Is Sonos sound quality good
The best multiroom system
The classic hi-fi tower with a pair of stereo speakers is not only obsolete because hardly anyone can play music from turntables, cassette decks or CD players these days.
In times when you carry a large part of your music library with you on your smartphone or stream your favorite music directly from the Internet, you want to bring your sound wirelessly to the speakers - ideally in every room, large and small Mobile boxes, synchronized for the whole house or separately for each room.
Such flexibility is promised by so-called multiroom solutions, which are currently by far the most popular segment in the hi-fi market.
Listen to more music
In fact, it is a completely different musical experience whether music is only playing in one room or in every room in the entire apartment. Amazingly, the music seems less intrusive when it is played everywhere. Experience shows: With a multiroom system you can hear more music - which is certainly also due to the fact that it is much easier with it: Simply start a playlist on your smartphone and music will be played from the selected speakers. That's just wonderful.
But of course you don't have to equip the whole house with new speakers. All multiroom systems also work as individual solutions with just one loudspeaker. Compared to other WLAN or Bluetooth speakers, the systems have the advantage that additional speakers can be added if necessary. In this way, the system can grow with your own requirements.
The acquisition of a multiroom system is therefore a long-term investment that should be carefully considered.
Technology in transition
The decision in favor of a multiroom system is difficult because the technology is still relatively new and constantly changing. Recently, Bluetooth aptX has started to overtake WLAN transmission. Manufacturers such as Harman and Yamaha, on the other hand, use HD sound that outshines even the good old CD in terms of sound quality - provided you have a good hearing. The last word as to which technology will ultimately prevail for wireless music transmission is far from being spoken.
It is still completely open which standards will prevail
But music usage itself is also currently changing radically. Just a few years ago, people were ripping their CDs and downloading songs en masse from file sharing networks or buying individual tracks or albums on iTunes. In the meantime, the subscription model for music streaming services has largely established itself.
But here, too, it is completely unclear how the market will develop. After Spotify had undisputedly dominated the streaming market for a long time, there are now strong competitors with Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Deezer and YouTube Music who are preparing to overtake the Swedish top dog. For example, Apple Music has already left Spotify behind in the USA.
Every manufacturer of wireless loudspeakers reacts differently to these rapid changes - the systems are correspondingly different.
That's how we tested
We have been testing all the important new releases in the multiroom loudspeaker market for a number of years. We hear all loudspeakers extensively rehearsed in several test sessions. A wide variety of music genres are always used in order to be able to assess the entire sound spectrum of the loudspeakers.
In addition to the sound of the individual speakers and the simplicity of the setup, what matters most to us is how good the operation is in a setup with several rooms. Do you absolutely need the manufacturer's app to play your own music or via streaming services, or is AirPlay and GoogleCast also possible? Every manufacturer cooks its own soup here and it is anything but easy to keep track of things. We'll try anyway.
Another important criterion in the test is the range of different speakers and the compatibility of newer and older speakers in a series - because here, too, the devil is in the detail.
Test winner: Sonos
In contrast to the other test candidates, Sonos relied on proprietary wireless technology right from the start: While WLAN normally spreads centrally from the router, each Sonos component worked as an independent WLAN repeater that forwards the signal to the next device.
This is a great advantage if the in-house WLAN does not reach all rooms well. With the Sonos system, we were able to play music without any problems even in rooms where music was no longer possible with normal WiFi. For this to work, however, a loudspeaker must be connected to the router via a network cable with Sonos. Or you can use the Sonos Bridge.
Sonos opens up new transmission channels
The disadvantage of the proprietary wireless technology solution from Sonos was that it required the use of the Sonos app. For example, you couldn't just play music from Apple's Music app on your iPhone through Sonos. That changed with the introduction of Apple's audio transmission technology AirPlay 2, which is now also supported by Sonos.
But Sonos is not only ahead when it comes to operation, the American speakers are also at the forefront in terms of sound. One reason for this is a clever function that Sonos calls Trueplay: With the help of an iPhone or iPad, you can measure the Sonos boxes for the room. In addition, the boxes play test sounds while you walk through the room with the iPhone and measure the room acoustics. With the data collected through this process, the Sonos loudspeakers are individually adapted to the room acoustics. The change through the measurement is subtle but audible.
Sound advantage through measurement: Trueplay is the greatest innovation in a long time
High-end hi-fi systems have long relied on measuring the loudspeakers in the room, but required a standardized microphone that was included in the delivery, which made things correspondingly expensive. Sonos does this at no additional cost by simply taking advantage of the widespread use of Apple devices and thus delivers one of the greatest innovations of recent times. Unfortunately, Android smartphones are not supported: there are simply too many different models with too many different microphones for the system to be reliably calibrated.
After the appropriate software update, calibration via TruePlay now works with all Sonos speakers, and most recently with the Playbar as well.
By the way, almost all Sonos speakers can be combined as stereo speaker pairs. This not only applies to the Play: 1 and Play: 3 but also to the large Play: 5, only the soundbar and the soundbase are an exception.
With Amazon's Echo or Echo Dot, all previous Sonos speakers can be controlled via Alexa. The Sonos One comes with an integrated microphone and takes over the functionality of Echo and Echo Dot. But that's not all: Sonos has been expanded to include another smart control option: Google Assistant. As the first provider to offer multiple voice assistants within one sound system, Sonos demonstrates the advantages of an open, partnership-based platform that focuses on the greatest possible flexibility for the user.
With the Google Assistant you can play songs, start TV programs, call up the weather forecast and control the smart home via the Sonos One, the Sonos Beam or a connected Google Home product. A voice assistant can be selected for each individual speaker, so that several voice assistants work side by side in one system. Sonos not only supports music and TV sound, but also the most important functions of the Google Assistant, including Continued Conversation and the hailer function. Additional functions and actions should be available through constant new updates and continuously improve the experience with Google Assistant on Sonos.
So Sonos has recognized the signs of the times and opens its system in all directions. That is a good thing, and right, because the closed system may have offered superior transmission quality at the beginning, but it was also a dead end from which the Americans now have to swim free. We are curious to see how well it will work.
Overall, the speakers from Bose and Harman are slightly ahead of Sonos in an individual comparison - with the exception of the new Sonos Play: 5: When it plays alone, the Play: 5 is the best of all the speakers we've heard.
Sonos Play: 5
Even without room correction, the Play: 5 not only plays its predecessor but also all of the other test candidates on the wall. It looks much livelier, broader and more differentiated. The dynamics and the bass quality are surprising for the moderate dimensions of the loudspeaker. Its closed construction, in conjunction with the active technology, enables a deeper, drier bass than with conventional passive hi-fi speakers with bass reflex tuning.
However, Sonos only really shows its strengths in interaction. If you pair two Sonos One boxes from Sonos with the in-house subwoofer, neither Bose's SoundTouch 10 nor the SoundTouch 30 can keep up with the sound, which is otherwise way ahead for us in terms of sound.
Sonos Sub Wireless
This also applies to the Play: 5 and the Playbar soundbar for home cinema or the Playbar in combination with two Play: 1s and the subwoofer. Combined in this way, the sound spectrum becomes even more dynamic, spatial and broadband - and Sonos pulls the competition up and away.
Read more about the Sonos Beam and the Sonos Playbar in our soundbar review.
The first wireless loudspeaker from Sonos that can also be played via Bluetooth is the Sonos Move. In contrast to the previous Sonos boxes, it was designed for mobility and accordingly has a built-in battery. A ring connected to the power supply unit with two contacts on the back serves as the charging dock of the Sonos Move. This allows the integrated battery of the Move to be charged in order to guarantee up to 10 hours of operating time when fully charged.
Protected against dust and water jets, the Sonos Move can be safely taken into the bathroom or garden. The entire lower area is protected against moisture, dirt and bumps by a rubber-like surface.
However, it is not a real mobile loudspeaker in the usual sense. This is due to the weight of 3 kilograms and the large dimensions of 16 x 24 x 12.5 centimeters. This is not a loudspeaker that you just take with you into the outdoor pool. It is more intended to be placed in the garden or on the terrace on mild summer evenings.
The Sonos Move sounds extremely full and can easily achieve high monitoring levels even in a larger living room. The closed 2-way construction with an idiosyncratic wave guide in front of the dome tweeter for wide sound radiation is great fun. This is not only due to the natural, undistorted voice reproduction, but also to the jumping dynamics. The clarity of the highs is also convincing. Here Sonos proves a sure hand.
In terms of the boogie factor, the Move is pretty much the best speaker in the range. With the dynamic loudness control activated as standard with Sonos, its bass looks quite lush - especially in the upper bass. And it's anything but dry, especially when the Move is close to the wall. But the very successful timing of the powerful bass impulses provided a certain charm, which is also expressed in rock, pop and electronic beats.
Some people may wish that they could play their songs from their smartphone or tablet directly with the Sonos Controller App. But that was completely stripped for Bluetooth playback because Sonos relies on streaming via AirPlay 2 directly from the respective apps. However, music streaming services such as Spotify or Amazon Music can be linked to the controller. This also applies to the voice assistants Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, for which a far-field microphone array is provided in the Sonos Move.
The service is good once you get used to it. The marking on the touch field on the top is not ideal, especially since it is possible to jump to a title by swiping gestures. Switching between Bluetooth and WLAN is done like deactivation on the back, which is also not quite optimal. But the bottom line is that Sonos has succeeded in creating a versatile, powerful loudspeaker for a very reasonable price with the Move. As a mobile loudspeaker for the home, it is, so to speak, the egg-laying woolly milk-pig in the American range.
The Sonos One is the successor to the now discontinued Play: 1, in which a woman has moved in - and none other than Alexa, the human voice from Amazon. This makes the new edition of the bestseller an echo killer, because the Sonos One not only sounds worlds better than the innovative Amazon loudspeaker, it also integrates the helpful digital assistant into the tried and tested ecosystem of Sonos. Although you should actually be able to control the Sonos speakers via Amazon's Echo or Echo Dot, that didn't work for us in the test. Control via the Sonos One, on the other hand, was no problem. The Sonos One thus offers optimal operation even without the Sonos app via Alexa voice control.
The sound of the speaker came as no surprise as it sounds like the Play: One. In my opinion, Sonos has only tweaked a little bit of fine-tuning and transparency, in a positive way.
As the owner of a new iPhone 8, I was unfortunately denied access to the ingenious TruePlay automatic calibration from Sonos. Sonos uses a profile of the integrated microphone for its measurement and has not yet integrated the profile of the iPhone 8. According to Sonos, this should be delivered soon.
The voice control via Alexa worked well, even from a distance. The microphone can also be switched off completely in order to preserve your privacy, at least with regard to overhearing conversations. Setting up Alexa requires a real password entry orgy and, depending on your personal setting, causes stomach ache with regard to data protection.
Until now, you had to rely largely on the Sonos app to play music. Although it has long been possible to address the Sonos loudspeakers directly from the Spotify app, anyone who wanted to bring music from YouTube or another app to the speakers was unlucky so far. But now Sonos is not only opening up to other transmission technologies such as AirPlay 2 but also to digital assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, making us much more flexible. Apparently, the Californians have realized that they have maneuvered themselves into a dead end with the purely proprietary technology.
With the support of AirPlay 2, it is possible for the first time, at least from Apple devices, to stream music from other apps to the Sonos boxes. For example, you can simply play songs on YouTube and stream them to all speakers directly from the browser. This works well for us in the first tests. The loudspeakers do not react quite as quickly if you skip a track, for example, and it occasionally happens that one loudspeaker plays the piece first and the others only join in a second later. Once a loudspeaker even stopped working and then played with a time delay. Nothing like this has ever happened to us when streaming via Sonos Connect. But with a short stop / play, the problem was resolved immediately. How reliable AirPlay streaming is in practice in the long run remains to be seen.
Older Sonos speakers can also play music via AirPlay 2 - but they must first be grouped with a newer model via the Sonos app, namely Sonos Beam, Sonos One, Playbase or Play: 5 of the second generation. Unfortunately, the older speakers do not appear in the AirPlay speaker selection in iOS. To change the volume for them in relation to the other speakers, you have to use the Sonos app. Together with the coupled box, the volume can also be changed from other apps.
The Sonos app on the Mac does not yet support AirPlay 2. You can see and select the Sonos speakers via the "Sound" system setting, but only individually. Selecting several speakers at the same time was not possible in our test.
Another advantage of AirPlay transmission is that you can now also use voice control via Siri. To do this, you first have to set up the speakers via Apple's home app and assign them to individual rooms. You can then activate Siri on the iPhone or iPad and use voice commands to play music either on individual speakers or in certain rooms. "Make the music in the living room louder" promptly changes the volume on all speakers, "Make TV quieter", on the other hand, only lowers the volume of our Playbase, and the French can hear the voice command "Play Daft Punk everywhere" from all Sonos speakers in the house.The Siri function has a lot ahead of the Alexa integration, which was started much earlier, in which we are still unable to control loudspeaker groups.
However, there is also room for improvement in the control via Siri. For example, you cannot start songs or playlists via the Spotify app, but only via Apple's in-house music app. If you start a playlist manually on Spotify, you can at least adjust the volume by voice command, skip songs and pause and continue the music.
Siri is not quite as convenient as controlling via Amazon's Alexa, because Alexa simply listens to your word, while Siri needs an iPhone or iPad nearby. It is true that voice control can also be activated by voice command via “Hey, Siri”, but with Alexa this works much better from a greater distance thanks to several far-field microphones. If, on the other hand, you speak directly into the iPhone, Siri understands you much more reliably than Alexa in the other corner of the living room. So both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Sonos has been supporting the Amazon voice assistant for a long time. To do this, you either integrate an Amazon Echo device into the Sonos system, or you can use a newer, microphone-equipped Sonos loudspeaker, i.e. a Play One or the new Beam Soundbar.
Owners of Android phones, on the other hand, still look into the tube. Whether and when Sonos will also support transmission via Google's Chromecast is still completely open. After all, you can address the Sonos speakers directly via the Google Music app - or of course via supported streaming apps such as Spotify. So far, Sonos is not as flexible on Android devices as it is on the iPhone. Sonos has at least already announced that it will support the Google Assistant.
Even if there are more and more options available to bring music to the speakers - many will be very happy to continue to use the Sonos app to play music. Because it is well designed and reacts promptly. This is not only what you would wish for from Bose and Harman / Kardon, Apple's own music app could also easily learn from Sonos. Teufel has taken a giant step forward with the Raumfeld app and now also offers a good operating experience.
Of all manufacturers, Sonos also supports by far the largest portfolio of music streaming providers via its app. There is of course Spotify, but also Apple Music, Deezer, TuneIn, Google Play Music, Amazon Prime Music and SoundCloud and many more. A full list can be found here.
Sonos in the test mirror
The new Sonos Play: 5 received a wave of applause from the press even before it was first sold. The FAZ ruled:
"It actually plays a lot more bass than its predecessor and, even as a soloist, achieves an acceptable stereo panorama that goes far beyond its own dimensions."
Matthias Kremp is also impressed with the new Play: 5 on Spiegel Online:
»The new Play 5 is a good product. In terms of technology, sound and design, Sonos has taken a noticeable step forward. Unfortunately, at the same time the price has jumped, the loudspeaker costs 579 euros. "
Kremp is also impressed by the TruePlay automatic calibration, which optimizes the frequency response of the all-in-one loudspeaker system for the listening position:
»I tried TruePlay with various Sonos speakers of the types Play 1, Play 3 and Play 5 and always came to the same result: After measuring with TruePlay, the speakers sounded as if a curtain had been pulled away from them. The sound becomes clearer, more brilliant, drier. "
In my test for LowBeats I gave 4.8 out of 5 stars for the Play: 5:
»The Play: 5 is by far the best Sonos loudspeaker. Even in mono it is a hit, as a stereo pair, which is easy to set up thanks to the great software, it finally takes the place of the classic hi-fi system. A flood of online music services and easy-to-use multi-room options make Sonos the best network audio system of its kind. With Trueplay room measurement via smartphone, Sonos is once again keeping its pace with the times. "
Computer Bild praised the balanced sound, the easy-to-use app and the many music services to choose from, but criticized the difficult integration of network hard drives.
AUDIO magazine rates the price-performance ratio of the Sonos Play: 1 as »outstanding« and judges:
"The Play 1 impressively shows that Sonos takes the subject of high fidelity very seriously despite its low price and lifestyle ambitions - a system of this quality has never been more elegant and inexpensive."
In a comparative test of all common multi-room concepts, AUDIO was able to warm to Sonos and "the most potent and fierce competitor" Raumfeld in particular. The Stuttgart-based company recommend Sonos because of its "foolproof" setup, operation and expansion.
PCMag gives the Sonos Play: 1 speakers an Editor’s Choice Award. In terms of points, however, the Sonos boxes for PCMag are on par with the Bose SoundTouch 20. Arguments in favor of the Sonos are the low price and ease of installation. While the Bose hardware is described as "fantastic", the experts find the Bose app problematic.
In addition to Raumfeld, Netzwelt also considers Sonos to be "the most convenient way to distribute stereo signals within your own four walls." The authors particularly emphasize the many interfaces at Sonos and the better processing compared to the German competitor.
Computer Bild even attested the Sonos Play: 3 a “wow effect”, praised the intuitive operation and the sound, which the testers described as filling the room, left little to be desired. It was rated “satisfactory”, which means that the Play: 3 does not quite come close to the Bose SoundTouch 20, which was rated “good”. For Computer Bild, the points are due to the operating concept and the fact that it is pleasant, voluminous and significantly more room-filling than the sound image to be expected in view of the size.
Stiftung Warentest (02/2020) also praised the Sonos multiroom system in its test, especially the Play: 5, which had "the greatest bass sound pressure in the test" and could therefore replace a mini hi-fi system. Only the relatively high power consumption in standby mode prevented the Play: 5 from doing even better.
The well-known Swedish furniture store is not only enriching its own range of products thanks to the cooperation it announced last year with the multiroom pioneer Sonos. The first two WLAN speakers in the Ikea range also prove to be an inexpensive and smart alternative to the thoroughbred Sonos boxes.
On the one hand, there is the Symfonisk bookshelf loudspeaker, which is very cheap at 99 euros. Ikea takes the name literally. Because you can not only put the small box on a shelf, you can also hang it on the wall and turn it into a - small - shelf yourself.
There is also the Symfonisk table lamp, which combines loudspeaker and lamp. If you operate the rotary switch attached to the side of the fabric-covered body, the Symfonisk lights up. With three additional buttons in the lamp socket, the volume can be regulated and playback started or stopped. At around 180 euros, even the larger of the two Ikea speakers is still below what Sonos is asking for its entry-level products.
As with Sonos, the backbone of the Ikea operating philosophy is the app. And not just any app, but the original from Sonos. Conversely, this means that the cooperation products of the Symfonisk line can be seamlessly integrated into an existing Sonos system. With this, the Americans create competition in-house, but ultimately increase the attractiveness of their ecosystem and ultimately lower the entry threshold for their own products considerably with the cuboid Symfonisk speaker.
The result of the TruePlay measurement is also convincing in connection with the Ikea boxes. You can switch off the determined correction in the room settings of the app in order to get an idea of how it works. As usual, the bass of both Symfonisk loudspeakers sounds more contoured with TruePlay and the transparency in the midrange gains as much as the treble reproduction. The automatic loudness correction that is activated by default is also known from Sonos. It makes the sound richer and more pleasing.
In the listening test with the small Symfonisk shelf loudspeaker, however, the loudness correction leads to a certain overburdening of the low-frequency section in hip-hop tracks such as "Mask Off" by Future. The bass loses its contour noticeably and tends to growl. In this case it helps to deactivate loudness for a dry, clearly clean bass.
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