Still king of the hill.
Disclaimer: The folks at Sonos provided a PLAY:5 for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’re aware of my untamed affection for Sonos products; I used a great pair of speakers with an (awful) AirPlay audio set up for years, but I was instantly converted to Sonos after being wowed by their original PLAY:5. In the year since, I’ve pretty much decked out our entire house with Sonos speakers, including their PLAY:1, PLAY:3, a few more PLAY:5s, and even Sonos-powered surround sound with their PLAYBAR and their ridiculous SUB.
All of that to say, when I read the news this Fall that Sonos was revamping their flagship PLAY:5 speaker, I found it hard to believe that there was much to improve on; after testing it for the last month, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that Sonos isn’t content with having the best speakers on the market… It’s obvious that they want to be the best by a mile.
What Does It Claim to Do?
The new PLAY:5 is Sonos’s flagship speaker, which connects to your home or office Wifi to stream audio from pretty much every major audio provider. It claims class-leading audio quality with the rock-solid audio syncing that made Sonos famous.
- Six Class-D Digital Amplifiers
- 3.5mm Audio Line-in
- Three Tweeters
- Three Mid-Woofers
- Supports WiFi/Ethernet
- Pairs with Other Sonos Speakers
- 8.03 x 14.33 x 6.06 (in)
- 14 lbs
With competitors pressing in from every side, the marketplace for wireless Hi-Fi looks a lot different than even a year ago… Does the new PLAY:5 allow Sonos to maintain the crown they’ve worn for so long? Let’s get to it.
Look and Feel
The previous PLAY:5 was no slouch, with its clean lines and a minimalist design that blends in without drawing unnecessary attention. The new PLAY:5 seems to mark the start of a new design direction for Sonos, with a fresh aesthetic that almost borrows from more organic shapes. I have the white model, and I love the splash of bold that it adds to a shelf. It’s far from ostentatious, but it is a pleasant addition to any room that you won’t have to hide away.
Also, the new PLAY:5 is heavy; whatever new audio components they added to it, it nearly doubles the weight of the old model (which is, oddly, almost always good news for audio quality). The buttons on top are now capacitive (gaining some new tricks we’ll cover in just a minute), though you’ll spend most of your time controlling the speaker through the ever-improving Sonos app.
Performance and User Experience
Before we get to the sound quality, let’s talk about the setup. You simply plug the speaker in, wait for a few indicator lights, and follow the instructions in the app to connect the speaker to your wireless network. The whole process takes about three minutes if you’re starting from scratch, and less than that if you’re adding it to your existing Sonos family.
This is my 9th(!) Sonos speaker I’ve set up, and the process is as simple as ever. A pleasant suprise this time around was the addition of Sonos’ optional Trueplay room tuning, which is just stupid cool. Essentially, Trueplay packs a lot of advanced audio tuning into an unbelievably simple process that’s as far as you can get from adjusting a bunch of sliders that you don’t understand.
All that’s involved walking around a room swinging your iPhone around like a crazy person for 60 seconds while your speaker makes lazer gun sounds; The Sonos app uses your iPhone’s microphone to create a sonic map of the room, and will then tweak the EQ accordingly to compensate for the pros and cons of your space. In practice, I couldn’t tell a huge difference (it seemed to think my room was well-suited to the speaker), but I could see the utility of a feature like this if you have a weirdly shaped room or maybe high ceilings.
After that, it’s simply a matter of adding your favorite music services to the Sonos app (if you haven’t already), and you’re ready to invite the PLAY:5 into your family.
Every time I review a speaker, I find it difficult to articulate what makes a speaker sound good or bad. It’s especially hard to compare the new PLAY:5 to the old one, which already sounds fantastic.
Here’s what I think is the best way to describe it… Imagine listening to your favorite songs on on the previous PLAY:5, or maybe another great audio system in your house. Now imagine that you discover that those speakers had a layer of foam over them that you never knew about, and you take it off for the first time; all of your favorite albums now have a new level of clarity and nuance that hasn’t been there before, with a max volume that could get you arrested. That’s what it’s like to listen to the new PLAY:5… It’s just a beast.
- Father John Misty – Nancy From Now On
- Big Black Delta – Side of the Road
- Jack White – High Ball Stepper
- Radiohead – Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
- Tame Impala – Be Above It
I worked my way through the same playlist I used when reviewing the previous PLAY:5, and everything just sounds better… sometimes subtly, sometimes astoundingly. Not only are the highs sharper and more precise, but this thing has more low end response than any single-speaker system I’ve ever tested. You might be tempted to add the Sonos SUB to a HiFi set up with a stereo pair of the new PLAY:5s, but I can’t imagine needing it; I’m already worried that my fillings might shake lose.
All of that said, this is easily the best sounding all-in-one speaker I’ve ever used (bested only by my full Sonos 5.1 setup upstairs). They’ve somehow taken something fantastic, and made it amazing.
All Sonos speakers have the ability to magically sync with each other to provide seamless music playback throughout the house, and even join forces with another PLAY:5 to form a stereo pair. If you’ve read my other Sonos reviews, you now how enamored I am with Sonos’ flawless wireless sync setup; it’s absolutely the best in the business.
Like the previous generation, the new PLAY:5 also includes a 3.5mm line-in for another audio device. If you’re feeling adventurous, that means you could conceivably hook your PLAY:5 up to an Airport Express to hack in some AirPlay functionality and give you the ultimate wireless speaker.
Although you’ll spend most of your time controlling the speaker with the companion app, the new PLAY:5 does include some revamped capacitive buttons on the top (or side, depending on its orientation) that add some neat tricks to the device. Simply tap to pause, touch on the left or right pads to change volume, or swipe across the buttons entirely to change tracks. I don’t use the feature much, but it’s nice to have when one of the kids commandeers an iPhone.
Integration with Other Platforms
Unless you’re putting that line-in to good use, you’re restricted to the Sonos App/Sonos Controller software for audio playback. The good news is that 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, Apple Music, Google Now Music, Amazon, and much more. There are a few notable omissions, 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.
Build Quality and Reliability
It’s what you’d expect from a Sonos product… the speaker has that premium, Apple-quality build that seems like it came from a craftsman’s garage instead of an industrial assembly line.
One of the biggest selling point of a Sonos speaker will always be their legendary reliability… I just can’t stress how amazing they are in this regard. Music never drops out, the syncing is flawless, and it works so well that you take all of that for granted. I’m convinced that there’s not a better way out there to steam music throughout your home.
If there’s one downside for the new PLAY:5, it could be the price. If you’re an audiophile, you know the PLAY:5 is a fantastic deal at $499. However, if you’re a young family, your eyes might roll back in your head when you see it on the shelf next to a dozen $50 bluetooth speakers. It might not be in splurge purchase territory, but I think you would be shocked by how much joy an incredible speaker setup can bring to your family.
I think most will want to start with the PLAY:1 and work your way up the line, but I think you’ll eventually find the PLAY:5 to hard to resist.
The new PLAY:5 is just fantastic. If you’re ready to invest in a speaker system that will become one of your most cherished items, the PLAY:5 will exceed your expectations in every way. Just be warned… you’re going to want one in every room.