Sonos Play:5 (2nd Generation) – The Audiophile Streaming Speaker
I’ve been a fan of Apple’s AirPlay functionality since it debuted in 2010. In fact, AirPlay has been the central feature of audio-solutions throughout my home ever since. In my study/computer room, I’ve had my trusty Onkyo TX-NR414 running a pair of Polk Audio T15‘s, an outstanding set of bookshelf speakers. The living room is home to my Pioneer Elite SC-71, which has AirPlay built-in, running a 5.1 system of Polk speakers. Finally, in my bedroom, I’ve had a Pioneer A3 portable WiFi AirPlay speaker, which is a great sounding unit. This setup served me quite well for several years. Then, in mid-summer 2015, Sonos asked me to participate in a beta-test.
From that time through mid-November, I had the opportunity to play with two of Sonos’ Play:1 speakers1. I was struck by the entire Sonos experience. The ease of setup, the quality of the software, the precision of the timing-sync between the speakers, how that enabled the ‘whole home/multi-room’ audio experience, and, most of all, the richness of the sound. The Sonos software hooks into iTunes quite deeply, allowing full access to your music library, playlists, etc. And, unlike AirPlay, the Sonos system does not require that iTunes be running for streaming (but the computer or NAS that is home to the media files that make up your library will need to be on). In spite of how closely Sonos works with iTunes, their speakers are not AirPlay-compatable. But, again, the ties between Sonos are your iTunes library and music are so deep, and the Sonos software is so good, you probably won’t need it to be AirPlay-compatable.
Although a Sonos Play 1 speaker is a little shorter, and a littler wider, than of one of those oversized cans of Foster’s beer, the sound quality exceeds that of the Pioneer A3. With just two drivers, the Play:1 is surprisingly powerful, delivering shockingly good audio for a speaker its size. It is a seriously good little speaker. Even then, as I’ve mentioned before, smaller speakers have a hard time sounding as good as larger ones, especially on the low-end of the spectrum. It’s just a simple matter of physics.
Sonos was kind enough to allow me to keep the Play:1’s after the beta-test ended, and I did continue to use them on a daily basis. However, fidelity-snob that I am, I began to consider adding a Sonos Connect to the Onkyo receiver in my study/computer-room. As luck would have it, the Onkyo went to receiver-heaven right around the same time Sonos announced they would be releasing a newly redesigned, and more powerful, second generation Play:5 speaker. So I decided to pick one up, rather than replace the Onkyo. Besides, that would allow the Polk T15’s to move into the living room, and expand the 5.1 system to a 7.1. It also would allow me to place a Play:1 in my bedroom, as well as in the living room, enabling Sonos’ synchronized ‘multi-room’ audio.
Measuring 14.3 inches wide, by 8 inches tall and 6 inches deep, the new Sonos Play:5 is a good sized unit. It’s also a beefy 14 pounds. All in all, it is solid and very well constructed. With 6 total drivers – three 3.93 inch (10cm) mid-ranges, two .79 (20mm) inch side-firing tweeters, and one .86 (22mm) inch front tweeter – the Play:5 is quite capable of filling a large room with very high quality sound. Although there has not been a full tear-down of this version of the Play:5 yet, based on iFixit’s look inside the Play:3, I’d presume there’s at least one bass radiator hiding inside. Regardless, the bass response of the speaker is surprisingly powerful. That said, I did have to adjust the EQ a notch or two in order for the low-end to really shine. And, shine it does.
Across the sound spectrum, the updated Sonos Play 5 is an outstanding speaker. The complex and layered guitar work in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” comes through loud and clear, including the sound of the pick-on-the-strings. Steward Copland’s tight drums punch right through in The Police’s “Synchronicity II“. Challenging the middle and low end, Daft Punk’s “Around The World” showcases just how low and thumpy the Play:5 can go. To my ear, the Play:5’s overall sound quality is somewhere between my Polk Audio RTi4’s and RTi8’s. Sonos should be commended. For a company that had a fair-to-good reputation for sound quality, their last two products – the Play:1 and the Play:5 – are really outstanding. I mean no disrespect at all to the Play:1’s at all, but the Play:5 is really in another league altogether.
Sonos likes to market their ‘Play’ series as “Smart Speakers”, and it’s not far from the truth. Inside each unit is contains a miniaturized, and highly specialized, computer, driven by an old-school PowerPC CPU. The Play:5 also includes an accelerometer, so that it can adjust how it plays based on the orientation of the speaker. It is designed to play as a single speaker, or stand on one end, so they could act as a traditional left-right pair or speakers (assuming you had two). For connectivity, the Play:5 comes with 6-antenna Wireless-N system, as well as an Ethernet plug and standard line-in adapter.
HINT – If you use an Ethernet cable to connect a Sonos speaker to your router, hub or switch, that speaker will create a WiFi Mesh network between your other Sonos speakers. Doing this has a couple of benefits. First, it frees bandwidth on your WiFi network for your other devices. Second, the Sonos “BOOST” mesh WiFi network they share may be a bit stronger, since each speaker itself will act as a miniature router. Plus, the Sonos mesh WiFi network will work on a different channel than your regular WiFi, so neither network will interfere with the other. It’s just another touch that shows the level of thought and care that goes into Sonos products.
At $499, the Sonos Play:5 is not an inexpensive streaming speaker. But from unboxing, to using the software and actually listening, everything about the Sonos experience has been a pleasure. One of the first things I do when I come home is to turn on the Sonos system and put on SomaFM, or one of my own iTunes playlists. That is a true testament to the greatness of any product or service; it becomes an important part of your life.
- Outstanding sound quality.
- Ridiculously easy to setup and use.
- No fear iTunes users, the Sonos software easily accesses your library, playlists, etc.
- Also very easy setup and access to almost every paid and free streaming service.
- Best experienced when used with additional Sonos products, which are also not cheap.
Verdict = Highly Recommended.
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