Sonos PLAY:5 (2015) Review
By Chris Heinonen on
Despite holding a commanding lead in the whole home audio market, Sonos has not been content to rest on its laurels. This is good for them, as the recent CEDIA Expo showed that everyone is out to try to take over a piece of this market. Everyone from DTS to Yamaha and Denon has their own solution coming out to challenge Sonos. The newly updated Sonos PLAY:5 shows what they are going to do to stay on top of the market.
From the packaging to setup and listening, the Sonos experience is as elegant an experience as you’ll find in home audio. The PLAY:5 is impeccably designed, feeling both incredibly rugged while looking stylish on a shelf. The new Trueplay room correction technology makes it easy to eliminate excessive bass often caused by speaker placement and improves the overall sound. While $500 for a speaker is getting to be expensive for many people, the Sonos PLAY:5 is the best sounding wireless speaker I’ve used to date.
Same Name, New Game
Despite being an all-new design, Sonos carried over the PLAY:5 name from the previous speaker. The original speaker had five drivers (hence, PLAY:5) but the new one now has six drivers (three tweeters, three mid/woofers) to provide better coverage. It also enables the PLAY:5 to do something the previous model could not: work ideally in a vertical or a horizontal configuration.
Looking closely as the design, you’ll see that you can put the PLAY:5 on either side vertically and the look remains the same. The Sonos logo even looks the same flipped. The PLAY:5 will know which orientation it is in and will adjust the sound accordingly. Place it flat on a table or shelf and it has a wider, more disperse sound. Place it vertically in a stereo pair and it behaves more like a traditional speaker. Not only does the sound change, the controls do as well. I’m usually in favor of hard buttons over touch sensitive controls, but the ones in the PLAY:5 work perfectly.
The build quality of the PLAY:5 is top notch. Everything feels solid, and little details down to the tiny holes drilled in the logo for sound quality help to set it apart. Depending on the orientation, the volume up and down buttons will change what they control. The one on top is always volume up, whether the speaker is placed on its left side or its right side. Doing a swipe across the buttons, a new feature, will skip tracks forward or back. No more digging out your phone and launching the app just to skip ahead or to hear that song again. A reassuring beep lets you know that your tap was registered, and the controls worked perfectly in my time with them. After using them I had no desire to go back to the hard buttons of the original PLAY:5 or other Sonos speakers around the house.
Even more important to me is the implementation of Trueplay. Trueplay uses your iPhone microphone (Android support isn’t there yet, since each phone uses a different microphone) to measure the frequency response of the PLAY:5 inside your room. A speaker can sound perfect during design, where you measure it in an anechoic chamber, but then awful in a room. Most of us don’t have ideal rooms and a speaker like a PLAY:5 is more likely to be placed out of the way in a corner than a traditional bookshelf.
Trueplay has you walk around the room with your phone for around a minute, gathering data on how the room impacts the speaker. The speaker then collects this data and applies an EQ to correct the issues. With the PLAY:5 I setup a stereo pair on shelves in my living room. It’s a relatively good placement, but they are close to the walls and a fireplace sits between them. Comparing the sound with and without Trueplay enabled there is a big difference. The bass has been brought into check, which makes the midrange and treble more detailed. What was already a very good speaker is now even better.
The best part of Trueplay is that it’s free and works with most other Sonos speakers as well. The Playbar isn’t supported yet, as it has three separate channels and is a harder design to work with, but the older PLAY:5 along with the PLAY:3 and PLAY:1 can all use Trueplay. Given the benefits that I heard by enabling it, I would go ahead and use it on all my Sonos speakers.
The specs for the PLAY:5 also mention it has a pair of integrated microphones for future Trueplay enhancements. They aren’t functional at the moment, and we don’t know how they’ll work, but it looks like Trueplay will only improve over time.
At $1,000 a pair for the new PLAY:5, I have some pretty high goals for it. Take out the cost of a Sonos Connect Amp and the PLAY:5s should be at least as good as a $500 pair of bookshelf speakers. Having spent part of this year listening to over 20 pairs of bookshelf speakers, I will say the PLAY:5 succeeds at this goal.
Compared to other speakers in the price range, the PLAY:5 has far better bass. With three mid/woofers it is able to dig deep into the bassline off “Royals” by Lorde without distorting. The only bookshelf speaker I heard this year that I know goes deeper, the SVS Ultra Bookshelf, checks in at $1,000 a pair without any amp. Before Trueplay tames it, the bass is very prominent in my space but after tuning it remains tight and focused, but not overpowering the rest of the music.
The PLAY:5 is designed to stand vertically or horizontally. When I switch the position the soundstage has a noticeable shift. It becomes wider in the horizontal position, though I think imaging loses a little bit of focus. If I were running a single PLAY:5, as most people probably will, keeping it in the horizontal position will work best. It has a small bit of stereo separation, as much as you can do inside a single cabinet, but can’t compete with a pair of PLAY:5s of course.
The PLAY:5 is the best sounding Sonos speaker to date. Comparing it to their previous models, it offers up better bass, a better soundstage, and a much better design. It is larger than the previous PLAY:5 so it can be harder to place, but it is a better speaker. Sonos might occupy the top spot in whole home audio today but the PLAY:5 shows it isn’t resting on its laurels.
One thing I wish the PLAY:5 offered is an optical input to be used with a TV. Combining a pair of PLAY:5s with my living room TV would make for a wonderful setup for both music and movies. They do a better job with music than a PLAYBAR but cannot be used easily with a TV. I imagine having to take the digital input and send it to the other speakers without latency would be an issue, but they manage it with the PLAYBAR. Perhaps when they update more speakers in the future they will find a way to do this, as it is the one thing keeping me from using them in my living room full time.
Still the Leader
I’ve been a huge fan of Sonos since I started using their products. Despite having a high-end system in my home theater, most of my listening is done over the Sonos system around the house. It’s great to use, offers all the musical content I need, and sounds great. With Trueplay and the new PLAY:5 it now sounds even better than before. $500 for a speaker sounds like a lot, but when you don’t have to buy an amplifier or streamer, get room correction, and can move it around the house it becomes a lot more reasonable. If you’re just starting with Sonos, you might want to try out the PLAY:1 first. If you want the best sounding streaming music around your house then the new PLAY:5 delivers.
Superb Design, great sound quality, Trueplay room correction works well
Expensive, no optical input
The best speaker Sonos has ever made, the updated PLAY:5 is the best way to get high-quality whole home audio right now.