Sonos has been a big name for wireless, multi-room audio for nearly a decade. It’s typically made expensive hi-fi products, with self-contained bundles that feature multiple components for equipping an entire house with audio. Sonos is now stepping into the affordable $200 range of wireless speakers, where usually only Bluetooth speakers like the Bose SoundLink Mini tend to dwell. The Sonos Play:1 ($199 direct) is small enough to fit on a shelf or table, but hefty enough to put out plenty of sound. While it’s neither portable (you need to plug it into a wall outlet) nor Bluetooth (you need to use Sonos’ proprietary wireless standard), it’s a surprisingly great-sounding, accessible way to start an expandable, multi-room music system. This speaker is two-thirds the price of the Sonos Play:3 while offering all the flexibility along with good performance, and earns our Editors’ Choice for multi-room wireless speakers.
The Play:1 is a chunky, slightly cylindrical block 4.7 inches wide and deep and 6.4 inches tall. With its two class D amps, 3.5-inch mid-woofer, and separate tweeter, the speaker is a hefty 4.1 pounds and definitely not intended to be portable. It’s available in both black and white versions, but those colors only apply to the top of the speaker and a ring around the base. The majority of the speaker is taken up by a gray metal grille that wraps around the body. A recessed two-prong notebook power port sits on the underside with an indentation to run the included 90-degree power cable out the back.
The back of the speaker holds a screw mount for wall or stand mounting and an Ethernet port for connecting directly to your router. There aren’t any 3.5mm or RCA inputs to be found; if you want to play music through the speaker, you need to have it set up as part of a Sonos network. The top surface of the speaker is smooth and concave, with an indicator light, Play/Pause and Volume Up/Down buttons sitting on a raised area above the Sonos logo on the front.
To set up a Sonos system, you need to have at least one device physically connected to your router through Ethernet. You can plug the Play:1 directly into your router, but unless your router is placed somewhere you’ll be listening this isn’t a very good option. Fortunately, Sonos includes a free Sonos Bridge with the Play:1. The small, plastic Bridge plugs into your router to set up the Sonos network, letting you place the speaker (and any other Sonos speakers you want to use) anywhere within range, as long as it can be plugged into a power outlet. Each Sonos device forms and extends the network, so as long as the Bridge is within Wi-Fi range (approximately 100 feet) of a speaker it should work. Additional Bridges can be purchased for $49 each to further expand the network.
Considering Sonos sets up its own wireless music network, using each speaker to extend the network further like a Wi-Fi repeater, setup is incredibly easy—especially compared with other non-AirPlay, non-Bluetooth speakers like the Wren V5PF Play-Fi, which can be very awkward to connect to your Wi-Fi network.
Here’s how the setup process works: Install the Sonos app on your smartphone, tablet, or computer, then click on “Add Component.” The prompts will tell you to press a button on the Bridge or two on the Play:1, and the app does the rest. Once the speakers are registered, you can set them for different rooms in your home through the app, and even set up two speakers as a stereo pair for a room by following a similar wizard and pressing the Volume Up button on the Play:1 you want to be the left channel. If you have a Sonos Playbar, you can also set up two Play:1 speakers to serve as rear channels and turn the soundbar into a surround sound system. I set up a two-room system with two Play:1 speakers in just a few minutes, and turned it into a stereo setup just as fast.
Because Sonos uses non-AirPlay Wi-Fi, you need to use the Sonos Controller app to play music instead of your music player or service of choice. Fortunately, Sonos has been around long enough that it offers an impressive crop of services integrated into the app. You can use Spotify, TineIn, SiriusXM, Pandora, Rhapsody, Songza, and several others through Sonos Controller, and while you need to register your system with Sonos and get used to the app’s layout, you can easily jump into your favorite playlists. Apple’s iTunes store is obviously not available through Sonos on the Android app (though iOS device users can access their full iTunes library on Sonos), and Google Play Music is similarly absent, but if you’re a regular SiriusXM or Spotify listener you’re covered. You can also play any music stored on your device, and mix and match tracks into custom queues for your speakers.
Aside from a slight lack of low-end presence, the Play:1 otherwise sounds great. Since it’s large enough to have a 3.5-inch woofer and two amps fed by a wall outlet instead of a battery, it can get impressively loud and easily fill up a room (or irritate several coworkers). This mostly applies to low-mids and higher frequencies, though; our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” lacked much sub-bass punch and distorted slightly at maximum volume when the kick drum began. It didn’t sound garbled, but the mid-woofer was definitely struggling with the hard thumps.
This distortion issue only came up with “Silent Shout” at the highest volume setting, and other bass-heavy sounds didn’t suffer. The bass and drum intro of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” sounded just powerful enough to give the song its dramatic beat. While Sepultera’s “Biotech is Godzilla” doesn’t have nearly as much deep bass, the frantic drums and growling guitar came through powerfully without overshadowing Max Cavalera’s vocals.
Jazz sounds great on the Play:1, and both John Coltrane’s “Naima” and Miles Davis’ “So What” sounded rich and full, with the clarity of the instruments cutting through the grain of the old recordings. The low end reaches deep enough to make the saxophone and bass sound warm, and treble response is refined enough to bring out both trumpet and piano notes without sounding bright.
The Play:1 is the most affordable Sonos speaker yet, and a strong performer despite its weak bass. At $200 it’s one of the simplest and most affordable ways to start a comprehensive multi-room audio system, and it can be combined with other Sonos speakers for excellent stereo or surround performance. If you want a portable speaker to take anywhere, a Bluetooth speaker like the Bose SoundLink Mini is a better choice. But if you want to build a home audio system, the Sonos Play:1 is a great starting point and earns our Editors’ Choice for multi-room speakers.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc