Sonos has been a by-word for inexpensive multi-room home audio with their popular Play:3 and Play:5 audio systems for a while now. If you’re not familiar with multi-room, here’s a quick catchup: basically it’s the ability to play music in multiple rooms from one device. Simple.
Previously multi-room audio systems were the preserve of the rich and famous as you’d have to have speakers wired into each room, which the last time we checked isn’t cheap nor particularly clever. Fast forward to 2014 and now it’s all about wireless multi-room audio, and that’s where Sonos comes in.
In little over 4 years they’ve pretty much cornered the market, their system offers the benefits of an all-in-one home audio system without the mammoth expense or trailing wires across your home. Having just announced that Sonos and Hype Machine are now compatible, Sonos threw a party, and foolishly sent us pair of Play:1’s to road test into oblivion.
The unique way Sonos handles multiple speakers is a stroke of genius; you have the ability to daisy-chain speakers together and over time create a system tailored for your home. So you could buy two Play:1’s – one for the kitchen, and one for the lounge – and then later down the line you could add a Play:5 to a snug or games room. Or better still, buy two Play:1’s, the subwoofer, and their newly released soundbar and you can even create a full 5.1 system.
Basically as your home grows your sound system can grow with it. It’s a clever system that let’s almost anyone enjoy multi-room home audio for the price of a mid-range hi-fi system.
Setting up the Play:1’s was an absolute breeze, all you have to do it plug the Wireless bridge into your broadband router and then place the speakers where you want. A pair of Play:1’s can be put in different rooms, for multi-room audio, or can be setup as a pair of stereo speakers. For our test we used the speakers as a stereo pair. Once you’ve plugged the speakers in, and connected them to the wireless bridge, you’ll then need to download Sonos’ iOS or Android app.
The Sonos app is used to control and deliver music, and that’s where things get a little bit frustrating. You can’t use the speaker as a Airplay speaker, so only content delivered through the app can be played via the speakers. And there’s no way to connect, say, a vinyl player, or a games console to the speakers via RCA or aux – which, for some, might be a deal breaker.
While the app does lack some functionality, we found it incredibly easy to play music off an iPhone or iPad, and the system also allows you to stream music from your desktop or laptop via a different app, which worked well but you’ll obviously need to have your PC on all the time if you want to listen to music. Elsewhere the app offers a range of content including 100,000 radio stations, and there’s also a bevy of streaming sites on their too including Spotify, Rdio and Hype Machine, but for every service that is included there are ones that are missing – so no Soundcloud as yet.
Where the Play:1 comes into its own is the sound quality, now we’re not going to suggest that these dinky speakers can compete with floor standing speakers, or a decent mid-range hi-fi, but the quality, considering their size, is quite astounding. When you listen to some decent dance music on them you’ll almost certainly think there’s a hidden subwoofer somewhere in the room. And while they do pack a punch it’s a balanced sound; not too treble-y with clear lows and warm mids. Having owned a set of Bose speakers, which consists of two satellites and a subwoofer, what Sonos has achieved is quite remarkable.
Clearly multi-room home audio isn’t an ideal solution for everyone, if you’ve got a massive vinyl collection or just can’t look past the quality of CDs then a Sonos system probably isn’t right for you. And it’s also worth noting if you’ve got a patchy Wi-fi network you might come across drops outs and other peculiarities. And that’s where Sonos’ dream of seamless multi-room home audio kinda falls a part. On my Wi-Fi network using the latest BT home hub I came across a few instances where the broadband cut out momentarily when not using the speakers. Now, I can’t be sure the Sonos system was to blame but once it was unplugged everything seemed to work as it should. That aside they do perform really well 99.9% of the time – but there’s always that chance it might cut out, and if you’ve already got a flaky Wi-Fi network then adding in a Sonos system might not be the best idea. Ultimately, that’s where they fall down; you’re at the whim of your router and not the speakers.
That said, if you’ve dumped your CD player years ago and mainly listen to music via streaming sites or off your phone you can’t really go wrong with a pair of Play:1’s, they offer hi-fi quality sound whilst being no bigger than a bag of sugar.
HBF Rating 4/5