Sonos Play:1/play:5

FOR Im­pres­sive weight; punchy; smooth, sim­ple set-up AGAINST No hi-res mu­sic; no phys­i­cal con­nec­tions

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Multi-room Speakers -

Sonos Play:1 £170

A lot has hap­pened in the multi-room mar­ket since the Sonos Play:1 last en­tered our test rooms in 2013. Amid the rise of the smart watch and smart TV, smart­phones break­ing the 7in­screen bar­rier and the anti-cli­max of Google Glass, the multi-room mar­ket has ex­ploded to as­tro­nom­i­cal lev­els, with ev­ery Tom, Dick and Harry look­ing to rus­tle Sonos’s feath­ers in the field.

So it may raise an eye­brow to learn that what hasn’t changed is the Play:1’s charm. That’s right, for £170 you still won’t re­gret find­ing a spot for one (or five) in your home.

Sonos brought its en­try-level price down with the Play:1, and de­spite no next-gen mod­els (like its flag­ship Play:5) or hard­ware up­dates since, it con­tin­ues to set the bench­mark at this price.

Let’s get phys­i­cal

While it’s the same old rounded speaker, soft­ware tweaks claim to have brought im­proved sound, as well as True­play tech­nol­ogy and even more stream­ing ser­vices – some­thing that is clearly cru­cial to Sonos stay­ing at the top of the stream­ing game.

It’s the most com­pre­hen­sive list out there, with the likes of Tidal, Spo­tify, Pandora, Deezer, Qobuz, Google Play Mu­sic and Ama­zon Mu­sic, plus Tunein Ra­dio for ac­cess to thou­sands of in­ter­net ra­dio sta­tions, all in­te­grated into the Sonos Con­troller app. Of course it also plucks songs stored on your lo­cal net­work, from a NAS drive for ex­am­ple.

De­signed to be used purely as part of the Sonos sys­tem, the Play:1 still lacks any phys­i­cal con­nec­tions for hard-wiring ex­ter­nal devices. Blue­tooth is still ab­sent too, which in our eyes is points against Sonos. We’d like at least one off­line op­tion for when your net­work’s a bit dodgy.

A solid, sleek de­sign

While ar­guably look­ing a lit­tle out­dated stood next to the freshly re­designed new Play:5, its solid, sleek de­sign stands the test of time. It comes in black or white, though only on the chas­sis’ top and bot­tom bands do colours come into it – for what de­fines the Play:1’s look is its smart wrap­around steel grille.

That’s not only where the Play:1 keeps up. It’s just as weighty and solid as we re­mem­ber, with plenty of power and punch for a small speaker. It doesn’t shy away from Ryan Adams’ Gimme Some­thing Good – hearty enough to get stuck into the meaty electrics, but at the same time dis­ci­plined enough to keep them on a tight leash.

His vo­cals sail over the top with stark clar­ity and dy­namic ex­pres­sion – the Play:1 throw­ing them into the lime­light – and there are acres of space and scale in the pre­sen­ta­tion for them to fill. Ei­ther side of the midrange, con­trol isn’t lack­ing, its bass tight and punchy, the tre­ble de­tailed and re­fined.

Good, clean fun

It’s an open, clean and bal­anced lis­ten and one that’s just as happy pump­ing out Bloc Party as Joni Mitchell.

Only too keen to show that rhyth­mic fi­delity isn’t left trail­ing, its ag­ile, ath­letic pos­ture keeps up with the sprightly key­board ca­dence in Man­fred Mann’s Earth Band’s cover of Blinded by the Light, the cymbal-tap­ping gal­lop­ing pre­cisely and punc­tu­ally along­side. It’s an en­thu­si­as­tic ren­di­tion that isn’t short of at­tack. You can tell Sonos had one thing in mind when en­gi­neer­ing its sonic char­ac­ter: fun. Who can ar­gue with that?

If you thought time would have aged the Play:1, think again. It re­mains a bril­liant-sound­ing wire­less speaker, and a de­cent pas­sage into multi-room for those on a tight bud­get. It’s not per­fect, but if hi-res sup­port and off­line play­back aren’t the be all and end all, then it’s hard to re­sist.

Sonos Play:5 £430

Sonos launched the orig­i­nal Play:5 in 2009, its first wire­less speaker and a prod­uct that helped shaped Sonos into what it is to­day. Seven years later, it makes way for a new Play:5, which the com­pany says is “the quin­tes­sen­tial speaker for the dig­i­tal age”, with a fo­cus on flag­ship sound and de­sign.

The new Play:5 looks and feels dif­fer­ent to the orig­i­nal. It can now be ori­en­tated in three ways, hor­i­zon­tally or on ei­ther side ver­ti­cally, so the de­sign has to work across all ori­en­ta­tions, and as a re­sult it leans more to­wards the more sim­plis­tic styling of the Play:3.

This gives it greater flex­i­bil­ity for place­ment as well as a more ‘nat­u­ral’

look when used as a stereo pair. Con­trols have been given a makeover too, with phys­i­cal but­tons done away with in favour of touch con­trols.

While you’re likely to do most of the con­trol­ling with a phone or tablet, the touch in­ter­face is re­spon­sive, with sub­tle tones that sound as your touch reg­is­ters.

Grudge match

It’s not just the de­sign that has seen an over­haul. Not one orig­i­nal driver has been reused here, the count jump­ing from a five-driver set-up to six and of­fer­ing three times the acous­tic horse­power.

Placed hor­i­zon­tally along the bot­tom, there are three cus­tom-de­signed 10cm mid-woofers, which are big­ger and more pow­er­ful ver­sions of those found in the Play:1, in ad­di­tion to three tweet­ers ar­ranged along the top.

The left and right tweet­ers are in horns, di­rected out to the side to help give a wider sound. Th­ese mea­sure 20mm, while the cen­tral tweeter is slightly big­ger at 23mm.

To­gether th­ese are ar­ranged to give a wide sound from a sin­gle box. The re­sult is un­ques­tion­able – this is a speaker that could fill some of the big­gest rooms in the house.

Play The Weeknd’s Earned It and the Play:5’s com­mand over dy­nam­ics is clear. The dra­matic string in­tro, punc­tu­ated with sud­den drum strokes, is de­liv­ered with flu­id­ity and punch, ris­ing and fall­ing on queue with tim­ing that’s on point.

In fact, there is clar­ity in the midrange no mat­ter what you play, which en­sures vo­cals are al­ways pushed to the front of a mix and never over­shad­owed. This is one area that has seen an im­prove­ment from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, where vo­cals could get mixed up in a busy ar­range­ment and lose their clout.

An­other huge im­prove­ment is in the bass. For its size, the orig­i­nal Play:5 wasn’t lack­ing, but what’s on of­fer here is in a dif­fer­ent league. Not only more, but deeper and more re­fined too – you can add a sub should you wish, but we don’t see why you’d need to un­less you have a grudge against your neigh­bours.

Rich and ar­tic­u­late

The sub-bass in­tro to A$AP Rocky’s L$D is enough to chal­lenge any speaker, but even at high vol­umes the Play:5 keeps a han­dle on things. It creates a won­der­fully rich sound, but with a touch too much bass for neu­tral ears. Luck­ily, EQ set­tings can put this right – a notch or two down helps make it more tonally bal­anced.

With a big­ger, bolder, more pow­er­ful sound that goes low and wide with­out for­go­ing ex­pres­sion and clar­ity, there’s no doubt that the new Play:5 suc­ceeds in over­shad­ow­ing its pre­de­ces­sor. The rich, ex­cit­ing and ar­tic­u­late way of de­liv­er­ing the best the stream­ing world has to of­fer, as part of an ex­cel­lent multi-room set-up, makes it a com­pelling buy.

Multi-room ver­dict

The Sonos Con­troller app is still the smoothest multi-room set-up go­ing, but the app’s hand­i­ness goes far and be­yond set-up. You can make your Sonos speaker feel right at home thanks to ‘True­play’ – new soft­ware that op­ti­mises the sound of any Sonos wire­less speaker based on its lo­ca­tion in a room.

True­play uses the mi­cro­phone in your iphone, ipad or ipod touch (An­droid devices aren’t cur­rently sup­ported) to mea­sure the re­sponse of the speaker in your room and tweak its sound ac­cord­ingly. It in­volves wav­ing your de­vice around the room for a minute, but that’s it. Just watch the tu­to­rial that shows you the art of wav­ing your phone around and it’s def­i­nitely worth it.

The Play:5 can be

placed hor­i­zon­tally

or ver­ti­cally, so

place­ment is

nicely flex­i­ble

The Play:1 has ex­tra

soft­ware tweaks,

im­proved sound,

True­play and more

stream­ing ser­vices

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