The Sonos wireless multi-room system helped revolutionise the way many of us listen to music at home. A whole home music system became a reality, thanks to the way the Sonos system connected together, delivering music to every room in your house – whether in unison or creating different zones of music.
Sonos may not have been the very first, and it's certainly no longer the only option, but it was the class-leader for a long time thanks to its usability, functionality and sound quality. Sonos kick-started the idea that your music system was no longer restricted to one room or by pesky cables.
You can now stream your music from a range of devices – phone, laptop, NAS drive – to multiple speakers around the home using your home wireless connection. There are plenty of manufacturers offering this multi-room experience, but Sonos continues to be one of the leading players with its long-established and well-developed multi-room family of products, from wireless speakers to soundbars, amplifiers to portable Bluetooth speakers.
Here, we'll guide you through everything you need to know about Sonos, and help you set up your own Sonos multi-room system.
What is Sonos? How does it work?
Sonos was founded in 2002 with one simple aim: to transform your home sound system for the digital age. Its products and software are designed to fill every room of your home with music, and the flexibility and functionality of its products has made the company a household name. No wonder the likes of Amazon, Audio Pro, Bose, Denon, Google and LG have since got in on the act.
The Sonos wireless sound system originally worked by connecting one single speaker to your home network, then adding more Sonos units (up to a maximum of 32) into the mix, using a dedicated secure wireless mesh network known as Sonosnet. Now, should you prefer, you can simply connect any number of Sonos products to your home wireless system - there's no longer a need for one device to be connected to your router.
But that Sonosnet network was certainly integral to the way Sonos's multi-room speakers operated initially, sitting one step removed from your home network. That meant a stronger, more robust signal, that wasn't prone to dropouts when streaming music. The choice is yours now.
Sonos launched the amplified ZonePlayer ZP100 and CR100 controller back in 2004 and it hasn't looked back since, continuing to innovate with new products and wireless speakers to expand and enhance the listening experience at home while adding streaming services and voice control to its ever-growing roster of offerings. And with a new Sonos S2 platform set to launch in June 2020 promising some serious upgrades, there's plenty to look forward to for anyone with a Sonos system.
Sonos: getting started
A major part of Sonos's appeal and meteoric rise in popularity lies in its hugely simple set-up process.
The Sonos app (available on Android and iOS) will walk you through the set-up, but it requires little more than pressing the speaker's sync button (to link them to your network and other Sonos speakers), finding the connected speaker on the app and entering details such as your wi-fi password. It's really that simple. And the slick, easy-to-use Sonos app makes everyday use even easier.
In the app, you can assign each speaker to a room of your house, programme it so the volume can be controlled via your TV's standard remote, and add your favourite streaming services.
Adding other speakers is a breeze: just tap in the app to add a new speaker, press the sync button on the back and it's all done. It's still the smoothest multi-room set-up going.
The current roster of Sonos products includes the Play:1 and Play:5 wireless speakers, the Playbar, Playbase and Sub, the Sonos One and Sonos One SL smart speakers with Alexa voice control, the Sonos Beam soundbar with every feature thrown in and the very latest Sonos Move portable Bluetooth speaker.
You don't have to part with your beloved hi-fi system for Sonos to work, either. If you have a traditional stereo-amp-and-speakers set-up, add a Sonos Connect to turn it into a streaming system. Similarly, the Connect:Amp combines streamer and amplifier – so you can simply add it to your existing pair of stereo speakers. While these are still available, the latest versions are the Sonos Port and Sonos Amp.
There are also ancillary products such as the Sonos Boost. Connecting this box directly to your router expands and strengthens the wi-fi for Sonos products. It broadcasts 360-degree signals through walls and ceilings - ideal if you're setting up a multi-room system in challenging wireless environments. Oh and there are in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, too.
Sonos apps and services
The Sonos app is a large part of the system's charm. As well as walking you through the set-up, it's where you can control all aspects of your Sonos products and access your entire music library.
Sonos's mission statement is to offer 'all the music on Earth', so – along with playing music from digital libraries (such as from a NAS device or a laptop) – you'll find the widest choice of streaming service compatibility on the app. Sonos's aim is to be platform agnostic, and it's the most comprehensive list we've seen in any multi-room product.
Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud, Tidal, TuneIn... the list of supported apps goes on. Though, it's worth noting you will need premium subscriptions for some of these.
Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal bring CD-quality, lossless streaming to Sonos. While the other music services offer files up to 320kbps, these three services offer unlimited streaming access to CD-quality FLAC files at 16bit/44.1kHz for a monthly subscription charge. Sonos doesn't currently support high-resolution audio - more on that later - but following the recent announcement of the Sonos S2 platform, it looks like that could change by June 2020 for certain products.
One of Sonos's best features is that you can build playlists directly within the Sonos app, and from multiple sources as well. So if you want to add tracks from both Spotify and Tidal onto a playlist of tracks from your NAS library, you can.
Where you place your Sonos speaker in the room will affect its sound. The Sonos Trueplay feature within the Connect app (available on iOS only) aims to counter this, using the microphone on an iPhone or iPad to measure the response of the speaker in your room and tweak its sound to suit.
This set-up process runs through a series of test tones and sweeps, which will be familiar to anyone who has set up an AV receiver. The process tunes your speaker to the room, adjusting the bass and the treble to get it sounding the best it can.
Trueplay's calibration is particularly useful if your Sonos speaker is placed in a less-than-ideal location, such as tucked into a corner. Of course, if you don't like the changes, you can always set it back to default.
Works with Sonos
Another badge to look out for if you're buying into the Sonos ecosystem, is 'Works with Sonos'. The Works with Sonos badge certifies products that connect with the Sonos family seamlessly, so you know which smart products you can count on to connect to your system without fuss. That's the theory, at least.
Lutron, Onkyo, IKEA and iPort are just some of the brands using the branding and certification. You can see a fuller list on the Works with Sonos page.
Sonos missing features and things to consider
Of course, while Sonos bills itself as a "wireless hi-fi system", there's no denying a little more cash spent on a dedicated separates system will deliver better sound.
There are myriad streaming options should you value sound quality over the flexibility Sonos offers. You can stream music from your NAS device and other digital libraries to the Audiolab 6000N Play, for instance, to get fantastic audio. And the more streamers (and speakers) you buy, the more rooms of music you can have.
You would also get high-resolution audio support – something not offered by Sonos, though this could finally be about to change. At the time of writing, if you want to play downloaded 24bit/192kHz files, you're out of luck – Sonos tops out at CD-quality music. It's an area where rivals such as Bluesound and Denon have been quick to capitalise. Other formats not supported by Sonos products include DTS and Dolby Atmos. But that could be about to change.
Sonos has announced a new S2 platform, which will arrive on some of its products later this year. Details are thin on the ground but what is clear is that it will only arrive on more recent products, some will be left behind on "S1", but that the new S2 platform will allow support for "upgraded audio bandwidth". Again, it's not confirmed, but we would assume this to mean hi-res audio and Dolby Atmos. S2 is due to launch in June, so we will have to wait and see.
Sonos Recycle Mode and software updates
Another issue to consider is future compatibility, with Sonos recently getting into hot water over its Recycle Mode, which was accused of 'bricking' perfectly good speakers which had become too old to receive the latest firmware updates.
The latest announcement saw Sonos row back from that and kill Recycle Mode, encouraging customers to perform a simple factory reset on their older gear before trading it in, or choose to give it to someone, recycle it at a nearby facility or send it to Sonos and let the firm handle it.
The good news is that the Sonos Trade Up programme still exists, and customers who own eligible older 'legacy' products can get the same discount, but they are no longer required to needlessly render usable speakers inoperable.
The following older products will no longer receive updates, and that includes the recently-announced plans for the S2 software platform:
All Zone Players (ZP80, ZP90, ZP100, ZP120)
Connect:Amp (sold between 2006 and 2015)
Play:5 (Gen 1)
Realistically, this is an issue affecting all smart products, from speakers to TVs. If anything, the fact Sonos has supported older products for far longer than many other companies, and many people still love their older Sonos devices, has inadvertently served to make Sonos' future support issue a much bigger deal than it is for other companies.
As we said in our opinion piece, the Sonos backlash simply reveals the cold hard truth of smart tech - it has a shelf life, especially if you want the latest features and updates.
- Sonos talks Dolby Atmos, DTS, sound quality and Beam soundbar
- Sonos says high-res audio support "not on the roadmap"
"So if I want a wireless multi-room speaker system in my home, I must turn to Sonos?" Not so fast. There are other options to consider, some of which offer a different flavour of sound or a different set of features to challenge Sonos's dominance.
The first of these is one of the newer entrants into the multi-room market: Audio Pro. We're big fans of the Swedish company's individual wireless speakers (which have picked up plenty of What Hi-Fi? Awards), so we aren't too surprised a multi-room system made from these superb speakers (Audio Pro Addon C5, Addon C3 and Addon C10) sounds great. What surprises us more is how its musicality is unrivalled by anything at a similar price – or even quite a lot more.
Such is the appeal of Audio Pro's expressive, nuanced and precise performance, we prefer it – in pure sound quality terms – over Sonos and Bluesound systems. Audio Pro's simple app can be a little buggy (and isn't anywhere near as fully-featured as Sonos's) but, for sound quality at an affordable price, this multi-room system is currently unbeatable.
Read the full review: Audio Pro multi-room system
The first genuine threat to Sonos was Bluesound, whose key hook of support for high-resolution audio made it our preferred multi-room system for years (as multiple Awards trophies will attest). Its wide range of products (which includes wireless speakers, a streamer, amplifier and soundbar) and subtly detailed and punchy sound made this pricey system worth investing in. But that was before Audio Pro came into the picture with its superior sounding speakers for less money.
It remains a solid-sounding system despite losing its fifth star, though, with an improved BluOS app that now supports Alexa voice control and makes daily use a breeze (even if it's still can't match Sonos's intuitiveness). If you have deep pockets and a library full of hi-res music, it's worth a punt.
Read the full review: Bluesound Generation 2i
Here’s a question: if the Sonos One and Sonos Beam incorporate Alexa and Google Assistant voice control, is there really any reason to buy the Amazon Echo or Google Home speakers?
There is: both Amazon and Google's ranges of voice-assisted speaker products offer a wealth of smart home features that aren't available when they're incorporated in third-party speakers like Sonos. And while previously we'd say these smart speakers are more suited to those who prioritise the fun smart perks over outright sound quality, that tide is now turning.
Amazon's latest generation of Echo speakers – particularly the Echo Plus (2nd Gen) and Echo Dot (3rd gen) to a lesser extent – are all good speakers in their own right. The entire Echo family (including older generations) also all multi-room speakers, with Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music and TuneIn radio supported for multi-room streaming.
Google's Home and Home Mini similarly connect to any number of its voice-controlled wireless speakers for a multi-room set-up, and its compatibility with Chromecast streaming (and therefore other products with Chromecast built-in, such as smart TVs) should set it apart from Amazon's offerings, too.
We're not wild about any of these products' audio performances, however: they're acceptable for background listening, rather than being your main music system.
But most pertinently, they both offer cheaper alternatives to Sonos. You can get an Amazon Echo 2 for under £100/$100, while the Google Home isn't much more, making them a good alternative if you're on a budget.
Sonos: products and reviews
As an entire ecosystem, Sonos is hard to fault – if you don't mind sacrificing hi-res audio, of course. Sensibly priced, beginner-friendly and with an appealing expand-as-you-go ethos, it's a multi-room solution to be reckoned with.
Now that you're armed with all the information, fancy creating your own wireless home sound system?
If you're investing in a Sonos speaker or soundbar, take a look at our round-up of all Sonos products that we've had in our test rooms.
Sonos finally went and did it. Launching a portable, Bluetooth speaker - bringing two much-requested features that have never previously been seen on Sonos speakers. Strangely, the Sonos Move is also on the big, heavy and expensive side. So while the sound is predictably good for the size and money, there's some tough competition in this category. But if you want a portable, Bluetooth Sonos speaker, this will do a fine job.
Read the full review: Sonos Move
Sonos IKEA speakers
These Sonos products have come from an unlikely link-up with IKEA. And the products themselves are similarly unlikely: yes, they're Sonos speakers, but they're also a lamp and a bookshelf, respectively. But don't be put off. Not only do both deliver the full Sonos experience and surprisingly decent sound, they are also the cheapest Sonos speakers on the market, with the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker costing just £99/$99.
The Sonos Beam is our Product of the Year winner for soundbars. We think this smaller soundbar is one of the best sound-per-pound products that Sonos has produced. Wide and spacious scale, chunky weight and clear dialogue all combine to deliver an impressive performance that we wouldn't expect from its compact dimensions. Headline features include an HDMI ARC connection, support for Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.
Read the full review: Sonos Beam
"A Play:1 with Amazon Alexa built-in" is the most succinct way we can describe Sonos's much vaunted new smart speaker, Sonos One. It sounds great, too – solid, sophisticated, spacious and organised – and Alexa's integration (especially with Spotify) makes it a dream to use. You can make a stereo pair with two One speakers, and with AirPlay 2 and Google Assistant, the One is one of the best-specified and most versatile smart speakers around.
Read the full review: Sonos One
Sonos One SL
The Sonos One SL is the Sonos One but without voice control. This makes it a little cheaper and also means if you want to make a stereo pair of Sonos One speakers, you don't need to have two with voice control.
The Sonos One SL is a justified update on the Play:1, a definitive, malleable companion to the Sonos One, and a musical, punchy, pleasing piece of kit when used completely alone.
Read the full review: Sonos One SL
An alternative to the Playbar, this product is designed as a strong, flat soundbase you can perch your TV upon. Sporting the exact same features as the Playbar (but now with the added bonus of AirPlay 2), the Playbase offers a different design for those who want to boost their TV's sound.
Read the full review: Sonos Playbase
The revamped Play:5 (2015) came packed with upgrades and improvements, such as an enclosed chassis that adds a new driver instead of a port. All the drivers have been redesigned, and you can position the speaker both horizontally and vertically, and you can make a stereo pair. There are also touch-sensitive controls, a 3.5mm audio input and AirPlay 2 support. It's pricey, but the big and bold performance will certainly appeal.
Read the full review: Sonos Play:5
The Play:1 is the entry-level gateway to the world of Sonos. The compact wireless speaker may not be portable, but it's about the size of a bag of sugar and can fit into any space. Ease of use is a huge draw, but it's backed by good sound quality and an affordable price. It's perfect for getting started on your Sonos journey or adding bits – such as rear surround speakers – to an existing set-up. You can also link two Play:1s together to make a stereo pair.
Read the full review: Sonos Play:1
Sonos in a soundbar. It combines the streaming features of Sonos while improving your TV's sound. It only has a digital optical connection (no HDMI) and there's no DTS support, but it's a decent addition to your TV system. Add two Play:1s or Play:3s and you've got yourself a 5.1 system, too.
Read the full review: Sonos Playbar
If you feel as though you're missing out on really deep basslines from the Playbar (or Playbase), simply add the matching wireless Sub for extra oomph. It's not as punchy as we'd like and it's rather pricey, but the Sub does add more power, scale and weight to the low end for movies and music alike.
Read the full review: Sonos Sub