Sonos has been steadily lowering the cost of entry for their music streaming solutions. Smartphones have eliminated the previously required $400 remote, and recent stand-alone speakers like the PLAY:5 and PLAY:3 have shrunk that cost even more. Now Sonos has hit a new low price for entry with the $199 PLAY:1. Dead simple to set up, easy to use, and incredibly capable, buying a PLAY:1 is the easiest decision you can make if you want to stream audio around the house. It’s the best $200 you’ll spend on music this year.
|Review Date:||October 14, 2013|
The PLAY:1 is a compact, but really solid, single speaker. Inside are a tweeter and a 3.5” midrange/woofer that put out a surprising refined sound for the size. A few inclusions on the outside help make the PLAY:1 a really well-engineered product. The top has volume controls and a Play/Pause button so it’s easy to adjust while in use. The rear has a threaded adapter that makes it easy to wall mount with any standard speaker mount. There is also an Ethernet jack to allow it to connect directly to the network.
As of September 2014 you can connect the PLAY:1 directly to your Wi-Fi network without the Sonos Bridge. If you have an environment with heavy Wi-Fi interference, such as a condo or apartment building, you can use the Bridge if the Wi-Fi networks are too congested. You will need an outlet to plug the PLAY:1 into, and there is no battery so you can’t just carry it around the house with you. The overall finish of the PLAY:1 exudes build quality well beyond the $199 price.
Where Sonos hits it out of the park is setting up the PLAY:1. All home AV components should strive to make setup this simple. I unpack the Wireless Bridge, plug it in, and connect it to my network in the basement, though this extra hardware is no longer necessary. I place one PLAY:1 speaker in the kitchen and another in the living room. After I install the Sonos app on my iPhone (also available for Android) the setup procedure takes less than 5 minutes. Just press a button or two on each device, label the speakers with a room, and the setup is complete.
At this point I can play back music on my phone, though not streaming services, and Internet radio using TuneIn. Adding music from my network and online services took but 10 minutes from a PC. I linked my Spotify and Amazon Cloud Player accounts, and point it to the music share on my NAS. A few minutes of scanning and every album I own is in the software. From picking the package up off my porch to having music playing is under an hour.
Listening to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in my kitchen the bass from the PLAY:1 makes me take notice. The placement under a cupboard adds some reinforcement but it still has a much fuller sound than I expect. Vocals aren’t drowned out thanks to the two-way design of the speaker and it sounds great.
Moving to the unit in the living room and putting on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the bass again surprises me. This room is an open 30’x12’ space but the PLAY:1 fills it up. The drums in “Kamera” have much more kick than I expect from a little box. You don’t feel it in your chest but you aren’t wondering what happened to the bottom octaves of your favorite music. A couple of quick taps in the Sonos app group the kitchen and living room speakers together. Now Wilco is playing, perfectly synced, in both rooms as I walk between them.
The integration that Sonos offers with streaming services is well beyond other products. Spotify, MOG, Amazon Cloud Player, SiriusXM, Pandora, NPR, Slacker, TuneIn, and more are all represented. If you get our music from files on your computer or streaming online the PLAY:1 has you covered. The PLAY:1 is about giving you access to your music, anywhere in the house, as easily as possible. Amazingly I have experienced zero dropouts in my time with the Sonos. That’s unheard of with other wireless solutions but using your own custom wireless network has benefits.
One thing the PLAY:1 can’t do is handle the full resolution of high-resolution audio from HD Tracks and other sources. Attempting to add a 24/96 download led to an error that it uses an unsupported sample rate. I’d prefer the Sonos just down-sample them to CD-quality but it just refuses to play them. It also has issues with foreign characters (thanks, Sigur Ros) in file names so if you have a large selection of world music you might need to make some changes.
The Best $400 Stereo Ever
After a weekend of casual listening, I moved the Sonos to my home theater and set them up as a stereo pair. They’re great for background music, but for serious listening? Look, just go buy a pair now. For straight two-channel listening they blow away any active speakers or sound bar in the price range that I’ve heard. The detail and spaciousness of Beck’s “Lost Cause” of the MoFi version of Sea Change all there in front of me. The opening cues of “Drive” from REM’s Automatic for the People resonate in space. Even classics like “So What” off of Kind of Blue sound absolutely fantastic.
The only complaints I can make for stereo listening are that when you push them to the limits, the lack of deep bass becomes more clear. As I max out the volume listening to “Pyscho Killer” off of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, the treble becomes a bit too forward in comparison to the bass. You can only get so much out of a little 3.5” midrange/woofer driver.
With the volume at 80% or lower this high-low separation is kept check but adding a subwoofer will help out. The bass in “So What” is present and clear, but doesn’t have a lot of weight behind it. The bass is still far beyond what you expect from this tiny package but it has its limits. At $400 for the setup, I don’t think there is anything that can beat it.
To measure the Sonos PLAY:1 I do a series of 5 in-room measurements using TrueRTA and a calibrated microphone and average them together. This helps eliminate as much of the room as possible by using different locations. It provides the best idea of what the speaker actually sounds like without an anechoic chamber. Since the PLAY:1 has no line in ability, I used a continuous sweep file off of an Audio Precision test disc. I really have to thank Brent Butterworth for all the help in getting these measurements correct. He has a fantastic article on speaker measurement methods that is worth reading.
Looking at the graph we see remarkably flat response from 100 Hz up to 15 kHz and then a very gentle roll-off after that. Usable bass extends down to around 80 Hz, which matches up with what I heard on my music. Placing them against a wall or in a corner will help with this or you can add the Sonos Sub to take over bass duties.
Summary: Buy One Now
One thing I’d really like to have added to the PLAY:1 is a line-in. Sonos sells a sound bar for use with your TV, but a pair of the PLAY:1 speakers would make for a fantastic little system. I’d also like to see Bluetooth built-in. Almost every streaming service is available but the user interface is different from a smartphone. TuneIn on a smartphone lets you search for college football games but the TuneIn interface on the Sonos does not. It also lets guests stream audio to it without installing an app.
Overall the PLAY:1 system blows me away. I’ve avoided Sonos before with the high cost of entry but that problem is gone. The PLAY:1 is easy to set up, easy to use, and sounds amazing. If I don’t buy it for myself I’m going to buy one for my Dad, it’s that good. The best $200-400 you can spend on music this year, no questions asked.