FOR Impressive weight; punchy; smooth, simple set-up AGAINST No hi-res music; no physical connections
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While arguably looking a little outdated stood next to the freshly redesigned new Play:5, its solid, sleek design stands the test of time.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.
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.
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
or vertically, so
The Play:1 has extra
Trueplay and more