While networked multi-room speakers may seem like a recent invention to some, Sonos have been a pioneer in the marketplace since 2002.

With the Internet of Things now in full swing, we are all looking for more ways to automate our life. A centrally controlled multi-room audio system is certainly one of the more desirable elements of this new connected home we are aiming to create.

Sonos make three wireless speakers, the Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5 which increase in size and output as you go up through the range. Sonos hope you’ll find a room in your house for each. They also produce a soundbar and subwoofer which are designed to work as part of your home theatre system and a selection of accessories to help you connect and control the output of your existing audio equipment.

We’ll be reviewing the Play:1 here today, which Sonos has sent us two of, so we can properly test out the multi-room capabilities of these speakers

Presentation

When you open the box that The Play:1 comes in, you are presented with a quick start guide and some documentation.
Below the shelf that the paperwork resides on, sits the speaker in a cloth wrapping which somehow adds a premium feel to the product. No cheap plastic wrapping to be found here!
Below this again, a power lead and network cable are hidden away and that’s pretty much it for the box contents.

Design

Play 1 exploded

The first thing you notice with these speakers is how heavy they are. At 1.85Kg they are half a kilo heavier than a 13″ MacBook Air! An unfair comparison I know, but the point is that these speakers are not really meant to be moved around that much and they make no excuses about that. That initial heft also makes you stop and think about how much speaker must be crammed into that case to make it weigh that much!

The vast majority of the exterior of the speaker is made up of a perforated steel grill. The back of the device has the speaker’s only input in the form of an ethernet port and also a threaded hole to assist with mounting.

Up top you have a Play/ Pause button and a volume rocker either side of an LED light. On the underside the power lead plugs into a recessed receiver which basically does the best job it can at keeping the lead out of sight, tucked away at the rear. The base and the top of the unit are made out of a hard, smooth plastic which feels like it should stand up to ware and tear quite well.

On the inside there are two amplifiers, a tweeter and a mid-woofer which you can see in the exploded image above. The speaker can connect to a wireless 802.11 b or g network at 2.4Ghz. It’s worth noting that there is no 802.11n or ac support here, nor is there 5Ghz support so if your current home network does not line up with those requirements you will either need to set up a second network, connect one of the speakers via ethernet to your home network and allow it to generate its own wireless network or look at investing in some of the Sonos dedicated network equipment which creates a network just for your speakers to use.

Overall there is a quality feel to the product and the somewhat understated aesthetics mean is should fit right in anywhere in your home.

Setup

Before the speakers arrived, I purposely did no research into the setup procedure. I wanted to approach this with no prior knowledge to see how straightforward it would be.

Once you have unpacked the speaker and plugged it in, you need to download and install the Sonos software for either OS X or Windows. There are also apps available for Android, iPhone and iPad.

I installed the software on a Mac and when launched it began a step by step guide for setting up the speakers.
To begin the process you press and release the Play/ Pause button and the volume up button at the same time. Your computer will then join a WiFi network that is created by the speaker. After about 30 seconds the software asks you to input your normal WiFi network’s password. After another short wait you are asked to give the speaker a name such as “Kitchen” or “Living Room” depending on where you plan to place it.

Once that was complete you go through a shortened version of the setup again to add the second speaker. The software then checks for updates and applies them if found.

Setting up the smartphone apps took less than 30 seconds. Once you open the app for the first time it asks you if you want to set up a new system or join an existing one. Once you’ve picked the existing option there is about a ten second wait, it pops up with a message saying complete and it’s ready to go. Couldn’t be easier really.

From taking the speakers out of the box to being fully set up on both the Mac and a phone took about 15 minutes.

Software

As I mentioned above, to control the speakers you have the option of either installing computer based software or an app for your smartphone or tablet.

The computer software is a little dated in appearance if I’m honest and really needs an update, but it functions well. The app’s for both Android and iOS on the other hand are right up to date with the latest design ethos.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 23.13.45

On the Mac, the software is split into three columns. “Rooms” which shows a list of speakers in your network, “Queue” which as the name gives away is the current playlist and the last column is for selecting a source for your audio.

There’s around 30 sources to choose from here such as Napster, Spotify, Tunein Radio, TIDAL and Soundcloud to name just a few. You can of course add locally stored music from iTunes etc. As the Play:1 doesn’t have an auxiliary input as such, this list of sources is pretty important as it’s the only way you can select audio to play on the speakers out of the box.

From reading through the Sonos forums, this is something that is often missed with Play:1. Why is it important?  Well basically it means if you were watching a YouTube clip on your PC and you had a Play:1 beside you, you wouldn’t be able to listen to the audio through it.

This is the same for a Play:3 but the larger Play:5 has a line in input to allow you connect whatever you want to it. There are workarounds on Windows but no reliable ones I can find for OS X, so it’s just something to keep in mind.

As you go through the different sources you can pick songs from each, and add them to the play queue for individual speakers or groups. It all works fairly flawlessly. There is a repeat, shuffle and cross-fader function available, along with a Bass and Treble equaliser.

In the “Rooms” column you can control how each speaker in your setup works. You can pick individual speakers to send different audio streams to. You can group speakers together so they play the same audio and you can also create a stereo pair with two speakers so they become left and right channels.

It’s worth noting that if you have multiple speakers and you are using a service such as Spotify, which traditionally only allows one track to stream at a time, you can stream multiple tracks to multiple speakers at the same time.

The smartphone apps are beautifully designed with nice clean lines and while the UI is completely different to that of the computer, the same basic idea persists. A list of sources, a menu for speakers and a player. It’s all well laid out and easy to use.

Sound Quality

We’re lucky enough to have had quite a few speakers come through the office and at the €199 price point that the Play:1 sits at, it’s a fairly crowded market.

The majority of the competition at this price though are portable speakers and the trade off in sound quality to allow that portability is clear when compared to the Play:1.

The Play:1 is a very loud speaker and when you pair two of them you certainly have “room filling” audio. The audio produced is also extremely clear. The difference in quality when compared to something like the Bose Soundlink Mini (which is our current favourite portable speaker) can be likened to the difference between watching a standard definition clip and then a HD one. Sounds seem somewhat muffled from the Bose after listening to the same audio on the Play:1 and the clarity and extra detail that you hear is carried right up through the volume range.

Now I’m not going to claim to be an audiophile by any means, but we do get sent a lot of speakers from different manufacturers and I haven’t heard a better sounding speaker at this price point to date.

Home Automation

As a consequence of the speakers being networked, it opens up opportunities for 3rd party functions that Sonos don’t offer out of the box.

It is now possible to use the speakers for functions other than music streaming and also to have the speakers controlled by triggers from other sources.

There are several options available but the one I am going to focus on here is Yonomi.

Yonomi is an early stage service that aims to make all the connected equipment in your home cross communicate and work together. Currently it is available for Android phones but there is an iOS version in the works and due to be released shortly.

I’m not going to go into the setup of Yonomi here, but when you have it up and running there’s a host of functions you’ll be able to perform with your Sonos speakers such as:

– When you arrive home your favourite playlist will start playing (or similar)

– When a call comes in the speakers will mute

– When you get a notification on your phone, a sound will play on the speakers

– Reminders spoken to you over the speakers

– Spoken weather and calendar updates & much more.

If you have other connected equipment in your home you can get them to work together with your Sonos speakers. For example if you leave, your music stops, the lights go off and your smart thermostat turns down and that’s just scratching the surface of what can be done.

Conclusion

There are a lot of people who feel Bluetooth is a better technology to use for communicating with speakers. After using the Play:1, I don’t agree. Yes, there are some limitations from not using Bluetooth, such as not being able to stream audio from YouTube as I mentioned above, but the overall experience is so much better for not having to use Bluetooth.

I didn’t once have to re-pair the Sonos speakers, or reset them or have to power cycle my Mac or have any communication issues at all the whole time I have used them. How many people can say they’ve had the same experience with Bluetooth speakers?

Setup is a breeze. Adding a new speaker or another control device such as a tablet is simple and completed in seconds. It just works, and nearly for that reason alone, the speakers are worth their price.

If you are going to buy Sonos speakers you need to do your research first and be sure they’re what you’re looking for. If you are looking for a set of external speakers for your laptop, you should look elsewhere, but if you are looking to add networked speakers to multiple rooms in your home, which are capable of streaming from multiple different audio sources at the same time, then Sonos is exactly what you are looking for.

The sound quality is excellent and coupled with the fact they are networked speakers, there is huge potential for future functions as our homes become more connected.

Right now Sonos are running a promotion where you can purchase two Play:1’s for €349. For further info, visit: http://www.sonos.com/en-wo

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