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My Sonos PLAY:5 TV hack

How I put my favourite 2.1 stereo system to use with my TV

If you're reading this article, you're probably a music lover and a Sonos fan. I am too. I've outfitted my main listening room with a pair of PLAY:5s and a SUB. This 2.1 stereo setup sees a lot of use and makes me very happy.

When I recently added a ridiculously good 4K TV to this same room, I had some choices to make. I considered adding a Sonos PLAYBAR — these get rave reviews, have all the right connections for a TV, and are basically a no-brainer for anyone with a Sonos system.

But I didn't want to move my PLAY:5 stereo setup. After all, it's a listening room first, and my 2.1 system suits me — and the space — just perfectly.

And, as it turns out, I found a cool hack that has allowed me keep my PLAY:5s and SUB for music and also use them with my TV to give soundtracks a serious boost. If you think this setup might be right for you, read on to find out how I did it.

Use the PLAY:5's old-school analog input

Sonos is famous for giving you easy access to your digital music collection, as well as a plethora of digital streaming sources. But did you know that some Sonos components — and the PLAY:5 speakers themselves — have a mini 3.5mm stereo input for an analog audio source?

This analog input was the key to my setup. But to put it to use, I had to find a way to convert the digital audio signals coming from my TV into analog signals.

Fortunately, Crutchfield carries a cool little problem-solver of a DAC — a digital-to-analog converter made by Metra for precisely this kind of scenario.

Metra CSDAC

This inexpensive little DAC allowed me to hook my TV to my Sonos 2.1 system.

I hooked an optical digital audio cable from my TV to the DAC, and then an analog stereo RCA-to-3.5mm adapter cable from the DAC to one of my Sonos speakers.

The system took care of the rest, distributing the stereo channels and low bass information wirelessly among the speakers and sub.

CAUTION: Be sure to select "PCM" in your TV's audio menu

The Metra DAC is handy, but it doesn't have Dolby® Digital decoding. To use it with a TV, you need to first make sure to set the TV's output to "PCM" stereo, rather than Dolby Digital. It's an easy but absolutely necessary step for this setup.

Failure to make this switch in your TV's settings will cause unpleasant noises, potentially at ear-splitting volumes.

A word about lip sync

I want to be up-front about one potential drawback. Sonos's wireless system uses a little built-in "magic" to allow a whole houseful of speakers to play the same song together in perfect sync. For scenarios like mine, this feature causes a 75-millisecond delay between the images on the TV screen and the sound from the speakers.

I'm sure this potential lip sync issue could be a deal-breaker for some people. Here in Charlottesville, with my cable TV service (which I will not name, because I'm being nice), there are lip sync issues all the time anyway, which seem to vary from day to day and channel to channel.

No kidding, I experience less of a lip sync issue with my PLAY:5 setup than when I'm using the TV's built-in speakers. I know it sounds crazy, but that's the way I call it, after lots of A/B'ing. Keep in mind, most TVs have a lip sync adjustment feature which can help if it's a perceivable problem.

Keep your phone or tablet on hand

Here's another little something to keep in mind. When you use a Sonos 2.1-channel setup with your TV, you'll need ready access to the Sonos app on your phone, tablet, or laptop. It's through the app that you select the TV as your source and control the volume.

App screen

Sonos's iPad app is clean and easy to use.

What's in it for me?

The big win for me, using this Sonos hack, was that I got to keep my ideal stereo system in my favorite listening room. And when I select my TV as the source, the sound is much bigger, better, and closer to "home theater" than the sound from my TV's built-in speakers. That's especially true for deep bass, of which the Sonos SUB produces plenty, and which the TV's built-in speakers know nothing about.

I also find that this setup is awesome for watching concert discs or YouTube music videos. In fact, one really cool unforeseen upside: I can call up a YouTube music playlist using my TV's built-in smart app, and send that music all around the house to Sonos speakers in different rooms.

Jim's audio room

Sometimes the best TV sound system is the one you already have.

How about you?

Do you use a Sonos 2.1 system for TV sound? How is it working for you? We'd love to hear about it.

  • James Ralston from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/23/2018

    Hi, Steven. That's an interesting thought. Thanks for posting. I own a CONNECT that I'm using in a different room, actually. But that's not going to work in this case because the CONNECT has digital audio outputs, rather than inputs.

    FWIW, I just fired this system up last night for the Season 2 premiere of Westworld, and it was moving some air nicely, so I'm happy. :-)
    Jim

  • Steven Walker from Houston

    Posted on 4/22/2018

    Could using a Sonos connect with optical from the TV also work with your set up? That way no DAC is needed. Sure, more expensive but you'd be maintaining a digital signal from source.

  • James Ralston from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/26/2018

    Hi, David. Thanks for sharing your comment. I know you've spent time troubleshooting your dropout issues. But I'm curious: are you running your Sonos system in default Wi-Fi mode, or in Sonos's "BOOST" mode? That's the mode that uses Sonos's proprietary network, and it can sometimes help you get better wireless performance.

    Before I ever set up my TV in this system, I was having dropout issues with some sources, even just trying to get my stereo speakers and sub to all play together at the same time. I switched over to "BOOST" mode, and that fixed it for me. Every Sonos speaker has a proprietary network adapter built in, and you can enable this mode through the Sonos app. In case this is news to you, here's a link from Sonos's support site where you can read more:
    https://sonos.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/3046/kw/sonos%20network

    After configuring my system in "BOOST" mode, my 2.1 system plays fine with my TV as an uncompressed line input source. Plus, I can stream that uncompressed audio signal from my TV room all throughout my house with no dropouts.
    Good luck, and thanks for posting.
    Jim

  • David from Dayton

    Posted on 3/15/2018

    I've been doing this for years. One thing I've noticed is that if you have multiple rooms, the system can not handle a line-in input and broadcast to other rooms (IE, voicing your tv on other speakers as well so you can walk around the house and still listen to your show). Sonos fails with this. A non-compressed line in input (required or you WILL Have a lip-sync issue of several seconds instead of a mere 75 milliseconds), Sonos simply can't keep up - your other speakers will constantly drop out or even completely disappear from the system, sometimes while still playing. I've spent many hours with Sonos trying to solve this, to no avail. I'm not in a crowded area (not in an apartment), but line in plus sonos - dropouts, plain and simple

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