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Published: 2014-07-24 - 15:57:38
Home Theater : Reviews : Speakers

Sonos PLAY:1 Wireless Streaming Music Speaker Review

By Greg Robinson

Sonos. Only Smaller.

In Frank Oz's criminally underrated comedy What About Bob?, Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) reminds us:

There are two types of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't.

My ex-wife loves him.

If you've ever listened to a Sonos whole-home audio system, you know that Sonos has both types of people covered. Bob's ex-wife can enjoy "Sweet Caroline" in the bedroom while Bob gets his Styx fix, rocking out to "Come Sail Away" in the kitchen. Plus, thanks to Sonos' latest self-powered wireless speaker, the PLAY:1, there's no space too small to enjoy your favorite tunes.

It's a Set-Up!

Following in the footsteps of its larger and older siblings, the PLAY:3 and the PLAY:5, Sonos' PLAY:1 speaker is a snap to set up - especially if you're just adding it as a new member of an existing Sonos system. If that's the case, simply plug in the PLAY:1 and use the controller app software to "Add a device" using the system setup menu.

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If you're a Sonos newbie and the PLAY:1 is the first device in your new Sonos system, you'll have the extra step of installing the software for the first time and configuring your system. Thankfully, Sonos makes this process utterly painless; it will mean a few extra minutes but don't expect any stress.

Although Sonos speakers such as the PLAY:1 can operate wirelessly or with standard Ethernet cables, they don't actually use your WiFi network to stream music. Sonos found that standard WiFi data networks were too slow and unreliable to guarantee glitch-free synchronized music playback across multiple zones so they actually created their own wireless mesh network to handle the music delivery. For this reason, Sonos does need at least one hard-wired connection to your network router so that the Sonos speakers can connect to any music soures in the home and to the internet at large. This network connection also allows you to control your Sonos speakers for virtually any smart phone, tablet, PC or Mac computer.

Even if you have a dozen Sonos speakers in your home, you only need one connected to your network via a hard wire. The rest of the Sonos speakers in the home communicate with each other wirelessly over the Sonos mesh network.

If, like me, your network router is in a basement closet or some other space you don't require music, Sonos offers the BRIDGE, which Sonos was kind enough to send me along with the two PLAY:1 speakers reviewed here. The BRIDGE is a small device roughly the size of an Apple TV or Roku player, and there's not much to it. Simply connect it to your network router with a standard ethernet cable and this will allow all of your other Sonos devices and speakers, including the PLAY:1, to operate wirelessly.

Plug It In, Plug It In

As is the case with Blu-ray Disc players and other wireless-ready electronics, calling the PLAY:1 a "wireless" speaker is somewhat misleading: you still have to plug it in to the wall to get power.  Granted, it's a smartly-designed, detachable, flush-mounted cord on the speaker's bottom - allowing you to push the PLAY:1 right up against a wall - but it's still a power cord.  I point out this need for a power cord as it is the only department in which the PLAY:1 has room for improvement. Or perhaps, room for another sibling.

Although most people will surely eye the PLAY:1 for use in a home office, bedroom, or other small space, the PLAY:1 is an extremely portable and versatile speaker. Several times during my review, I brought the speaker out to my pool patio and plugged it in using a nearby receptacle. And it sounded great - the perfect outdoor audio solution for a summer barbeque. The trouble is, you're not always going to have an outdoor power receptacle where you need one.

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During these times of outdoor use, I kept wishing the PLAY:1 featured a rechargeable battery and a slim base unit which could charge the speaker when in its regular, indoor resting place. A dedicated outdoor speaker is something Sonos fans have long been craving but a rechargable PLAY:1-sized speaker could be an exciting first step in that direction. Hey, one can dream, right?

[We even have a name for it: the "PLAY:Mobile!" -ed.]

With Great Power Comes Great Flexibility

For the uninitiated, it makes sense to take a moment and briefly explain what the Sonos system can do. Sonos makes such beautiful music by offering a brilliant combination of locally installed content (e.g. your iTunes library on your desktop or laptop) as well as streamed online content. The latter category includes both internet radio and just about any popular streaming service you can think of - Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Beats Music, Google Play Music, etc.

Using Sonos' exceptional controller app - a free download for your Mac or PC and/or freely available for download on your Android or iOS device - Sonos owners can control what's playing in each zone (a single PLAY:1 might be a zone called "Kitchen") and manage an integrated music queue which mixes local music with songs from any of the aforementioned streaming services. Taking things further, Sonos owners can even route different queues or sources to different zones or synchronize them all so that all speakers are playing the same tune during a party. In short: Sonos rocks.

PLAY:1? Great. Two? Even Better!

As I've already said, the PLAY:1 is an extremely versatile speaker. Like the PLAY:3 and PLAY:5 speakers, the PLAY:1 can operate as a standalone speaker but it can also be mated with another PLAY:1 to create a stereo pair. Like everything else in the Sonos controller app, setting this up is a breeze. A few clicks and a button hold later and suddenly you're getting glorious stereo separation - something a lone PLAY:1 simply can't provide.

To test this stereo feature, I installed a pair of PLAY:1 speakers in my home office and named the zone "Office." I next selected the Rdio streaming app as my source for the "Office" zone and fired up a few of my favorite tracks where the benefits of 2-channel stereo are abundantly clear. After listening to the first 13 seconds of "Money" by Pink Floyd on a single PLAY:1, it was remarkable the difference when I added the second speaker. That cash register sounded loads better with the second PLAY:1 in the mix and the guitar and vocals, once they started, were beautifully centered and airy, wonderfully suspended in the center of my new stereo sound stage.  Just for fun, I also played Blind Melon's "No Rain" as well as "Moving in Stereo" from The Cars. The stereo results were equally impressive on these tracks.

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If you can spare the extra coin, there's no question that a pair of PLAY:1 speakers is the way to go. If you're outfitting a kitchen, bathroom, or child's bedroom, a single PLAY:1 is a perfectly adequate solution. However, if you're talking about a room where you're able to do any critical music listening, a stereo pair of PLAY:1 speakers is remarkably easy to set up and the sound will likely surprise you. Although the PLAY:1's low end is noticeably thin, the midrange and high end on these little speakers is eyebrow-raisingly good.

For listeners who seek a deeper, more robust low end, Sonos does offer a few options. For starters, you could step up to the beefier PLAY:3 or PLAY:5 speakers. As I said earlier, these models can be similarly paired for stereo use. Another alternative is adding a Sonos SUB to the party. And while adding a $699 wireless subwoofer to a pair of $199 speakers may seem like a questionable idea, this unique setup does provide for other possibilities. Add a PLAYBAR to that combination and suddenly you're rocking a 5.1-channel home theater, with the PLAY:1 pair handling the surround sound duties.

Turn-Ons

  • Tiny footprint, big sound
  • Easy to pair with a second PLAY:1 for stereo sound
  • Sonos Controller mobile app keeps getting better

Turn-Offs

  • Looks weatherproof, but it isn't
  • Wish list: rechargeable battery for easier outdoor use
  • Black and white are a good start. More colors please!

Final Thoughts

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Unfortunately for Bob Wiley and his ex-wife, Sonos has only been around for the last twelve years. However, during that time the folks at Sonos have established themselves as true leaders in the DIY whole-home audio game. No one does it better and no one makes it easier to enjoy your favorite music anywhere in the house. Giving it some more thought, it's fair to say that Bob Wiley may have been mistaken. In fact, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who love their Sonos system and those who haven't yet set one up.

Whether you use it as a standalone speaker in a small space, pair it with a second PLAY:1 for stereo sound in a larger space, or combine it with a PLAYBAR and SUB for a wireless home theater, the PLAY:1 is a versatile, attractive, and great-sounding speaker that extends (or begins) your Sonos system in brilliant fashion. Neil Diamond fan or not, the Sonos PLAY:1 has you covered. Highly recommended.

Manufacturer's Specifications

  • MSRP: $199
  • 3.5" mid woofer
  • Two Class D amplifiers

What's in the Box?

  • PLAY:1 speaker
  • Quick start guide
  • Ethernet cable
  • Detachable power cord

More Information

Web: www.sonos.com

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