Finally, after years of producing large, dense networked speakers, Sonos has gone mini. Last week Sonos announced the Play:1, an entry-level addition to their already impressive line up of hardware. The speakers, about as big as a Foster’s beer can, offer a nearly magical way to extend your wireless speaker network and produce excellent music playback to boot.
The Play:1 speakers are clad in a metal sheet and made of dense, acoustically tuned plastic. They have a 3.5-inch mid-range woofer and two tweeters. They also have two built-in Class D amplifiers and only has two ports – a power plug and an Ethernet plug for wired setup.
To use these speakers you have to own the Sonos Bridge, a small box that connects to your Ethernet router (the $199 Play:1 comes with a free Bridge until after the holidays). The Bridge then controls music selection and playback via an intuitive mobile or desktop app, the Sonos remote. The Bridge then transmits music to the various Sonos components in your home. You can pair Play:1 speakers together to create a single-room stereo setup, connect them with other components like the Play:Bar sound bar to create a surround-sound system, or simply put one unit in a corner or on a shelf. You can also add the Sonos Sub, a sub-woofer, for far richer sound.
You can place multiple Play devices around the house and assign them to separate rooms and then send music via Rdio, Spotify, Pandora, and your own music collection to each speaker. It is, in short, an amazing system that has only gotten better over the years.
The Play:1 adds another interesting new feature to the mix – on-speaker play/pause controls. Whereas previous Sonos components had a “whole room” mute feature and volume buttons, the new system allows you to pause or fast-forward music. This prevents the “silent Sonos” problem where you mute an album or playlist and it keeps going for hours while you’re not listening to it.
While I prefer Sonos speakers to nearly all others I’ve tried simply based on ease of tuning and set-up, it’s important to address a few limitations. The Play:1′s are not very powerful – something remedied by creating a stereo pair – and the audio tends to fuzz just a bit at higher volume. Instrument separation is there, but it’s not as drastic or pleasing as I’d like, and there is a distinct drop in quality from the Play:3 to the Play:1. These tiny speakers are great for smaller rooms and for out of the way spots where absolute fidelity isn’t critically important.
That said, the Play:1′s make excellent satellite speakers for surround-sound use. For example, you can add a Playbar, a Sub, and two Play:1 speakers together to create a working 5.1 system for your home theatre and music playback. The results are amazing – the Play:1′s add a great deal of depth to 5.1 content and the entire setup is so easy to install that it makes competing 5.1 systems-in-a-box look obsolete. Clearly the best feature, however, is the wireless playback. This allows you to place the satellites nearly anywhere in the room and ensures you don’t have to run speaker cable through walls or floors. Anyone who has messed with banana clips and cable snaking can attest to the benefits of the wireless system.
As a die-hard Sonos fan it’s hard to find fault in the Play:1. At $200, they offer those on the fence a chance to try out the system and experience the ease with which Sonos can stream music through the house. While a complete home system can get expensive – the Sub and the Playbar are both $699 and the Play:3s are $299 – all you really need to experience the system potential is a Play:1 (or pair of Play:1) and Bridge. You can (and will) add other hardware to the system over time.
Will audiophiles be blown away? Perhaps not, but those who are sick of catch-as-catch-can whole home audio solutions will rejoice. Because the remote is actually our phone you can select playlists, albums, and songs and even wake up to music or Internet radio, turning the Play:1 into a clock radio. I would argue that the Sonos system, as a whole, is far better than AirPlay, DLNA, and ChromeCast simply because you can bring far more audio sources, you can control playlists and albums with ease, and you can even connect an Apple Airport Express to a Sonos Play:5 speaker to add Airplay audio to the mix.
The Play:1′s are, in short, a great way to expand a current system or learn about the Sonos ecosystem. Whether you need a small speaker for the kitchen or want to add a polyphonic spree to your living room, I see no reason why the average home user wouldn’t want to use Sonos over similarly priced – and less fully-featured – speaker systems. Sonos, to borrow a timeworn cliche, just works.