Sonos are deservedly a premium brand within the wireless speaker domain. The Sonos PLAY:1 speaker is their cheapest entry yet at £169, or you can opt for 2 speakers, like us, for £338 with the ‘starter pack’. As our current 'go to' musical sound players at the studio they’ve been delivering a near constant stream of festive favourites - all in order for us to decide whether one or two PLAY:1 speakers are necessary and just how worthy the speaker itself is.
When taking photos of this speaker to accompany our review it was challenging to actually show how compact and small it is - so we had to resort to holding it in our hands to show the 16cm x 12cm perspective. This is great though, as it means we can tuck it away on a shelf, a table or on the floor, etc., and the 1.85kg weight, dispersed on a unibody rubber footing, keeps the speaker grounded throughout the thumping bass movement. Granted that we prefer to keep the top of the speakers exposed allowing easy reach and use of the useful volume and playback controls (skip, play & pause are all integrated). Due to this petiteness we found ourselves moving these Sonos speakers from room to room without any challenge or undue concern. Of course, the minimal subtle design of an all encompassing wrap around (almost undetectable due to the silky curving) rectangular speaker grill in either the black or white colour options will blend into a diverse taste of room choice environments.
Setup & Software
The first speaker was a breeze to setup using the App on an iPhone, the second one bumped into a few networking issues that we’re still puzzled about. Nevertheless the App recognised this and prompted an alternative method of setup by conjoining the speaker to our router via ethernet. After doing this, both speakers were ready for the wireless world - in the end an extremely helpful and user friendly approach to setting up! A highlight App feature was Trueplay. The objective of which is to tune the speaker for the room it’s within by waving a smartphone around whilst the speaker(s) pulses loudly. After a painless minute or so of measuring how the sound waves interact with your room the process is finished. Upon listening to music with it enabled and disabled in a kitchen, office and living room, we noticed a significant difference in projection of sound when Trueplay was setup properly.
Although the weakest link is the software, it’s usable and mostly consistent across Android, iOS, Mac OS X and Windows in functionality. But we’re all unanimous in not liking the interface; it’s clumsy and visually unattractive to use. For a company able to sculpt such cleanly designed speakers, we’re not sure who gives the nod of approval for the software. Conversely the positive beauty of the software is its instantaneous synchronisation across many people's devices within a household or studio team, allowing for volume adjustment, the control of music playback and selecting new tracks from a plethora of services that integrated respectably well - such as Spotify (unfortunately you have to be a Premium member), internet radio, iTunes library, Google Play, Pandora, Deezer, Soundcloud and many others.
The Sonos PLAY:1 is a little box with an enormously rich sound that isn't flawed by that diminutive size. A lone speaker will pack rooms with sound presented through an unexpected attack of raw confident projection across all genres of music. Volume obediently retains solid definition at low or high level. Unfortunately, because we have two PLAY:1 speakers, we know music lovers will be sacrificing definition when listening to their favourite tracks with a lone speaker, although the fact is that it remains a respectable wide-range speaker. However, pop two in alignment within a room and your hearing senses are indulged by a spacious stereo soundstage. Upon hitting play on ‘Norwegian Wood’ from The Beatles we were thrown into a rendition that challenged speakers of 10-15 times their size at our studio, with bouncing guitar sections that don’t just sound like they’re coming from each speaker but truly fill the space surrounding them. This means we would absolutely recommend the starter pack as the ultimate setup for immersive music listening.
Vocal pronunciation with these speakers is glistering in immaculate detail and expression. ‘If I Didn't Have You’ by Randy Newman is a song which utilises his strong voice, accompanied by only a piano, and is a marvellous example of how, if we close our eyes, we could easily be tricked into thinking he was actually in the room with us. Very interestingly we noted detail within the track that’s not anywhere near as noticeably present on the more expensive Libratone Live or Zipp Wi-Fi based speakers. Such as his breathing, movement of lips and tapping of piano keys.
Mika’s ‘Lollipop’ is a big pop production that includes warm high vocals merging with deeper instrumentals. The high vocals were flamboyantly clean and transparent amongst the constant and also noteworthily resonant bass guitar and drums. The piano, guitarists, clapping and clicking of fingers are all mapped within a landscape surrounding our ears, and are good encompassing examples of what could stress out mid-range performance, but it becomes an escalated sense within the Sonos PLAY:1’s attributes and in so-doing trumps the £499 Audyessy Wireless Speakers. Of course, we can adjust bass, treble and stereo balance ourselves, but the speakers judgement is brilliant. And this very ambidextrous nature of 'it just sounds great out of the box’ is what we love about Sonos - made even better with Trueplay.
Lastly ‘Hedwig’s Theme’, composed by John Williams for the Harry Potter movie franchise, was something we accidentally played on shuffle one day, and it showed exactly the potential these speakers have when integrated into a larger Sonos home cinema setup. With the volume up, the bass heavy sections were deployed at such incredible depth they mimicked the piercing sensation through your heart that live concerts reward.
Sonos have engineered a little box with an enormously rich room-filling sound, and a wireless ecosystem that doesn't stutter or fail to compare on a like for like basis with any home wired interface. Very importantly, the PLAY:1 holds an easier to digest price tag of £169 for a single speaker. Don’t forget though, that one speaker is excellent, but two’s a party!