Review: Sonos Play:1 pumps out great music in smaller package

By: Ted Kritsonis

November 7, 2013

Sonos-Play1-with-iPhoneSonos has become one of the best consumer brands for high-quality speakers, but its traditionally priced itself too high for much of the market. That may have changed now that the Play:1 has launched, making it possible to use a smaller speaker that fills a room with good sound at a more reasonable price point of $219.

One thing Sonos has done consistently well in is design. The Play:1 follows in the footsteps of the Play:3 and Play:5, both larger speakers with greater range and fidelity, but the same simple, yet elegant design that would fit in well in just about any home or office décor, coming in either black or white. The Play:1’s nimbler form factor becomes all the more impressive once you hear what comes out of it.

You won’t see what’s inside but the guts of the speaker are made up of dual class D amplifiers that power a 3.5-inch woofer with its own dedicated tweeter. The average user won’t care about these details because it’s what they pump out that will matter most.

Of course, functionality is focused on having an Internet connection. The speaker has an Ethernet port in the back that is central to its connectivity — unless you spring some extra money for a Sonos Bridge. Though the speaker supports Wi-Fi, it only does so within a proprietary protocol wherein the Bridge acts as the conduit between it and the router. This is moot if you’re able to connect the speaker directly into the router using an Ethernet cable. One workaround is to use a Wi-Fi extender or a Powerline adapter (that routes the Internet connection through your home’s power lines) where you can plug in an Ethernet cable directly.

The setup may sound challenging, but it really isn’t once the components are in place. It’s just that the walled ecosystem it runs on also requires that you use a dedicated app for it on your computer and mobile device. The Sonos Controller app has had a bit of a rough history, but its current iteration is far better than it was. The advantage of using it on an iOS or Android device is that you can play music you have stored on it directly to the speaker. You can do this with a PC or Mac as well. In fact, if your computer is on, you can access the entire library on your mobile device and play whatever you want while hanging out in your home. The only catch is that it doesn’t like WAV files.

But it’s the streaming apps that add even more value here. TuneIn, Rdio, Songza, Deezer, Slacker, SiriusXM, 8tracks, Stitcher and Hype Machine are all available. Sign in with your account details and all your settings and favourites are pushed to the app. This combination of local and streaming music is an enormous amount of musical content. You can save favourites among these within the Sonos app as well so that you can get to what you want easily.

The Play:1 doesn’t do anything all that different from its two bigger brothers, except it naturally can’t match them in sound quality. That’s to be expected, but it performs admirably well for its size and is one of the best speakers you will find at this price. If you buy two, then you can turn them into stereo speakers where they represent the left and right channels, adding an additional layer and depth to your experience. They can also stand alone, in case you wanted to put them in different rooms. Or if you already have either a Play:3 or Play:5, you can start music with one of those in one room and continue it in another with the Play:1. The stereo setup wouldn’t work if the two units aren’t the same, in case you were thinking of pairing them that way.


As far as what genres of music sound best on this speaker, bass isn’t going to be overt, but it will carry enough to make a hip hop track sound as good as a house track would. Rock music is generally fine, as are genres that are heavier on the mids and highs, like jazz, alternative, classical and pop. If you’re shuffling music between different genres, you may find that there are variations in how they spread out of the speaker. The consistency lies in the fact reverb and distortion are always steady, never really causing any problems. Songs with large orchestral performances with a variety of instruments, like new age, for example, might come with varying results though.

Still, there is little to complain about here once you start listening. The Play:1 has a small footprint and can be placed just about anywhere. The caveat is that it’s not a true wireless speaker in the sense that you need to either have it in the right place, or you need to have a conduit to get it to “talk” to the home network.

That might drive up the $219 price tag of the Play:1, but its size is more ideal for smaller rooms (bedroom, kitchen, bathroom), not sprawling spaces (living room, basement). It may also be a stepping stone to something better in the Sonos world if this is your first foray into what they offer. It likely won’t take long for you to decide whether or not the Play:1 was worth the money.


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