For years, Sonos has been synonymous with the concept of multi-room audio, so much so that it’s almost hard to know which came first.
At the very least, Sonos spotted a trend long before its competitors – at most, it’s responsible for making the market what it is today.
Sonos as a system has two big things going for it – breadth of choice and simplicity of use. In the time its rivals have needed to play catch up, it’s been able to launch a whole family of products and get on side with a long list of streaming services, not to mention really nail the usability side of it all too.
The importance of the latter cannot be overstated, and getting a Sonos system set up is one of the easiest methods we’ve tested.
You’ll need the Sonos app for your iOS or Android device, or alternatively you can download a desktop application for Mac or PC, all of which will walk you through the process step-by-step.
Until very recently, users were required to hardwire their first Sonos player directly to their router if possible, or use the Sonos Bridge (£32) instead.
While this is still recommended for the most robust connection – particularly for speakers spread across a large house for example – a recent update now allows users to skip this step, as long as their wireless network is strong enough to reach the room(s) containing the speaker(s).
While this certainly helps to make the system more flexible for newcomers, we’d still recommend investing in a Bridge (or hardwiring a master speaker), as it’s the only way to take advantage of the proprietary peer-to-peer ‘mesh’ network that makes Sonos so reliable.
This basically allows speakers to pass information between one another directly, rather than having to go via the router, guarding against dropouts and playback issues caused by less-than-perfect wi-fi.
We used a Bridge setup for this reason, and once it’s connected to your router via the included ethernet cable, getting a speaker onto your network takes seconds.
Simply press the connection button on the Bridge, followed by a two-key combination on your Sonos speaker of choice, and it will jump onto your network almost immediately.
The Sonos app is a large part of the system’s charm. As well as walking you through set up, it is where all of the control for your system will take place, enabling you to easily see and control what music is playing where, group speakers together and so on.
It also offers the widest choice of streaming service compatibility of any multi-room system, giving you access to all your music in one place.
This does mean you’ll get a Sonos version of the services, usually complete with core functionality and things like any playlists you’ve set up, but you will miss out on some additional features, like Spotify Radio for example.
More after the break
Having everything in one place has its benefits though, and Sonos’s universal search is one of them.
Search for an artist or title and Sonos will look through all of your music services and any local sources you have connected over a home network, like iTunes libraries and NAS drives. It’s a nice touch – most competitors only perform a search of one source at a time.
You’re also able to build playlists directly within Sonos, and from multiple sources as well. So if you want tracks from Spotify, Qobuz and Deezer to play nice with tracks from your NAS drive, you can do.
One big gap in Sonos’s offering is its lack of support for high-res audio, and with systems from Bluesound, Simple Audio and LG now offering just that, it’s a shame Sonos hasn’t followed suit. If you try to play anything high-res you’ll get an error message, so it won’t even downsample it – it truly is out of bounds.
Still, it supports all the main file formats, including MP3, WMA, FLAC (up to 16 bit/44.1kHz), WAV, AAC and AIFF, recommending FLAC format for lossless files to ensure the most accurate indexing.
When it comes to performance, each member of the Sonos family offers the same entertaining character that makes the system so listenable, giving a wholly universal sound no matter which speakers you own.
While it can’t compete with the level of detail heard in high-res systems, it’s still able to dig out a decent amount of insight from our Spotify stream of Walking with Elephants by Ten Walls.
It’s an enthusiastic and engaging listen, but is still able to keep a firm hand on the bouncing brass bassline as it powers along, never allowing it to sound cumbersome or heavy handed.
Play something softer, like Bon Iver’s Skinny Love, and the vocals are focused and believable, while the banjo strumming is packed with texture.
There’s a conceivable amount of depth and space to the presentation too, not to mention a sense of scale in every speaker that belies their size.
It’s a well-balanced system – the bass is strong but taut, the midrange shows superb clarity and the treble is open and controlled – all of which come together to create a rich, full-bodied sound that is endlessly entertaining. It’s our job to listen with a critical ear, the Sonos system is one of those that makes you just sit back and enjoy.
EQ settings are available for each speaker individually should you wish to tinker, plus there’s a “loudness” switch too.
We turned it off for the best clarity – with it on we could feel the bass become slightly bloated, particularly if the speaker was placed in a corner. It’s worth a try to see what’s best for your set-up though.
When it comes to general usability, it’s hard to find fault. There’s no delay when skipping tracks or source, and the whole experience is a smooth and well-integrated one. You can even pause a track and come back to it a day later and it’ll pick up right where you left off.
We would recommend heeding Sonos’s advice and sticking to FLAC files on NAS drives where possible though – some of our WAV files lost their artwork or tags, leading to wrong indexing.
This is a problem with the way WAV works rather than Sonos though, and is a problem we’ve noted on a number of rival systems too.
While we hope Sonos has high-res support up its sleeve for the near future, if your music collection is largely CD quality tracks and below, or you’re a serial Spotify user, then Sonos provides a fantastic ecosystem within which to build your multi-room setup.
Reasonably priced, effortlessly stylish and with a plethora of options to expand your system as you go, Sonos is still one of multi-room’s class acts.