If you’re thinking of venturing into multi-room audio and aren’t bothered about high-resolution audio (take a look at Bluesound if you are), the chances are you’ve set your sights on Sonos. And why not? Over the last decade, it has almost single-handedly shaped the wireless multi-room market into what it is today, and thanks to its competitive sound, vast array of streaming services and set-up simplicity, remains one of the most compelling wireless streaming solutions out there.
But while the core products in the Sonos family – the Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5 wireless speakers, the Playbar soundbar, Playbase soundbase and Sub, and new One smart speaker – all share the same DNA, it’s more than just price (although they've all gone through a price hike) and size that distinguish each product. Your particular needs will determine which one(s) you should buy, and we’re here to help guide you on your way...
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The Play:1 is the brand’s entry-level speaker and the perfect starting point for those tight on space or budget. Around the size of a bag of sugar, it can fly solo or be paired with another (for a multi-room set-up, or in stereo mode), and gets you everything the Sonos experience has to offer: access to streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, internet radio and more - all streamable through the intuitive Sonos Controller app, via wi-fi or Ethernet.
Setting the bar for performance at this price, it belts out more weight and solidity, punch and power than you’d expect from its humble proportions, making it one of our favourite wireless speakers at this price.
Why should you buy the Play:1?
A neatly-packaged, good value speaker, the Play:1 is great for laying the foundations of your Sonos journey, or for cost-effectively expanding your existing system into more rooms. Just be aware that, unlike some portable rivals such as the Samsung R6, the Play:1 isn’t battery-powered.
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While the Play:3 matches its smaller sibling for features, the reason for choosing it lies with better sound. Its extra driver and bass radiator bring more bass weight and depth, volume and power to the table.
Unsurprisingly, its trapezoidal chassis has a larger footprint than the Play:1, measuring 13 x 27 x 16cm (hwd), and thanks to rubber feet and automatic EQ adjustment can be orientated vertically as well as horizontally for a more natural look if two are paired in stereo.
Why should you buy the Play:3?
If you can loosen your purse-strings, the Play:3’s improved performance over its sibling more than justifies its price hike. And with the dispersion and power to fill a larger space, you get a living room-friendly speaker without having to spend a small fortune.
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More after the break
While the Play:1 and Play:3 are still knocking around in their first generations, the flagship Play:5 was updated in 2015. It swaps physical buttons for touch controls, and the two-button set-up process for an even simpler sync button. More importantly, internal tweaks (increased cabinet volume for deeper bass, for example) and three tweeters and mid-woofers a piece make this the best-sounding Sonos speaker yet, surpassing even the Play:3 with greater power, punch, detail and dynamics.
Flexible orientation remains, and what’s more, it’s the only Sonos speaker that puts offline listening on the map thanks to the inclusion of a 3.5mm input - a saving grace if (gasp!) your network goes down.
Why should you buy the Play:5?
While you could probably pick up the old Play:5 for a bargain, the new flagship – still one of the best wireless speakers we’ve heard at this price – is certainly worth the extra outlay if you can find a spot for its footstool-size chassis. With an exciting and engaging sound that is more than capable of dominating the largest room in a house, it’s got ‘party time’ written all over it.
MORE: Sonos Play:5 review
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Sonos in a soundbar. Essentially, the Playbar offers the same core functionality and streaming features of its speaker siblings, but can connect to your TV too (via digital optical cable only). As you’d expect, its room-filling presentation is a huge improvement over a TV sound, offering weight, solidity, dynamics and a bass depth that can be made all the more impactful when a Sonos SUB (£700) is added to the mix.
Any of the wireless speakers above can be paired with the Playbar too, to act as surround channels for a full 5.1 set-up. In this set-up, it can decode Dolby Digital and produce pseudo-surround from a stereo signal, but can't handle DTS or higher quality soundtracks such as Dolby TrueHD.
Why should you buy the Playbar?
The Playbar isn’t cheap, and the Dali Kubik One may get you more performance per pound, but the fact it delivers movies and the Sonos music streaming package puts it in another league to anything else on the market. If that’s what’s important to you, and/or a space-hogging surround system isn’t practical, the Playbar is hard to ignore.
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The Playbase is quite simply a Playbar in the form of a soundbase. Stylish yet sturdy enough to plonk your telly on top, the Playbase makes perfect sense if you don't fancy using a soundbar.
But for the first time, this Sonos product isn't flawless. Despite its huge, airy soundstage and energetic, solid bass (which sounds more natural than the Playbar) there's a sibilance to the treble that can be hard to ignore. There's punch and ample dynamics, though, so we'd recommend giving it a try before you buy.
It's a breeze to use when going multi-room and you still get access to all those streaming smarts but like the Playbar, the lack of HDMI connections is something worth bearing in mind.
Why should you buy the Playbase?
The Playbase isn't perfect, but the core Sonos features we love - its ease of use, the extensive streaming features, great app - are all present. It's a sure step up from your flatscreen TV's sound, and there isn't any other soundbase that packs in so many useful features into one streamlined box.
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The great thing about Sonos is not only its wide range of products, long list of streaming services, user-friendly usability and good value performance. It’s that your system can constantly grow - whether that's through adding wireless speakers to your soundbar set-up or planting them in another room.
While no longer compulsory, we would recommend anyone committed to the multi-room cause to hardwire one (a ‘master’) speaker to your network router, so you can take advantage of the proprietary peer-to-peer ‘mesh’ network that makes Sonos so reliable. Alternatively, the more powerful Sonos Boost (£99) is designed to make your wi-fi signal ‘twice as’ robust - ideal for large houses and thick walls.
Why should you buy the Sonos System?
As an entire ecosystem, Sonos is hard to fault - if you don’t mind sacrificing hi-res audio support, of course. Sensibly priced, beginner-friendly and with an appealing expand-as-you-go ethos, it’s a multi-room mogul to be reckoned with.
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Of course, Sonos is not the only option. The company was first, and has somewhat cornered the multi-room market, but big players such as Bose, LG, Samsung and Sony, and hi-res supporting brands such as Bluesound, have since joined the fray.
The Bluesound Generation 2 continues to win our Product of the Year in the multi-room audio category in the 2017 Awards, delivering class-leading sound quality from a well-featured, easy to use system.
And there are other options, each with their own unique selling points. Check out our full Sonos guide for everything you need to know about the speaker ecosystem and its alternatives...