Sonos has always been the poster child of music streaming. Its contained service takes the idea of filling up the rooms in your house with music and makes the process simple, never letting the end user see or have to deal with the complicated technology that makes this work. For years it was dominant in the music streaming field but it was an area that many companies hadn’t entered. In 2009, when the first Play:5 was launched (it was originally known as the S5), it was pretty much standalone in its plug-and-play capabilities. Skip to 2015 and Sony, Samsung, Bose, Denon and even Pure are sniffing around audio streaming – each with their own take on multi-room systems. To make sure that it stays on top Sonos has completely redesigned its flagship speaker, the Play:5, and brought with it its most significant software update in years, in the form of Trueplay.
The new-and-improved Sonos Play:5 is a Play:5 in name only – it’s been completely re-engineered by Sonos. No part has been left the same. It may have that similar lozenge look that the original Play:5 had, but its edges are rounder and the flat foot that was found on the original has completely disappeared, making way for very small legs.
These leg rests are on both the bottom of the Play:5 and the side, because this time around you can use the speaker in either a horizontal or vertical fashion – a sensor inside determines which orientation the speaker is set in and adjusts sound quality and controls accordingly. This also means that you can pair up two Play:5 speakers for stereo sound, which would be a pricey but brilliant way to re-invent any home cinema system. The physical buttons have gone from the top, too. Sonos’ band of designers and engineers have embraced touch controls, making use of a capacitative top that is signified by the logo in the middle of the device.
‘But won’t a logo on the front mess with the acoustics?’ we hear you cry – Sonos has thought about this and made it ‘acoustically transparent’ thanks to 800 holes lasered into the material. This is alongside the 60,000 holes that make up the grill. According to Sonos, the designers had a fight on their hands to keep the logo tag where it is but we are glad they did – it acts as a central point for the touch control. A control that now allows you to track back and forward through songs, something that has been missing on Sonos’ other touch controls. Considering there’s no plus or minus signs to point you in the right direction for the touch panel, this is a clever bit of design. It makes something that’s all-but invisible feel intuitive to use.
Colour-wise, there is a choice of black or white for the chassis – the grill stays black no matter your choice. Looks-wise, the Play:5 is definitely a lesson in reduction. There’s nothing on the chassis that doesn’t need to be there. It’s sleek, minimal and will fit easily into any home, not matter the decor.
Round the back things have been simplified, too, with just an Ethernet port, a 3.55mm audio port and a button you need to press to sync the Play:5 with your existing setup. The arrival of this button means that setting up the Play:5 is one of the easiest things to do, though there is a small caveat to this. My current Sonos setup is WiFi only – I don’t have any tethered to an ethernet port. The Play:5 can also work perfectly well on a wireless setup but our unit did need to be connected to ethernet on initial setup. This isn’t really an issue but it did mean I had to unplug it from the dining room, cart it over to the router in the lounge and set it up again. Having to unplug and re-plug in the Play:5, though did mean I paid attention to the unit’s plug. It’s clear that the designers, in a very Apple was, have made sure that even the plug looks great.
The way the lead has been sealed within the system compliments the minimal look of the Play:5 brilliantly. It’s a small detail but if they are that meticulous about the plug then you know the rest of the device is going to be built well. A sole ethernet port means that the Play:5 has lost an ethernet connection in this iteration. It also doesn’t have the optical port that can be found on the Sonos Playbar.
Underneath the grill, things have dramatically changed. Instead of two mid-woofers, there’s now three 10cm drivers powering the mid range. These are backed by two 20mm tweeters situated on the left and right of the device (in cones) and one 22mm tweeter in the middle. This is by far the most powerful speaker Sonos has created – it built these components by taking a look at what was in the Play:1 and upgrading the drivers accordingly.
All of this is nestled beneath a sealed acoustic enclosure. Again, this is a marked difference from the original Play:5, which was vented. While it has meant Sonos has had to do some clever things to make sure the heat of the speaker escapes, it’s promising that this improves the bass and clarity of the sound, while making sure extraneous noise is kept away.
As mentioned before, setting up the speaker takes minimal effort. Load up the Sonos app, click Add New Speaker and press the sync button on the back. If you do this with an iOS device then it will also ask you to reconfigure your setup using Trueplay. Trueplay is a new software feature that isn’t just for the Play:5, it is being rolled out to to all Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5 devices . It has been made to artificially create a better sweet spot for your home. The idea being that unless you are an audio enthusiast, your Sonos speakers won’t be in the right position to offer that perfect equilateral triangle sweet spot sound.
A speaker that hasn’t been through the Trueplay process will have a red dot beside it in the app. I clicked on this and was made to watch a video that shows just how to use Trueplay. Essentially, you slowly walk around the room waving your device (I was using an iPad) so that the software can sonically map the room your are in. It’s a little strange to walk across a room while the software fires zaps and other strange noises at your Sonos setup, but the whole thing is over in around 45 seconds and the results are definitely audible – although in all three rooms I used it, it said that not much had changed because the speaker positioning was pretty good.
Sonos believes this software will change the way it makes speakers in the future and I am inclined to agree. It’s the easiest way I have found to tune to the speaker to the room you are in – and not once did it feel like I was heading into audiophile territory. And, frankly, for a £429 ($499 USD, $749 AUS) speaker that should never be the case. If you aren’t ecstatic with the results then you can always use the EQ controls to get the speaker sounding as you want it. In my tests I didn’t have to. It’s bad news for Android users, however, as Trueplay isn’t coming to the OS anytime soon. This is because the quality of Android mics vary too much from device to device that Sonos just didn’t want to take the chance. The Trueplay process only has to be done once, though (unless you move the speaker) so it may be worth getting and iOS-toting friend in to give your audio setup a Trueplay boost.
The Sonos Play:5 is a stunning-sounding speaker. It’s the most powerful speaker Sonos has ever made and this is echoed in its sound reproduction. Testing took the form of a number of genres, to make sure that all aspects of the sound were listened too.
For the lower levels, among other’s, The Bug’s Lower Dart was listened too. The Dancehall bass reverberated well, without a hint of sludge. Sonos has done well to make this a sealed speaker unit as it really handles bass well. Kendrick Lamar’s King Kunta also sounded exceptional especially when turned up loud. And the Sonos Play:5 can definitely do loud – thanks to the three mid-range speakers found in the chassis. A Tribe Called Quest’s Walk on the Wild side was used to test clarity and sounded great. I even noticed the slight slip where the sample loops which I hadn’t before, even with headphones on. The break of Kurt Cobain’s voice on Nirvana Unplugged’s The Pines also sounded beautiful when played back on the Play:5. The Play:5 is very good at picking up these types of nuances.
Tala Impala’s Currents was used to test the high- and mid-ranges and again things sounded great. The myriad instruments used in the song never sounded muddled, there’s was a decent amount of clarity and offering a wider soundstage than you would normally expect from a speaker of this size. High-res audio lovers will be disappointed, though. Currently Sonos delivers sound up to 16-bit/44.1kHz. High-res audio isn’t supported and it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon. You will have to wait for Apple Music support as well, although this is currently being developed and should ship soon. Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal and others are all available through Sonos, but I really hope the software is upgraded soon. There were times when I was lost in the app, not knowing what was queued up audio wise and services such as Spotify just don’t look as nice through the app. Given Spotify Connect is gaining in popularity, Sonos will definitely have to counter this with some UI upgrades of its own. Something I am sure it is working on.
What we liked
The Sonos Play:5 is a stunning speaker for its price range – yes, it’s premium but the so is the sound. Its minimalist design will please even the most fussy and the new touch controls are effortless to use. The sound that comes out of this thing is impressively loud and audio does distinctively change when Trueplay is used.
What we disliked
The sound is so good, you may not feel like you need another to pair up for stereo – which is a shame, as this functionality is decent. The small ‘feet’ that are on both the bottom and the side of the device and unobtrusive but you do know they are there, regardless of which orientation you have the speaker in. Trueplay really does feel like a game changer but we wonder if people will actually be willing to use it – I did feel a little embarrassed walking around my room wafting my iPad, nothing like the cool, calm person on the demo video. Limitations of Sonos’ app are also starting to show and I would have liked to have seen Apple Music launch with the speakers.
The Sonos Play:5 continues Sonos’ slow slew of impressive hardware releases. It’s a great-looking speaker with sound that is far more overpowering than the size of the speaker warrants. It does feel, however, that this may be the first release by Sonos that will be overshadowed by a software update. Trueplay has the potential to transform the sound of Sonos speakers, no matter where they are in the room and that is a powerful tool to have. Even if you don’t fancy purchasing the Play:5 but already have a piece of Sonos kit, because of Trueplay your hardware is about to get an impressive upgrade. The Play:5 is a fantastic upgrade from Sonos, one that was needed given how crowded the wireless streaming marketplace has gotten. It’s a speaker that compares admirably to those in its price range – both in looks and in sound.