(Un)wired for Sound: Using Sonos speakers as a whole-home, Apple-connected audio system

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2017
The promise of Sonos's Wi-Fi speakers is a truly connected home audio system, integrated with devices like iPhones and iPads, as well as online streaming services like Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify. To test how well the platform works for Apple users, we outfitted an apartment with Sonos's three main speakers -- the Play:1, Play:3, and Play:5 -- as well as some of its home theater equipment, the Playbar and Sub.




Initial setup proved simple overall, if still time-consuming just for the sheer number of speakers involved. We started with the Playbar. Using the Sonos Controller app for iPhone and iPad, we were prompted to connect the speaker to Wi-Fi and create a Sonos account, to which all subsequent gear would be linked. There are ways of making a Sonos setup totally wired, incidentally, since the devices typically have built-in Ethernet ports, but that largely defeats the point.





A constant with all of the speakers was something called "Trueplay." This involved tuning each speaker individually by walking around a room with our iPhone, which captured loud pulsing sounds bouncing off of the walls. The final results seemed worth it, though some people might prefer manual tweaking to avoid irritating family and neighbors.




Perhaps the most attractive feature for some people will be the ability to control all of their music from a single app. This includes on-device media, libraries hosted on a connected Mac or PC, and of course, the streaming services we mentioned earlier. Sonos has even implemented many service-specific commands -- with Pandora for example, listeners can vote tracks up or down.




There are some catches. Siri commands can't be used for Apple Music or any other service, and some services have better Sonos interfaces than others -- we found TuneIn in particular to be clumsy, mostly because there's no way to log into an existing account. In that case the only option is to manually search for shows, stations, or podcasts, and then save them for later.




Within these limits, we really enjoyed the flexibility of the platform. It was easy to group and de-group speakers, adjusting their volume separately or in unison. It was also easy to pick different audio sources for different rooms, which would even resume where we left off in some circumstances.

Choosing a speaker

There isn't a huge quality difference between the Play:1, Play:3, and Play:5. Which one(s) to go with is really a matter of space, purpose, and budget.

The Play:1.
The Play:1.


For many, a $199 Play:1 might be all they need. On its own it's not a stereo speaker, but it sounds good regardless, with solid fidelity and bass. It's also fairly compact, and "humidity resistant," which makes it an option for bathrooms or sheltered patios. People rolling in cash can pair a couple of Play:1s with a Playbar and Sub to build a 5.1-channel home theater setup.

Sonos claims that the 1 "fits in any space," but in practice it may still be a little big on some shelves, and especially on crowded bathroom counters. People with simple needs and little room might be better off looking at Bluetooth speakers like Logitech's UE line.

The Play:3.
The Play:3.


By design the sweet spot seems to be the Play:3 ($299), which not only upgrades to stereo but may actually be better in tight spaces. While bigger overall, its squat shape is sometimes better for shelving, which is why we placed it in the bedroom. If footprint is an issue the speaker can be tilted on its side, or mounted on a wall or stand -- the Play:1 can only be mounted on a stand.

The Play:5.
The Play:5.


The Play:5 ($499) is effectively a "deluxe," oversized version of the 3. We placed it between our kitchen and living room spaces, and sure enough, the 5 was able to fill both with high-quality sound, including heavy bass -- even when listening to ambient music. Most people won't need anything so powerful, but this is the one to get for people who want a centerpiece stereo system, especially since it's the only one with an auxiliary input.

The Playbar.
The Playbar.


We've already reviewed the Playbar on its own, but to recap: it's a powerful nine-speaker soundbar meant for TVs, while still supporting the same streaming options as other Sonos devices. It is $699, but may actually be a better deal in some cases since it can handle all of a person's living room needs in one stroke.

Sonos's 35-pound behemoth, the Sub.
Sonos's 35-pound behemoth, the Sub.


To us the Sub ($699) felt somewhat redundant. It does indeed offer deeper bass, and can be paired with any Sonos speaker. The Play:1/3/5 line typically offers enough bass though, at least in small- to medium-sized rooms.

It makes more sense when paired with the Playbar -- since extra punch is welcome in movies -- but the Playbar also features strong bass, making it hard to justify the cost unless dealing with an especially large room.

Should you go with Sonos?

For a single-speaker setup, we'd say only if a demo unit sounded just that good at the store. A Bluetooth speaker can be just fine, and there are plenty of alternatives supporting Wi-Fi standards like Google Cast and Apple AirPlay -- AirPlay is only an option for Sonos with an Apple TV or AirPort Express, it should be pointed out.

For a house-wide audio system, there really aren't any options that accomplish so much so easily. Sure, it can be relatively cheap to outfit a home with AirPlay or Chromecast Audio, but the Sonos technology makes setup and grouping ridiculously easy, even without the convenience of combining multiple services in a single app.

People building a multi-room system from scratch, then, should at least consider going the Sonos route. The ultimate decision is whether to hitch to a platform that's so dependent on proprietary technology, or go a more agnostic route.

Score: 4 out of 5

Where to buy:

The Sonos Play:1 can be bought at B&H for $199 with free expedited shipping and no sales tax on orders shipped outside NY and NJ, or at Amazon simply with free shipping. The Play:3 is $299 at B&H or Amazon.

The Play:5 is $499 from B&H. Amazon and Best Buy share the same price.

The Playbar is $699 at B&H and Amazon. The Sub is available for the same price from both retailers.

Shoppers can also of course buy directly from Sonos, which is luring people with free 2-day shipping with promo code FRE2NDYSHP17 and a 45-day return window.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    I bought a Play:5 for Christmas and I love the speaker. But I don't care for the software. Unless the music you want to play is accessible through the Sonos app you cannot play it unless you use the analog line in. Which means you need an AirPlay device like an Airport Express or a Bluetooth adapter if you want to stream music from you Mac, iPad or iPhone. But this seems to defeat the advantage of having a WiFi connection to the speaker which the Sonos App uses. Personally I would prefer to just have a driver installed on the Mac, iPad or iPhone that would allow WiFi access to the speaker no matter what application you want to port the sound from. I use an Airport Express and I have occasional dropouts for some reason I haven't looked into yet. I assume the WiFi connection would be more robust but I haven't really tested it because the music I mainly listen to is not accessible through the Sonos app.
    wonkothesaneargonaut
  • Reply 2 of 27
    red oakred oak Posts: 670member
    Can I use Apple's built-in Music app to fully control a whole house Sonos solution?  

    I really wish Apple would double down and improve AirPlay
    applecoredargonaut
  • Reply 3 of 27
    My comment here:

    - I have a Sonos system and can't love it more. Specially the 1 in my bathroom. Good job on making It "humidity-proof".

    - I have a different setup that takes advantage of my amplifier. I have a Sonos Bridge. With this, I can use my Yamaha sound system. AND, I use Sonos via the Harmony smart remote app on my iPhone. That's a cool thing for me too. I have a
    Harnony "activity" configured so it connects everything. You need to set up the volume at a constant level, so it sounds well via the amplifier controls.

    - I'm still waiting for Sonos to come up with an Apple Watch integration. At least with a Back and Fast Fiorward button. When I'm in the bathroom I want to repeat song and don't want to bring my iPhone with me.

    Get a Sonos, it's the best. I bought a Bose wifi with Bluetooth, the one that competes in size and price with Sonos 1, but it's horrible. Audio quality is distorted and it doesn't perform so well.
    polymnia
  • Reply 4 of 27
    red oak said:
    Can I use Apple's built-in Music app to fully control a whole house Sonos solution?  

    I really wish Apple would double down and improve AirPlay
    No, you have to connect Sonos to Apple Music via the integration that they provide. Then the UX is pretty similar inside the Sonos app. If your Apple Music subscription is for a single user, you will be able to play from one device at a time. It's happen to me that I'm playing Sonos and then I put on my earphones to start running and get a message that there's another session playing somewhere else, you simple press Play again and that's it. They improved that in the most recent version of Apple Music, and haven't seen that alert in a while now.
  • Reply 5 of 27
    teejay2012teejay2012 Posts: 275member
    The Sonos hardware is excellent sound for the price, given that audio can be exponentially expensive for incremental improvement. The speakers sound great.
    My top request (and for many others) remains integration of Sonos speakers with AirPlay. Currently there is really no way to do directly, even using 'audio in' from AirPort express to Play 3 or 5, as there is an obvious audio delay - it sounds like you are in a stadium. I am not sure if this is also the case using a Sonos Soundbar. There is a 'hack' in firmware but I am not confident enough in my skills to try. Perhaps it is a licensing issue from Apple as it certainly not a hardware limitation. So I use the Sonos app which is ok, while I wait patiently for Sonos to add AirPlay.
  • Reply 6 of 27
    davejaydavejay Posts: 7member
    No way is the Sub redundant. The Playbar in particular sounds good on its own... at first. Then get used to it with a Sub paired, and it sounds downright tinny without it. You'll have to pry my Sonos Sub from my cold dead hands.
    santabean2000
  • Reply 7 of 27
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,271member
    Whut? 

    There's a HUGE quality difference between the Play:1/Play:3 and the Play:5.   If you do not believe this your ears should be checked.  The best scenario though is the Sonos Connect or the Sonos Amp hooked up to your high fidelity speakers.   
  • Reply 8 of 27
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,269member
    I have two Sonos 3's and find them very handy. I move them around as the social situation dictates. My only real gripe is the software UI. It's a bit clunky and non-intuitive. Very un-Appley. Playlists especially are buggy; often showing lots of redundant and unidentifiable stuff. I usually just play Pandora for family events. 
  • Reply 9 of 27
    ilondonerilondoner Posts: 11member
    I bought a couple of Play:1 speakers which I configured for stereo and the quality is great, but the software is so flaky with inability to re-establish a connection without having to reboot speakers or Macbook or iPhone.  It's also very limiting only being able to play stuff through the Sonos app.  

    After six weeks I took the system back and got a refund.  Will go the generic Bluetooth route.
    argonaut
  • Reply 10 of 27
    mr lizardmr lizard Posts: 62member
    I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to kit out most of my home with Sonos last year, and it's been an absolute delight. Over two floors my Wi-Fi is a touch flaky upstairs, but that was easily solved by adding a Sonos Boost to my router, which essentially creates a separate network just for the speakers. 

    Using the Controller app for Apple Music isn't quite as nice as being able to use the official app, but I find it works quite well. Queuing up songs, and then editing the 'up next' queue is just as easy. 

    Grouping multiple rooms for whole-home sound is also dead simple. 

    For me the real advantage over a Bluetooth speaker is the ability to play songs from multiple music services, including local libraries, without having to change apps. That might not matter for some people, granted. 

    I also prefer not having to carry a single speaker around the house, or worrying about connectivity issues if I move around and stray too far. 

    I added the sub to my set up. The difference when adding a sub to the Playbar is dramatic; it might be overkill for a smaller room, but for a large living room it makes a significant difference. 

    Also, the review states that "the Play:1 can only be mounted on a stand" - this is not the case, it can be wall mounted like the Play:3 just fine. 
    lordjohnwhorfin
  • Reply 11 of 27
    dg252dg252 Posts: 2member
    Anyone tried Airhome (airhome.io)?  Maybe AI can do a review?
  • Reply 12 of 27
    dachardachar Posts: 330member
    I bought a Play:5 for Christmas and I love the speaker. But I don't care for the software. Unless the music you want to play is accessible through the Sonos app you cannot play it unless you use the analog line in. Which means you need an AirPlay device like an Airport Express or a Bluetooth adapter if you want to stream music from you Mac, iPad or iPhone. But this seems to defeat the advantage of having a WiFi connection to the speaker which the Sonos App uses. Personally I would prefer to just have a driver installed on the Mac, iPad or iPhone that would allow WiFi access to the speaker no matter what application you want to port the sound from. I use an Airport Express and I have occasional dropouts for some reason I haven't looked into yet. I assume the WiFi connection would be more robust but I haven't really tested it because the music I mainly listen to is not accessible through the Sonos app.
    I have had a Sonos system since 2009. At first I had the same concerns about trying traditional HiFi to Sonos but soon realised that this was missing the point. Sonos is a modern system that is designed to play your music saved on a computer or network storage disk. This is far more flexible, especially for multi speaker set ups.  It can also stream from ApplyMusic, Spotify, Amazon Prime etc. If you want to connect a traditional HiFi system to your Sonos system then the answer is to get a Sonos Connect.  
  • Reply 13 of 27
    Again (unless I've missed it) no mention of the Playbase?!? Wasn't in the Playbar review either. Is the Playbase just a European thing??

  • Reply 14 of 27
    I have some Sonos kit and I love it. The Play 1s are best paired and set in stereo.

    These are a lot better than bluetooth speakers in that they are 'pull', not 'push', i.e. I can use my phone to get the music going, but then turn it off/make calls etc with no interruption. Doesn't put a drain on the phone battery either.

    The SUB redundant?! No way. Not unless you're rocking a pair of Play 5s.

    I do agree about the Playbar being an excellent all in one option for the budget conscious, (and living in apartments/small house). 

    The Playbar sounds not great to me. Disappointingly so. Not sure they got the form factor right on that one.

    I'm looking forward to Alexa integration coming later this year. Once voice controls these puppies, it'll be amazing.
    edited May 2017
  • Reply 15 of 27
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,757member
    Is this website SonosInsider now?    If Apple bought Sonos I would be interested in this a little bit (more once it was integrated with the Apple products better) but not now.
    I'm much more interested in the rumored new Apple product and hoping it scales up to compete with SONOS.
    Grimzahn
  • Reply 16 of 27
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 561member
    Can anyone share their experience using Sonos speakers with Plex. Supposedly, these two platforms were integrated recently. 
  • Reply 17 of 27
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,713member
    You have to go through the Sonos app?
    ... Sorry, that's not for me...

    That makes it a single vendor system and, if I'm going to go with a single vendor, it will be Apple.   The same is true for me with car audio:   I don't want to invest a lot of money in a manufacturer's proprietary audio and navigation system.   Actually, the best for me would be an IPad mini mounted on or in the dash and connected & amplified to the car's speakers.  That way, as software and hardware evolve, I just replace or upgrade a single unit rather than the whole system.
  • Reply 18 of 27
    dachar said:
    I bought a Play:5 for Christmas and I love the speaker. But I don't care for the software. Unless the music you want to play is accessible through the Sonos app you cannot play it unless you use the analog line in. Which means you need an AirPlay device like an Airport Express or a Bluetooth adapter if you want to stream music from you Mac, iPad or iPhone. But this seems to defeat the advantage of having a WiFi connection to the speaker which the Sonos App uses. Personally I would prefer to just have a driver installed on the Mac, iPad or iPhone that would allow WiFi access to the speaker no matter what application you want to port the sound from. I use an Airport Express and I have occasional dropouts for some reason I haven't looked into yet. I assume the WiFi connection would be more robust but I haven't really tested it because the music I mainly listen to is not accessible through the Sonos app.
    I have had a Sonos system since 2009. At first I had the same concerns about trying traditional HiFi to Sonos but soon realised that this was missing the point. Sonos is a modern system that is designed to play your music saved on a computer or network storage disk. This is far more flexible, especially for multi speaker set ups.  It can also stream from ApplyMusic, Spotify, Amazon Prime etc. If you want to connect a traditional HiFi system to your Sonos system then the answer is to get a Sonos Connect.  
    I am talking about music saved on a computer and not traditional media. I use ITunes. The Sonos controller app will allow me to play some iTunes songs but not others. Apparently it has to do with DRM and I would need to repurchase the songs to play them through the Sonos controller. But I bought the product for the speaker not the app. Why should I need to use their app. iTunes can directly play all my songs. I just need a driver installed to access the speaker via WiFi. It is the same if I want to watch a video on YouTube while playing the audio through the Play:5. I can't unless I use the analog line in. 
  • Reply 19 of 27
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,006member
    k2kw said:
    Is this website SonosInsider now?    If Apple bought Sonos I would be interested in this a little bit (more once it was integrated with the Apple products better) but not now.
    I'm much more interested in the rumored new Apple product and hoping it scales up to compete with SONOS.
    Oh look, a complainer. Doesn't like the article, but took time out of his day to come inside and tell us so. Also seems to be confusing his personal interests with everyone else's in the entire world.

    Since Sonos is part of the iOS ecosystem, it's relevant. I'm interested and have been curious about the new speakers and models. 
    robin huber
  • Reply 20 of 27
    Been using Sonos since the early days and, while it was and still is an expensive system, in this decade many competing systems have come and gone, obsoleted in a couple of years; my original Sonos equipment not only still works but has been brought up to date and is compatible with all the new features. It's been a fantastic investment.
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