Cranking it up to 11
Check out our PLAYBAR Review
Disclaimer: The folks at Sonos provided a SUB for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.
Like any geek worth their salt, I’ve long been an admirer of Tesla Motors’ electric sports car. It’s hard not to lust after a 500hp fully electric car with 713 lb of torque. As if those incredible specs weren’t enough, Tesla made the news earlier this year adding first an “insane mode” with a 0-60 time of 3.1 seconds, followed shortly after by a ludicrous mode with a ridiculous 0-60 of 2.8 seconds. The reaction videos of unknowing passengers are hilarious.
Simply put, the Sonos SUB is your sound system’s “ludicrous mode.” After enjoying the Sonos PLAYBAR in our bonus room, I added in a SUB and two PLAY:1s to see if Sonos’ true 5.1 setup could possibly live up to the hype. Think of this as sort of an add-on review rather than a standalone, as you can use both of these products in a variety of different ways; I’m just focusing on the home theater aspects here, where I think both of these speakers really shine.
What Does It Claim to Do?
The Sonos SUB is an an addition to your existing Sonos setup that claims to add exceptional bass and low frequency response to enhance the speakers you already own. It’ll be of particular interest to Sonos customers looking to add 3.1 or 5.1 cinema sound to their media rooms (when pairing it with the excellent PLAYBAR).
- Fully wireless; connects to your Sonos system with built-in Wifi
- Two force-cancelling speakers facing each other, designed to eliminate cabinet buzz and rattle
- Two Class-D digital amplifiers
- Can be positioned anywhere in a room
- Plays down to 25 Hz
- EQ and other settings easily adjustable through companion app for iOS and Android
You can read up on the PLAY:1 in my separate review here.
Could an “accessory” speaker actually be worth your time and money? Read on to find out!
Look and Feel
I won’t spend too much time in this section, mostly because you’ll probably tuck the SUB away, and I’ve already covered the PLAY:1s in a previous review. In short, the SUB’s gloriously shiny piano black exterior turns a casually-maligned home theater component into a work of art that you’ll probably regret hiding beside a bookcase. It doesn’t have to be out in the open, but you’ll likely want it to be since it looks so cool. It’s a premium design to match the premium sound (and price).
Performance and User Experience
Before we cover the sound quality, lets cover the setup. I’m beginning to feel like a broken record after writing so many Sonos reviews, but the setup process just couldn’t be any easier. This is the first home theater system your mom can set up.
Let’s start with the SUB first. As with other Sonos products, you simply tap the pairing button on the back, open the Sonos app, and follow the simple prompts to add the SUB to your existing Sonos setup. It’ll ask you which Room you want to pair the SUB with (I added it to our bonus room where our PLAYBAR lives in this case), and then play a few tones through the SUB to ask you which sounds louder; this final process seems to tailor the SUBs sound to its location in your room (in the corner, in my testing).
After I added the SUB to our bonus room, I also added two PLAY:1s to serve as rear right and left channels. I expected this process to be a mess for some reason, but again, Sonos has mastered the art of the set up process. Thanks to a simple workflow for setting up each as a rear surround channel, I had both of them added to the system in less than two minutes (and half of that was downloading a software update!).
Setting things up is boring, so lets get to the good stuff… the sound. I’m going to begin with the SUB, because frankly, it’s one of the most deliriously fun items I’ve ever added to our home. It is absolutely, unbelievably awesome.
To kick things off, we watched the asteroid chase scene in Star Wars: Episode II (we’ve been introducing the kids to these to prep for Episode VII this December) beginning with only the PLAYBAR, which already sounds awesome. When I opened the Sonos app to add the SUB to the mix, our jaws instantly hit the floor; it’s a weird sensation, but the moment it’s enabled, there’s about a half-second where the EQ of the PLAYBAR adjusts to carry the mids and highs and the SUB triumphantly takes over the low end. I was expecting the window-rattling buzz of my previous surround sub, but this thing produces nuanced thuds and rumbles that are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced from a home theater. Sonos claims a dual speaker force cancelling design that eliminates cabinet rattle and noisy loudness, and boy does this thing deliver.
Next up, I added the rear left and right PLAY:1s into the mix expecting a modest improvement to the soundscape, but I was wrong again. It’s insane how much those little speakers add to the experience! Again, I’ve heard dozens of home theater setups (I have a bunch of geeky friends), but they all pale in comparison to the clarity that comes from Sonos’ solution. I was expecting ambient noise and the occasional nondescript bullet sound whizzing by my head, but the wizardry packed into each of those PLAY:1s results in something else entirely.
Going back to that same clip from Star Wars, the rear PLAY:1s added engine hums, laser blasts, and a whole level of detail that I never knew existed. I didn’t realize what I was missing from a rear channel until the PLAY:1’s wide soundstage and surprising bass brought my favorite movies to life.
In the weeks since I upgraded our system, I’ve had a chance to put these through the paces through tons of different movies, games, and shows. Jurassic World put me right in the middle of the jungle. The surround effects for Tomb Raider on my Xbox One freaked me out so bad that it changed the way I play the game. I watched Spooky Buddies with my kids and… well, it was still Spooky Buddies (but my 5-yr-old and 2-yr-old seemed impressed). I know the effusive praise sounds like hyperbole, but the clarity of sound that Sonos delivers is simply unparalleled.
I’m focusing on theater audio here, but I have to mention how incredible this setup is for music. Even though my bonus room had more speakers than my living room, the sound quality of my old non-Sonos setup was just abysmal compared to my trusty PLAY:5 in the living room. With the combination of the PLAYBAR and SUB, that is certainly no longer the case; the EQ settings that kick in when the SUB is added to the system make this one of the best stereo rigs I’ve ever heard… It’s just remarkable.
I know I’ve mentioned this a few times now, but I can’t overstate how much the SUB is less of an addition to your system, and more of an upgrade to your entire Sonos family. Whether you pair it with a PLAYBAR, PLAY:5, or another Sonos product, that speaker you love already suddenly sounds twice as amazing since it can offload all of the bass handling to the ridiculous SUB. For that reason, you almost have to consider the SUB as a full-range upgrade, not just a way to add some low end response.
I want to mention one final thing here in respect to the surround sound setup. A few weeks ago, I mentioned how much we enjoy the “night mode” in our PLAYBAR; we have two young kids, and it’s great not waking them up every time we watch LOST. Sonos carries this ease-of-use into their surround solution, making it a cinch to disable the SUB and rear channels with a few taps in their app. If you have an existing surround setup, you know how much of a hassle that can be with other systems.
Integration with Other Platforms
The SUB is the unique in the Sonos lineup in that it’s not a standalone product; its sole purpose is to integrate with your current Sonos system and make it even more awesome.
Since I’m reviewing it with our PLAYBAR in our bonus room, remember that the PLAYBAR will work with any product that can output audio through an optical cable. It’s important to mention that it only supports Dolby Digital 5.1 for surround sound – not DTS or some of the other audiophile standards. If your TV or device only outputs optical audio in stereo, then stereo is all you’ll get from your PLAYBAR-centric media room..
Musically, you’re restricted to the Sonos App/Sonos Controller software for audio playback, but the folks at Sonos have cultivated partnerships with just about every music provider you could ask for directly within their software. They support all of the streaming heavyweights such as Spotify, Rdio, Google Now Music, Amazon, and much more. There are a few notable omissions (Apple Music still isn’t supported at the time of this review), but it looks like they’re the result of the closed nature of those platforms.
Additionally, Sonos can connect to local music archives on your computers or a network accessible storage device with support for every popular audio format.
The SUB is an awesome addition to pretty much any other speaker in the Sonos ecosystem.
Build Quality and Reliability
The SUB may be a little different in its design, but it’s obviously crafted with the care you’d expect from a Sonos product. The glossy black finish is without defect, and the unit itself is precision constructed without even the hint of a creak or rattle in any of its components. It would be fascinating to watch one of these going down the assembly line.
As always, the most important thing to cover in section of the review is the rock-solid reliability that Sonos is legendary for… the SUB performs just as well as the rest of their speakers. With or without the (now optional) Sonos Bridge accessory, it has been impossible for me to make these speakers skip a beat. That’s even more impressive considering the fact that I’m testing them in a home with 25+ WiFi devices that frequently brought my old AirPlay set up to its knees. I’m not sure of all of the magic that Sonos has going on behind the scenes, but it absolutely works without a hitch.
Sonos is the wireless audio system you want for your home… Trust me; I’ve tried them all.
All of the breathless praise you’ve read above does come with one large asterisk… The SUB is expensive, there’s no way around it. At $699 for the SUB alone, it falls firmly in the splurge purchase, “treat yo-self” category. I would normally view this as a pretty sizable negative, but the SUB has a way of making a case for itself.
I’ve mentioned in other reviews that Sonos can become an addiction… I was perfectly happy with my PLAY:5 only a year ago, and now I find myself owning practically their entire product lineup. If you have a media room, the SUB is an investment in your family’s downtime; your house becomes the go-to place to watch the big game, check out the latest Blu-Rays, and play some Halo with the guys.
And if you’re going to add a SUB, you might as well double down on a couple of PLAY:1s to complete the experience. Yes, it’s expensive (around $1800 for the whole surround setup), but the price is comparable to a higher-end surround system, and you’re also getting a Hi-Fi stereo, another Sonos wireless zone in your house, and a minimalistic media room with no wires to run or hide. You can also move those components around the house for parties or other music zones if you don’t use your media room too often; the Sonos system is extremely flexible.
The hard-to-swallow price aside, I simply cannot be more happy with our Sonos surround sound system. It brings a true theater experience to our bonus room, and I find myself smiling like an idiot when I watch my favorite movies with our little family. If you’re already a Sonos convert, the SUB is the kind of wishlist item that’s worth splurging on.
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