Which Sonos Speaker Should You Buy?
Here at WIRED, we like Sonos speakers. Throughout the last five years, we’ve reviewed everything from its small Play:1 speaker to its soundbars and recommended every one of them. But it’s not cheap to turn your home into a Sonos-powered shrine to sound. Like Apple products, Sonos speakers only work with other Sonos speakers, and don’t come cheap, starting at $200 for the least expensive, smallest model. But which ones should you buy? Read on for our recommendations.
What’s WIRED about Sonos speakers
After flooding my home with every Sonos model you can buy (and filling all remaining space with the boxes of said speakers), I’ve learned that not every Sonos speaker is the same, but they have an elegant synergy and sound that no other speaker system seems to have. There’s an additive effect, as well—the more speakers you connect to your home Wi-Fi, the richer your home audio becomes. If you have a few speakers in a room, it’s almost hard to tell where the sound is coming from. The crystal clear music can completely engulf you. Here are the top reasons to buy into Sonos:
Easy streaming: There isn’t another speaker system that lets you string together multiple speakers as easily, or connect them up to stream in different rooms of your home while keeping the audio perfectly in sync. The Sonos ecosystem can also handle home theater applications, and can support a full surround sound setup. It’s also incredibly easy to set up these speakers. The Sonos app guides you through the process of starting a new system, or adding speakers to an existing system. AirPlay 2 and Siri control are also on the way in 2018.
They sound amazing: Sonos speakers are all high quality and deliver a fairly consistent, appealing sound signature. It’s easy to argue that Sonos hardware is too expensive, but it’s difficult to fault the products’ sound quality.
Spotify on Alexa: Spotify can now be accessed using Alexa voice control on the Sonos One, the speaker with Amazon’s voice assistant built in. If you have one of these speakers, you can set Spotify as your default music service in the Alexa app. Then, when you ask Alexa to play something, it plays from Spotify.
What’s TIRED about Sonos speakers
As amazing as all Sonos speakers sound, and as seamlessly as they connect together, they still have some limitations, both in application and technology. We don’t think these are dealbreakers (yet), but you might.
Aging Connectivity: The tweeters and woofers inside Sonos speakers still sound amazing, but the way they connect to your network (or TV) is dated. Sonos speakers only have 2.4GHz Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g, which means that they cannot connect on the sometimes faster/cleaner 5GHz frequency commonly used today. I have yet to notice loss in fidelity or have dropouts on a Sonos, even in a Manhattan apartment, but the lack of support for today’s Wi-Fi standards, including n/AC, may eventually haunt these speakers. Both of Sonos’s soundbars also rely on optical cables and they lack modern ports like HDMI needed for Dolby Atmos.
No Batteries or Bluetooth: None of the speakers have battery power or Bluetooth, so you cannot use them outside of your home. You can unplug and move them from room to room, but it’s not exactly encouraged—the app has you tune their sound to each space and give them names like “Kitchen.”
You Must Use the Sonos App (mostly): Sonos has done an admirable job updating its speakers with new features through its app, but the app is also the only way to listen to many sources of music. Sonos is slowly freeing services from its app, allowing you to directly broadcast to any speaker within the normal Spotify and Pandora apps. But for everything else, you’re still stuck using the Sonos app, which functions fine, but isn’t ideal. Sonos promises direct control for Tidal by the end of 2017 and several more apps in 2018, including Audible and iHeart Radio.
The Best Sonos Speaker
The Sonos One is just about the smallest Sonos speaker, but it still packs enough oomph to fill most rooms, and its new hands-free Alexa integration is a lot of fun. Sonos took the time to make Alexa sound great, and because of the voice commands, the Sonos One has become my go-to speaker. It holds the premiere spot in my kitchen, where I like to listen to tunes the most each day. Alexa works like normal, and can play music, tell you the weather, find a recipe, and answer simple questions. Amazon keeps adding Skills to Alexa, making it more useful all the time. Support for Google Assistant is promised for 2018. The Sonos One is also the first third-party Alexa device that lets you use voice control to stream Spotify.
It’s the same price as the similar Play:1 speaker ($50 off for the rest of 2017), and a lot better thanks to its added skills and touch controls. If you already own an Amazon Echo, it can be used to control a Sonos system, but if you’re buying an expensive speaker, why not get the better one?
I’ll recommend other Sonos speakers in this guide, but you also can’t go wrong just buying 2-4 Sonos Ones to fill your house up. They’re much more affordable and their small size means you can hide them in any room.
The Best-Sounding Sonos Speaker (a +1 for your pad)
If you really like to party, I recommend adding a Sonos Play:5 to your setup. It has enough of a kick to dial a party up to 11, or really annoy your neighbors. I placed mine in the largest room of my apartment and it’s honestly more power than I need. Sonos boasts that this model has six Class-D digital amplifiers: three tweeters, three mid-woofers, and a phased speaker array. In practical terms, it will fill a very large room, or basement with ease. Out of the four standard Sonos speakers I tested, this one delivered the largest range of sound, with enough thump to satisfy fans of any genre.
Avoid the Play:3: The medium-sized Play:3 is an older model that hasn’t gotten an update in years. It still sounds decent, but it doesn’t have the depth of the cheaper Sonos One, despite carrying a bit more bass. It sounds noticeably worse, in some ways. Even at its $250 holiday 2017 sale price, you’re better off buying a second Sonos One or the monstrous Play:5, both of which have newer touch control, look nicer, and carry better sound.
The Best Sonos Speaker for Your TV
A soundbar can make all the difference in a home theater, and costs a lot less than a full surround sound setup. Sonos has two options for your television. After listening to both of them extensively, I prefer the Sonos Playbar. With more mid-woofers, it delivers deep bass. Overall, it has more balance and depth than the Sonos Playbase (also on sale for $100 off), which does sound a little sharp when you hear high treble sounds, like cymbals. The Playbar is one of the best soundbars you can buy at any price.
Truth be told, both sound fantastic, and there are very practical reasons you might want to choose one over the other. The Playbase sits perfectly under a standing TV with a base that measures about 28 inches wide, 15 inches deep, and around 2.5 inches tall, giving it a very thin profile. But if your TV is mounted on the wall, it won’t work. The Playbar is built to hang on a wall, but at just over 3-inches tall and 5-inches thick, it can also sit in front of most TVs without hassle.
The Sonos Sub is Worth It ($700 on Sonos and Amazon): If you can spend another $700 (yeah, it’s a lot), buy the Sonos Sub and set it next to, or under, your couch. You could also add speakers for surround, but buy the Sub first. The Playbar with Sub combo is a better combination.
The Best Sonos Surround Sound Setup
Sonos Playbar, Sub, and 2 Sonos Ones
To enable surround sound with one of its soundbars, Sonos requires two extra speakers, one for the left and one for the right. I’ve used two Play:5 speakers, but it’s overkill. Two Sonos One speakers are a better match. You simply place them to the left and right of your couch. They don’t add as much benefit as you get from the Playbar soundbar and Sub combo, but if you watch a lot of movies and want to hear things like TIE Fighters flying over your head in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you’ll like the extra juice a couple of Ones provide. You can buy the speaker combo piecemeal or in a bundle, but Sonos doesn’t discount bundles.
As mentioned previously, Sonos speakers can be configured to output 5.1 surround sound, but the company’s products are not currently equipped to deliver Dolby Atmos. Still, this is one of the easiest surround sound systems to set up. You just open up the Sonos app, say you want to add a surround speaker, and start hitting the Next button while it sets everything up for you. It takes less than 10 minutes, as does setting up almost any Sonos product.
If you don’t have a table on each side of your couch to set these speakers on, Sonos sells Sanus Speaker Stands for $100 and Wall Mounts for $60. I have not tested these, but I don’t see any red flags.
Don’t Buy Play:1 for Surround Unless… If you can find significantly cheaper Play:1 speakers used or on sale, those will work perfectly fine. They don’t have Alexa (no microphones), but you don’t really need a voice assistant in a surround system. Sonos sells a surround sound package with two Play:1s, a Playbar, and Sub (Sonos/Amazon). But again, don’t buy them unless they are significantly cheaper than the Sonos Ones, or you already own an Amazon Echo. Eventually, you may want voice assistant functionality, so it’s best to buy the newer product.
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