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Sonos TruePlay: Our first take

Sonos' Trueplay now has home theater set-up skills to simplify installation

TruePlay is now available for all Sonos speakers, including the Playbar, making it a viable option for home theater as well as music.

In general, speakers aren’t easy. First you have to figure out what you’re looking for, from size to price and other factors. Then, once you’ve got them, you need to actually set them up in a way that not only sounds good, but hopefully also complements the look of the room they’re in. From the very start, Sonos aimed to make the first problem much easier to solve with its wireless multiroom speakers that were as easy to set up as they were to choose from.

In 2015, the company attempted to address the second problem as well with the introduction of a feature it called TruePlay, which aims to allow Sonos owners to set up their speakers wherever they want without having to worry about how it will affect the sound, all by using a smartphone and app to measure the sound of the room. The app then adjusts the speakers automatically to make for the best listening environment possible.

More: The latest Sonos firmware update brings Trueplay support to all of its speakers

When it launched, we had the chance to experience the system for ourselves, and walked away generally impressed with what the company had done. Unfortunately, when TruePlay launched, the feature only supported a handful of speakers. That is no longer the case, as in December, Sonos updated its Controller app to enable use of TruePlay with any speaker the company offers, including the Playbar soundbar.

This is a trickier thing than it may sound. Sonos product marketing manager Wouter Boender told Digital Trends that the company had always wanted to offer TruePlay for its home theater products, but this meant that the feature needed to offer not only spectral correction — which essentially changes EQ — but spatial correction as well, which affects things like when exactly a frequency hits your ears. Curious to see how the updated feature worked, we had to try it for ourselves.

Setup

To test TruePlay’s new home theater functionality, we started with a Sonos Playbar, then added the company’s Sub subwoofer. Finally, we added two Play:1 units as satellite speakers. This provided a 5.1-channel setup, despite using only four speaker cabinets.

Before starting anything with TruePlay, you’ll need to make sure all of your speakers are configured via the Sonos Controller app. Once they are ready, you can begin setting up TruePlay by going to the Settings menu, then Room Setup, followed by the name you chose for your specific room. You’ll want to set up TruePlay at a fairly quiet time — and the app will remind you of that once you begin.

TruePlay continues to be surprisingly effective, even in situations where you may not guess that it would thrive.

For the first step, the app will ask you to sit in the area you usually watch TV. Then the app will instruct you to turn your phone upside down — intended to make sure you’re not covering the microphone with your hand — and raise it to the same level as your head. Once you’ve done this and confirmed you’re ready, the app will play a series of tones to measure your room, then calibrate your speakers accordingly.

The second step will be familiar if you’ve used TruePlay before. This part still has you holding your phone upside down, and plays sound similar to the first step, but now you’ll be asked to walk around your room — preferably covering as much ground as possible. While you move, you are instructed to slowly raise and lower your phone so that the app can measure the room at different heights.

Since you’re not moving during the first step, there isn’t a whole lot that can go wrong. For the second step, that isn’t the case. If you’re not moving the phone up and down enough, or if it doesn’t detect that you’re moving around the room enough, the app will halt the process and ask you to start over.

Impressions

Even though we were fairly impressed by the initial implementation of TruePlay, we were curious just how effective it could be when it comes to home theater use. Changes to bass performance in particular had us somewhat concerned — after all, how well can the microphone on your iPhone measure the frequencies coming from a subwoofer? As it turns out, TruePlay continues to be surprisingly effective, even in situations where you may not guess that it would thrive.

It’s easy to test how much TruePlay is or isn’t doing to the sound, as it can be quickly toggled on and off in the Sonos Controller app. While there are probably situations where it may not be super effective, we found that in every instance we tried it in, the sound became fuller and more expansive sounding. We did find that turning on TruePlay could add a bit of treble, but fortunately, the Controller app features EQ adjustment for bass and treble, and this can be used without worrying about how it will affect TruePlay’s overall performance.

For movies and TV shows, the difference between TruePlay being on and off was very noticeable. Instead of sound coming from a vague area off to your left or right, you instead feel like you’re in the middle of everything that is happening on screen. The added immersion generally gives the effect of using a full-fledged dedicated surround sound system instead of just a sound bar.

Music was similarly affected, with a much wider “sweet spot” where the music sounds its best. Everything has a more cohesive feel, and generally tighter sound, likely due to the adjustments made for coordinating when each sound comes from each speaker. Despite our initial concerns about the subwoofer and low end, bass was noticeably tighter sounding with TruePlay turned on.

Putting speakers in incredibly awkward locations — on the floor in a corner, or tucked on a shelf in an alcove — to foil the TruePlay measurement could reveal minor flaws in the system, but even then, sound was generally better with the feature turned on rather than off.

More: Sonos’ smart speakers could one day integrate with all digital assistants

If you’re already the owner of a few Sonos units and they are located in the same room, there is no reason not to try TruePlay. The feature is freely available as long as you have the newest version of the Sonos Controller app. It isn’t mind-blowing enough that you likely want to run out and buy a brand new Sonos setup immediately, but if you have already been looking into a new purchase or simply expanding your existing setup, the feature is definitely an argument in its favor.

Highs

  • Sound is nearly always better with TruePlay turned on
  • Surround sound in movies is much more effective with TruePlay
  • Bass is noticeably tighter-sounding with TruePlay

Lows

  • It may take a few tries to get the setup process right
  • Sound can be a little trebly with TruePlay on