In 2009, Sonos launched the original Play:5, its first wireless speaker and a product that helped shaped Sonos into what it is today.
Having previously focused on more traditional setups, the Play:5 was the first time Sonos had taken control of the user experience from beginning to end, and all the benefits that came with it.
Not only did it open up Sonos’s products to a wider audience, it also meant software updates could be sent to speakers to improve sound or add new features, even after the speaker was out of the shop and in a customer’s home.
Six years and a whole family of wireless speakers later, the product that Sonos calls “legendary” is retiring its jersey to make way for a new Play:5 – the first time the company has replaced a product. It’s got some big boots to fill then, but luckily it manages it and then some.
Sonos says the idea behind the new Play:5 design was to create “the quintessential speaker for the digital age”, with a focus on flagship sound and revamped design.
The look and feel is quite different to that of the original. It follows on from the design language quietly introduced on the Sonos Boost (the company’s wi-fi signal booster), and is altogether cleaner and more modern, if slightly less elegant.
Design is never something that is taken lightly at Sonos though, and every inch of the new look is there for a reason.
The new Play:5 can now be orientated in three ways, horizontally or on either side vertically. This means the design has to work across all orientations, and as a result it leans more towards the more simplistic styling of the Play:3.
This gives it greater flexibility for placement as well as a more ‘natural’ look when used in a stereo pair. Sonos didn’t announce stereo pairing as a possibility until after the original Play:5 was released, so it wasn’t a consideration in the original, more standalone design.
Whereas technology gets smaller and thinner with every iteration, the new Play:5 has gone the other way. It’s probably around the same width and height as the original, but is noticeably thicker – and for good reason.
The original Play:5 had a bass port on the back, which helped enhance the bass while keeping it as slim as possible. However, this meant sacrifices too – it couldn’t go as deep as Sonos wanted and was at risk of port chuffing at certain frequencies.
As such, Sonos decided to lose the port and go for a sealed architecture instead, increasing the acoustic volume to allow it to go louder and lower in the bass.
Sonos now says the Play:5 is capable of deeper, cleaner bass than even the Playbar, which is quite an achievement for a product around one-third of the size.
The front grille has been made out of plastic rather than metal in the new speaker – a process that extended the production by a year while the right balance of design and functionality was found.
In the original Play:5, the antennas were placed in the plastic base, but with that no longer an option, the six antennas (positioned for every possible orientation) had to be placed within the main body.
This meant that after lots of testing, a metal design proved impossible without affecting the new Play:5’s wireless performance. The design team went back to the drawing board and the new Audiofoil polycarbonate grille was the result.
Sonos claims the new Play:5 offers the best wireless performance it’s ever produced.
Controls have been given a makeover too, with physical buttons done away with in favour of touch controls.
There are controls for play/pause and volume up/down, as well as the ability to swipe left and right to change track. The volume and track controls will alter depending on the speaker orientation, to whichever makes the most sense.
While you’re more likely to do most of the controlling with your phone or tablet, the touch interface is immediately responsive if you do use it, with subtle tones that sound as your touch is acknowledged.
The lack of buttons means the two-button connection process is gone. It has been replaced with a physical sync button placed on the back, alongside the ethernet port and 3.5mm audio in as before.
Even the power cord has been tweaked and designed in house. Not only does its only wire now look more stylish, but it’s also a more environmentally-friendly, PVC and halogen-free cable to boot.
This whole design language is something Sonos says will be seen in future product releases, though it has said it would only ever replace products with acoustic improvements, not purely cosmetic.
More after the break
Ease of use
Even though the process has changed slightly, setting up the Play:5 is as simple as ever. The Sonos app will walk you through the set-up, but it requires little more than a tap on the sync button and entering details like your wi-fi password to get up and running.
Adding other speakers is just as simple, just click 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 setup going.
You’ll do much of your controlling via the app, with the ability to add your streaming services of choice, as well as search out music (up to 16-bit/44.1kHz) saved on the local network.
You can then search for tracks and create playlists across all your sources, which is hugely useful.
With the introduction of the new Play:5 comes Trueplay – new software Sonos has built into its app to optimise the sound of any Sonos wireless speaker in its location. A red dot will appear next to each speaker in the app menu to remind you that it hasn’t yet been Trueplayed.
Trueplay uses the microphone in your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch (Android devices aren’t currently supported, but hopefully it’s coming soon) to measure the response of the speaker in your room and tweak its sound to suit. It takes only a minute or so to do and is really quite effective (read more about Trueplay in our separate feature).
In our listening room setup, it did very little to the sound, but move it to a bad location – like tucked in a corner for example – and the difference is audible. It tightens up any boomy bass, adds clarity to the midrange and really cleans up the sound from top to bottom.
Once you have run Trueplay you’re able to toggle it on and off in the settings, as well as further EQ your speaker to your tastes should you require. We’d really recommend giving it a go.
A highlight of the Play:5 is its ability to fill even the biggest room with Its rich, powerful sound
When it comes to sound, even a quick listen is enough to tell you it’s not just the design that’s seen an overhaul. Not one driver from the original has been reused here, jumping from a five-driver set up to six, with six matching Class D amplifers and almost three times the acoustic horsepower.
Along the bottom, there are three custom-designed 10cm mid-woofers, which are bigger and more powerful versions of those found in the Play:1, alongside three tweeters along the top.
The left and right tweeters are in horns, directed out to the side to help give a wider sound. These measure 20mm, while the central tweeter is slightly bigger at 23mm. Some of the extra acoustic power here is used to create a speaker array, similar to that used in the Playbar, to help give a wide sound from a single box.
The result is unquestionable – this is a speaker that could fill even the biggest room of the house, and yet it doesn’t sound like you’d expect a single box to sound.
It sounds huge. The ability to go loud (and we mean loud) helps, but there’s so much space to the presentation that even at lower volumes this sounds like a much bigger speaker than it is.
MORE: Sonos Play:1 review
Play The Weeknd’s Earned It and the Play: 5’s command over dynamics is clear. The dramatic strings intro, punctuated with sudden drum strokes is delivered with both fluidity and punch, rising and falling on queue with timing that’s on point.
As spacious as it is, we’d say the new B&W Zeppelin just takes it for wideness from a one-box sound, but then there’s more solidity here.
It’s a lively, energetic sound and a forgiving one at that. Although you might get a touch more insight and subtlety with the Zeppelin, it’s more forgiving of the relative shortcomings of low bitrate Spotify tracks. A good move considering streaming lies at the heart of the Sonos experience.
That’s not to say the Play:5 isn’t capable of plenty of detail. Play Diana Krall’s Peel Me a Grape and the soulful vocal is articulate, richly textured and full of sass.
In fact, there is clarity in the midrange no matter what you play, which ensures vocals are always pushed to the front of a mix and never overshadowed.
This is one area that has seen an improvement from the previous generation, where vocals could get mixed up in a busy arrangement and lose their clout.
Another huge improvement is in the bass. The original Play:5 wasn’t lacking for its size, but what’s on offer here is in a different league. Not only is there more of it, but it’s deeper and more refined – you can add a sub should you wish, but we don’t see why you’d ever need to without a serious grudge against your neighbours.
Play A$AP Rocky’s L$D and the sub bass intro is enough to challenge any speaker, but the Play:5 more than handles it. Even at high volumes it keeps a handle on things and never sounds loose or flabby.
Similarly with Drake’s Hotline Bling, where the original Play:5 really struggles to deliver a clean bass line (with the occasional port chuffing to boot), the new Play:5’s is clean and solid.
Make sure you run Trueplay on your speaker to make sure it sounds its best
There’s no doubt it creates a wonderfully rich sound, but there will be a touch too much bass for more neutral ears. Luckily, EQ settings can put this right – we found a notch or two down helped to make it more tonally balanced.
The top end is rolled off just slightly, but this helps with its forgiving sound, ensuring nothing sounds hard or harsh. That said, we did notice a few hours of running in helped to get to this point – straight out of the box you might find certain frequencies a bit sharp, so give it some time to get to its best.
Make the move to stereo (with a second unit) and the sound is even bigger, with a solid stereo image. You can choose to place them horizontally or vertically in this arrangement, and while horizontally will certainly offer a wider sound thanks to the speaker array, we preferred the sound when vertical.
You’ll notice an improvement in dynamics in stereo, with the added power to really get behind the peaks and troughs in dramatic orchestral productions, like Hans Zimmer’s Gotham’s Reckoning.
That rich bass response is even more emphasised in this set up though, so you may find a visit to the EQ settings might be necessary to level things out to a more neutral playing ground.
MORE: Sonos Play:3 review
With a bigger, bolder, more powerful sound that goes low and wide without forgoing expression and clarity, there’s no doubt that the new Play:5 succeeds in completely overshadowing its predecessor. It's a touch pricier at £429 (the original was £350), but then you can hear where ever penny of that extra cash has been spent.
It shows just how far Sonos has come in a fairly short space of time. For now, it’s sticking to its guns of not offering high-res support but for a lot of its customer base, this won’t matter.
The Play:5’s rich, exciting and articulate way of delivering the best the streaming world has to offer, all as part of an excellent multi-room set up, makes it a truly compelling buy for both current Sonos owners and newcomers alike.
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