This review is about the Sonos Play:5 but it’s a little more than that. I’ve had various bits of Sonos kit running in my home for several years so it’s also about the user experience that comes from being a long-term user of Sonos’ kit. While Sonos gear is priced at the premium end of the market, the quality it delivers in terms of sound quality and usability means any new entrants (this means you Apple with your HomePod) needs to be very good.
The new Play:5 speaker is hefty piece of kit. Extracting it from its moulded foam packaging and then turning it around to remove the plastic covering and to plug the power in requires a bit of muscle. At over 6kg, you’ll want to make sure it’s placed on a strong shelf.
Setup is via the Sonos app (I used the iOS version but it works on Android as well as macOS and Windows) and took about 10 minutes all up including the need to update my Sonos app and the firmware on the new Play:5 and the older one which is still going strong in my lounge room. Basic play/pause, track forward/back and volume controls are available from the iOS lock screen as well as through the app.
One of the neat design features for the Play:5 is that it can be placed on three of its sides so you can put it almost anywhere you like. And, if you’re using it with another Play:5 as part of a stereo pair, you can set them up so they’re mirror images. There are three buttons on one side for play/pause and volume control along with a subtle LED that changes colour or pulses depending on whether it’s playing, paused or in the set up process.. Otherwise the unit is very minimalist
Unlike some older Sonos speakers, there’s no need for a separate controller as the Play:5 (and all the other newer Sonos gear) can work over your wireless network. There’s also an ethernet port if you prefer a wired connection. But there’s no Bluetooth so if a friend pops by and wants to play their tunes, they’ll need to install and setup the Sonos app.
The app lets you stream content from various music services as well music that’s stored locally on your phone, digital radio stations and podcasts. I’ve also connected it to my record player (you need one with a pre-amp) using the 3.5mm input on the back of the Play:5. That makes the Play:5 a very versatile unit for home audio users. And, if you’re using one speaker with an external input via that auxiliary port, it will stream that content seamlessly to other Sonos speakers.
One of the best things about Sonos’ gear as that almost every component is under software control. That means when new features are created, they can be deployed to older units. From a functional point of view, the older Play:5 can do everything the newer model can do. When Sonos releases a new feature or tweaks the audio algorithms, those updates are pushed out to older devices.
This gives the hardware great longevity as they don’t suffer from feature obsolescence when a new model is released.
Inside the Play:5’s body are six separate speakers – three tweeters and three mid-woofers. And that body is completely sealed unlike the older Play:5 which was vented. Each speaker is controlled by its own amplifier through software in the Play:5 that tweaks sound output to optimise it for your specific environment. I played a number of different genres of music through the Play:5 and was never disappointed. Whether those tunes came from Spotify, the music stored on my iPhone, a shared repository of audio on my NAS or from vinyl spinning on my record player, the sound quality was excellent.
My lounge room is 4.5 by 5.6m (just over 25 sq m) and a single Play:5 is more than enough to fill that area with rich sound. For smaller rooms you can look at the Play:3 or Play:1. Alternately, Sonos also have their Playbar and Playbase for home theatres, depending on your needs. Those are also worth considering for lounge rooms as they can handle music as well as movies with aplomb. I listened to a variety of rock, classical, country, jazz and pop tracks and all sounded outstanding.
There are lots of speaker systems, with different connectivity options around that you can choose from. There are great Bluetooth options but when it comes to multi-room systems that offer great sound and are easy to use, Sonos is hard to top.
The Play:5 retails for $749.