Sonos Review: The Play:5 is the Perfect Centerpiece for a Whole House Audio System

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Sonos is a well-regarded brand known for creating some of the best multi-room home speaker setups, and in late 2015, the company debuted its latest product, a second-generation Play:5. The original Play:5 (once called the S5) came out in 2009, so the new Play:5 marks a long overdue update that brings a new design and better sound.

As someone new to the Sonos ecosystem, the Play:5 (paired with a set of Play:1 speakers) is the first Sonos speaker I've tested in my home. After a month breaking it in, I finally understand why Sonos is such a popular brand and is regarded as the best system for iPhone-compatible whole house audio.

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Priced at $499, the new Play:5 isn't cheap, but that price point includes a hassle-free user experience and impressive audio. As covered in the review below, there are some downsides to buying into the Sonos line, but its ease of use, sound, and multi-speaker pairing capabilities make it largely a win for those ready to shell out the cash for a quality sound system.

Design

The second-generation Sonos Play:5 has a more modern look than the original Play:5, bringing it in line with the Sonos Play:1 and the Sonos Play:3. It's less boxy, wider, and has been designed in a way that lets it be positioned either horizontally or vertically. There's no integrated stand.


It's available with either a black or white outer shell, both of which come with a black mesh front panel that hides the interior components. Design wise, the Play:5 is unobtrusive enough to blend well into any room or decor style, but it might be more difficult decorating around the white version, which stands out more.


Visually, the Play:5 is most similar to the Play:3, only quite a bit larger. I have a decent-sized two bedroom apartment with a large living room and I felt like the Sonos Play:5 was too much speaker for the room, just based on its size alone. It measures in at just over 14 inches wide, eight inches tall and six inches wide and it weighs just about 14 pounds.

This is a hefty speaker that you're going to want to station in one spot and not move around a lot. It's not easy to carry and there's no handle or anything for transporting it. There's also no battery, so it always needs a power source.


At the top of the Play:5, there are capacitive LED-lit buttons that respond to different gestures to perform functions like upping the volume, pausing a song, and switching to the next song, so there's no need to have access to a device for making quick music alterations.


The back of the Play:5 houses a port for the cable that powers it, a 3.5mm jack, an optional Ethernet port that can be used if you have a house without strong Wi-Fi, and a button for syncing the speaker to the Sonos app.

Sonos Setup and App

Sonos' line of speakers connect to your devices through your home Wi-Fi network rather than via Bluetooth, and for that reason, you have to use the Sonos apps to listen to music rather than playing music directly from your device. There are apps for Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS.

Being restricted to the Sonos apps for music playback is something of a negative because you're locked into the Sonos ecosystem and can't use a music app of your choosing. It also makes it more difficult for guests to connect to your home music system because connecting over Bluetooth is not an option (but there is an audio line-in).

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Sonos for iOS

On the plus side, the Sonos apps and the Wi-Fi connection are convenient. Setup was beyond simple - about five minutes passed from the time I unboxed the Play:5 to the time I had it up and running -- and I never had to reconnect or deal with connection issues.

The Play:5 is always ready to play music as long as it's powered on and there's decent Wi-Fi available, plus it can do things like play different songs from the same music service in different rooms (or the same song in multiple rooms) if you have more than one speaker. Ease of use was one of the things I loved most about the Play:5 -- it just worked and did what I wanted it to do.

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Sonos for Mac

Since this is a Wi-Fi system, it's also expandable. You can start with one speaker and then add on additional speakers in other rooms for a whole home audio system that's all connected.

I tried the Sonos apps for Mac and iOS, but I primarily used my iPhone for music playback. All of the Sonos apps support playback from more than 40 streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music or from music stored directly on a device. A wide range of file formats can be played.


The Sonos apps aren't the most straightforward and there were some annoyances I ran into, like being unable to shuffle directly from my Apple Music playlists without adding them to a Sonos playlist and not being able to pause music for an incoming phone call, but for the most part, using the Sonos app to manage my music (from Apple Music) was fine.

If I could choose, I'd probably opt to use Apple Music, but the Sonos app wasn't a deal breaker. It might even be a preferable control method if you subscribe to multiple music services.

Sound

Sound wise, the Sonos Play:5 is fantastic. I live in an apartment so I don't have a lot of experience with professional audio equipment or speakers of this size (I mostly use headphones) and listening to music on the Play:5 was a revelation - with some songs, there was a level of detail and crispness I've never heard before. Vocals are always at the forefront and the bass is deep and rich.


The Play:5 is a speaker that costs $499, so I expect nothing less than amazing sound, and it lived up to my expectations. Behind the grille, there are six drivers (three tweeters and three mid-woofers) with dedicated amplifiers, and let me tell you, this speaker puts out some serious sound. It's a speaker you can feel. It's more than loud enough to fill a large room, and even at top volume levels playing songs with a lot of bass, there was never any distortion.

I never had issues with the connection, which I do sometimes run into with Bluetooth speakers, and there were never any points where the sound dropped out or was interrupted. The Play:5 and the Sonos app always offered smooth playback.

The Play:5 comes with a built-in Trueplay dynamic tuning system that's designed to calibrate the speakers based on their position in the room to account for room shape and objects within the room. I expected this to be little more than a gimmick, but the adjustments that were made with Trueplay seemed to slightly improve the sound of the Play:5, which I had positioned on a desk.

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In addition to dynamic tuning, there are settings for adjusting bass, treble, and balance to your taste, which you may need to do after tuning with Trueplay to reach the ideal sound.

Bottom Line

The Sonos Play:5 is too much speaker for my apartment, but if you have a house or a larger space and want to start making purchases towards a whole-home audio system, Sonos is the way to go and the Play:5 is the best sounding speaker the company offers.

At $499, the Play:5 is a serious investment (and you can even argue that it's overpriced), but it's incredibly easy to use, sounds amazing, and supports almost every audio service in existence. On the downside, you're locked into the Sonos app and the Sonos ecosystem once you make a purchase, but the tradeoff seems worth it to those looking for the best multi-room audio experience.


After using the Sonos Play:5 and the Sonos system for a few weeks, I'm hooked. A WiFi audio system that doesn't allow the flexibility of a Bluetooth connection isn't going to be for everyone, but I was a fan of the simplicity and the sound quality. This is one review product that I am sorry to send back.

As a side note, I didn't own the original Play:5 and so I can't compare this new version to the original version. I highly recommend anyone who is considering a purchase read through multiple reviews to get a clear picture from both those who are new to the Sonos system and those who have used it for years.

Pros:

  • Excellent sound
  • Connects over WiFi
  • Almost all music services available in Sonos app
  • Can group multiple speakers together
  • Can play different songs on different speakers via same device
  • Easy to set up and control
  • Expandable system for whole home audio
  • Can use horizontally or vertically

Cons:

  • Needs Wi-Fi
  • Locked into Sonos ecosystem
  • Have to use Sonos app
  • No Bluetooth
  • Expensive

How to Buy

The Sonos Play:5 can be purchased from the Sonos website for $499 with a 45-day return policy. It is also available from Amazon.com at the same price point.

Note: Sonos provided MacRumors with a Sonos Play:5 and a Sonos Play:1 for testing purposes, which were returned to Sonos at the conclusion of the review. No other compensation was received.

Tag: Sonos

Top Rated Comments

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Avatar
51 months ago
Some quick notes since this always seems to come up:

1. "Needs wifi" but if you hardwire at least one of your Sonos devices they will actually stand up their own proprietary mesh network that operates independently of your wifi, and even allows you to use them to bridge your LAN connection to your other devices. But this feature seems to confuse customers (and these days people like wifi much more than they like to use Ethernet cables) so they have downplayed it a lot in recent years. But if you can, you should hardwire at least one of your Sonos devices to take advantage of these features.

2. Remember Sonos are "pull" devices compared to AirPlay, Bluetooth which are "push" technologies. Can be a subtle distinction given how much overlap there is, but there's always people who say "but it doesn't even do Bluetooth!" You need to understand exactly what this thing WAS designed to be before you complain about what it doesn't do.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago

This fails on so many levels. Need to use Sonos app, no AirPlay support, can't use Apple Music

Yet MR calls it "perfect"

There is literally a picture of the Sonos App with Apple Music logo in this review and you still write this post? I get some people don't read the articles, but not even look at the pictures?! Why did you even post?!
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago

This fails on so many levels. Need to use Sonos app, no AirPlay support, can't use Apple Music

Yet MR calls it "perfect"

You can use Apple Music and it works on AirPlay...
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago

You can use Apple Music and it works on AirPlay...

Works with Apple Music but NOT Airplay or Bluetooth.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago
I own a playbar, 2 play ones, & play 3...All are exceptional pieces that make listening to music extremely enjoyable. Christmas this year I would like to add a sub to our home entertainment system. They are the Apple of the speaker business!
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
51 months ago

I just bought a house that I will be moving into in September. I have been looking at Sonos and really have not seen a better option. I will have 3 floors (plus a basement) and it being built in 1910 there is no cabling in the house, so a multi room wifi system is what I am looking for. If anyone has anything they recommend I look at before buying, please let me know. Thanks.

I have played around with many systems, but Sonos is the only wireless systeem that is reliable and doesn't suffer from outages like with AirPlay, Bluetooth or systems such as the B&W a7. I have two Play1s and a Play5 and they are fantastic.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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