REVIEW: Sonos SUB and Surround Sound

REVIEW: Sonos SUB and Surround Sound

Cranking it up to 11

Check out our PLAYBAR Review

Enjoying this review of the Sonos SUB and surround sound? Check out our complementary review of the Sonos PLAYBAR.

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).

Specs:

  • 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!

A Full Sonos Surround Setup

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).

Unboxing the Sonos SUB

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 up the SUB and Surround Rears

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.

Additional Notes

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.

Affordability

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.

Conclusion

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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Author

Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).

45 comments

  • Thanks for the review Eric.
    It was just the excuse/confirmation I needed to add the sub and surrounds to my playbar. Absolutely awesome, watched Jurassic Park and had not been so terrified by it since I saw it at the cinema at 6yrs old.
    One question for you though, were your comments based on getting true 5.1 Dolby Digital from it, the default stereo or both?
    If you did achieve the full 5.1 surround, what method did you use?
    I cannot help but think I’m still not getting the full experience from my system due to this fact. Unfortunately not quite tech savvy enough yet to figure out this hdmi switch everyone’s suggested. I wish so much that sonos would provide a solution to this issue.

    Reply
    • Awesome, Beth! I’m a fellow Jurassic fan myself 🙂 This review covers the full 5.1 setup with a PLAYBAR, SUB, and two PLAY:1s, which is just astoundingly awesome. Depending on the source you’re using, you just need to make sure whatever is connected to your PLAYBAR is sending a 5.1 signal, which your speakers will then handle appropriately. In my instance, I just Googled “xbox one output 5.1 over optical,” which led me to the appropriate instructions.

      Hope that helps, and hope you enjoy your truly incredible Sonos setup!

      Reply
  • eric,
    I have the player and lets say the last few months have been nothing short of amazing. i have extra money to buy the sun right now. However, I’m not sure if i should use the money for that or just get 2 play 1s. What do you think is the best short term move? I will obviously get play 1s later down the road.

    Reply
    • Nate,

      I just set the system up with playbar, sub and two play ones. All i can say is WOW! WOW!! You cant imagine what the full system does. Nuances you cannot believe. My friends and I were amazed and you will be too. You will have a smile from ear to ear.

      That said i first set up the system as playbar and sub. Then i added the play ones. I think you should add the sub first. It really enriches the sound to a degree that is beyond belief. The sound is full and engaging, rich and complete. You will not be disappointed. Once you add the playones the sound everywhere.

      Reply
    • I agree with Jeff below… That sub is absolutely insane, and it carries the weight of the low end so the PLAYBAR can handle only the mid and high end (which it excels at). Full surround is awesome of course, but if you have to choose only one upgrade right now, you’ll enjoy the SUB more, and with more content.

      Reply
    • To my ears, quite a bit better. Bose stuff is okay, but when you hear them next to some other products like Sonos, they’re normally not worth the extra money. Not a lot of innovation in their products in the last 10 years or so either.

      Reply
  • Hey Eric,

    I was wondering whether this 5.1 Sonos setup would work in a larger audience? Let’s say 50 people? Would it deliver the same quality of sound for a smaller screening? (50-100 people)
    I am doing a research report for my university and I am not to familiar with surround sound etc.

    Any help would be very much appreciated!

    Reply
    • Jonathan – This system is definitely designed for a home theater environment, and you’d have to have a heck of a home theater room to fit 50-100 people. I think the sweet spot is in a good sized bonus room with 8-10 people max. We’re using ours in our 16x22ft room upstairs, and it’s amazing there.

      Reply
    • Nope! Works just fine without it, except maybe if you have a very old wireless router that isn’t up to snuff.

      Reply
  • would it be too crazy to get the sound bar, 4 play 5’s and the sub. i now it would he expensive, but would the sound be that much better.

    Reply
    • For starters, I believe their surround setup would only support 2 PLAY:5s as rear channels. Those would sound excellent, I’m sure, but they’re probably overkill. I’m still consistently shocked by how amazing the PLAY:1s sound as rear channels!

      Reply
  • First off, your review is outstanding Eric. I have been a SONOS fan for about 5 years now and I’ve got easily a half dozen speakers, CONNECTS and AMPs throughout our house (even a Play 3 in our Master Bathroom – LOL). Because we are installing hardwoods in our family room in the coming months, I am going to lose my ability to run speaker wires around the perimeter of the room (as well as the cable for my 10″ sub in the corner). Naturally, the Playbar, Sub and two Play 1’s will be the perfect solution for this 22′ x 12′ room. My question is this. Will the Playbar and the two Play 1’s (used as surrounds) also perform as normal SONOS speakers when I just want to listen to music? I know it’s a rather basic question but I just wanted confirm this with someone who already has the system in place. Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  • Last night I had the chance to install the Playbar and it sounds absolutely amazing compared to the factory speakers on my 52” SONY Bravia. I know Sonos makes quality speakers but the Playbar speaker takes things to another level. The quality and build of this speaker is absolutely amazing. I am kicking myself for not buying the Playbar sooner. I installed mine on the wall beneath my TV using the wall mount kit (that is sold separately and VERY reasonably priced). The template that comes with the mount is excellent and it makes hanging the mount and Playbar on your wall a piece of cake. Bottom line…it sounds and it looks amazing. I was extremely pleased with the set up process and all of the features of the Playbar (EQ to adjust bass/treble, etc.). I also love the fact that you can switch the Playbar to play listen to music like other Sonos speakers by just the touch of a button on your controller. I tweaked the bass and treble last night and the TV and the music sounds surprisingly rich – even without the Sub added to the system. I’ve been a customer of Crutchfield for 18 years now and I’ve purchased all of my Sonos products through them. Their customer service and shipping times were EXCELLENT as always. Where else can you order A/V gear with free shipping, get reward points for it and have it arrive the very next day????? Kudos to Sonos for designing an amazing product and kudos to Crutchfield for carrying everything that they sell. The Sub and the Play 1’s are next and I will be sure to post when I get them installed and functioning as a surround system.

    Reply
    • Awesome! I’m telling you, you haven’t heard anything until you add that SUB into the mix. It frees up the PLAYBAR to be even more awesome at what it’s best at, and just adds an extra dimension to the sound that’s hard to quantify. It’ll blow your mind 🙂

      Reply
  • Eric,

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been looking at the Playbar and Sub since before they were released. The only reason I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, is because I keep running into the same issue with expensive soundbars that only use Optical outputs.

    The dreaded center channel dialogue to explosion noise imbalance. I had a pioneer system prior to my current bose cinemate system, and I CONSTANTLY have to keep my hand on the remote because one minute I wont be able to hear what’s being said, and the next, the explosion are blowing our ears out.

    My television does indeed send dolby through the optical out, but I haven’t had any luck with this.

    Do you find yourself adjusting the sound? Or do you have the ability to control (manually, not digitally) each channel to allow you to get properly balanced sound that isn’t too overwhelming on action scenes and perfect for dialogue?

    Thank you.

    Joe

    Reply
    • Great question, Joe. We’ve watched several intense action movies with it, and that’s never a problem I’ve run into. It actually separates the audio into different channels instead of just blasting it universally at full volume. I think you’re safe.

      Also, it has an incredible night viewing mode that automatically normalizes the sound for exactly that reason; it cranks it up when characters are whispering, and mutes it somewhat when an explosion or another loud noise pops up. It’s unreal.

      Let me know if you make the jump! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

      Reply
  • hi we have Sonos Sub hooked up to our TV and speakers that we have in the cieling. It skips during movies, tv but never with music. ANy suggestions on how to fix this?

    Reply
  • First of all, thank you for your detailed review. I just ordered bar and sub. I’ll add 2 speakers, I would ask you which one should I grab. My room is large. Is there much difference between 1 and 3? What do you think about 5 ? I know they cost me a lot of money but that’s not the point. The point if i can really feel the difference …

    Reply
    • The PLAY:1s are surprisingly great as satellites… the other models would probably be overkill, unless you REALLY want to crank the volume and feel the bass.

      Reply
  • I bought a Play: 1 a few years ago and I have been completely obsessed with Sonos ever since. With Black Friday in a few days, I’m hoping to at least get the Sub and Playbar for now. Then I can move the Play:1 in my bedroom or the dining room, if needed. How does the Playbar and Sub perform when just streaming music? Can you compare a Playbar to a Play: 5 when playing music?

    My living room is roughly 12′ x 8′ (L x W) and the Play: 1 is more than capable of filling it with crisp highs and solid mids. Of course, if feasible, I may just get another Play 1 and go for the full 5.1. I have an Xbox One and a Samsung 55″ 4K LED, so in order to get true 5.1, should I run the optical cable via the Xbox? I can see how someone can get easily addicted, it is so scaleable and configurable. I could just steal a rear channel if I want to jam in my room one night.

    Reply
    • Without the SUB, I feel like the PLAYBAR is a little flat compared to the PLAY:5; add the SUB in, and it’s no contest.

      Yeah, run the optical from the Xbox… that’s what we do. There’s a few settings to configure, but the 5.1 is AMAZING once you get it going.

      Reply
  • Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the great review. I have a home theater receiver and (I believe) it has optical audio output. Since I am already running the TV and other components through the receiver, can the PLAYBAR accept an optical audio input from a receiver? I don’t want to have to change my receiver/components to add the PLAYBAR. Let me know if this makes sense.

    Thanks

    Reply
  • I was wondering where do you think the Sub is best positioned in the room? Should it be in a front corner or a back corner or just near the entertainment cabinet and tv which is closer to the middle of the room?

    Reply
    • The sub isn’t really directional, so placement shouldn’t matter too much as long as it’s reasonably nearby in the same room. We have ours about 6 feet to the left of the soundbar against the wall. I’ve heard of others placing theirs beneath a couch even.

      Reply
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      Reply
  • Hi…I have 2 x Play1’s and a SUB for listening to music only (awesome sound).
    Thinking of adding a Playbar at the opposite end of the room to give a surround sound feel.
    Do you think this would embellish the performance just for listening to music, or do you think it could possibly diminish the great sound I have at the moment?

    Reply
  • Hi Eric. I m planning to enter in to world of sonos. Wt you recommend to get best surround sound experience. Either soundbase with sub or play at with sub. I heard that new playbase have woofer in it so if you add two play 1 with sound base. You get great sound like full set up. Please reply asap. My TV is wall mounted.

    Reply
    • From what I’ve seen, the PLAYBASE sounds pretty similar to the PLAYBAR, expect for a tiny bit more base. I’m still VERY satisfied with our surround setup with the PLAYBAR, SUB, and two PLAY:1s.

      Reply
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  • Great breakdown of everything. Is there a major difference in the play 1 speakers to play 3s? I know they cost more so should be better sound but is it worth it to upgrade to play 3s? I currently have the bose cinamate 15 AND want to get the whole Sonos around system so just need to decide on rear speakers.

    Reply
    • I think the Play 1s are more than sufficient, especially given the wide price gulf. The 3s are twice as much, and only sound about 20% better in my estimation.

      Reply
  • Hi Eric. Thank you for the all the comprehensive information. I am now almost certain I will buy the Sonos bar sub and play 1 speakers. Just need the following question answered if you can. Yes it only plays D/D 5.1 and I am ok with that. but if I play a DTS disc will will the sound be reproduced in stereo or 5.1 D/D as I know this is an issue with some other sound bars on the market and the only way DTS can be played is by changing configurations and settings on the player each time.

    Reply
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