI switch, I will point you to J-Tech Digital’s Ultra HD 4x2 HDMI switch that extracts audio to S/PDIF for just a little more. That way there is less equipment involved and you future proof your setup with Ultra HD support.

  1. That is a $500 mod!

  2. There is one caveat: for whatever reason, the Apple TV always sends an ON signal over HDMI; the Kinivo switch does not auto-change sources when switching TO the Apple TV but it will select to a newly turned-on device.