If you like the idea of multi-room audio, chances are you’ve considered Sonos. Over the last decade or so, the company has become synonymous with wireless multi-room audio, almost single-handedly shaping the market into what it is today.
With competitive sound, lots of support for streaming services, voice control options and simple set-up, Sonos remains one of the most compelling wireless streaming solutions out there – even with the likes of Audio Pro and Bluesound knocking at the door. The experience has just got even better, too, thanks to the introduction of the Sonos S2 platform update. Needless to say, we would recommend buying into the Sonos ecosystem if you’re thinking about building a wireless, multi-room system.
The core products in the Sonos family – Sonos One, One SL, Play:3 and Play:5 wireless speakers, the Arc and Beam soundbars, Playbase soundbase and Sub, plus the portable Sonos Move speaker – all share the same DNA, but it’s more than just price and size that distinguish each product. Your particular needs will determine which one(s) you should buy, and how you should configure the best Sonos setup for your home.
Sonos ceased new firmware update support for legacy products in May, so whether you’re considering upgrading to a current model or taking the first steps on your Sonos journey, we’re here to help. Not sure where to start? Wondering which Sonos speaker is best to buy? Read on to get the lowdown on the Sonos range…
Until now, Sonos owners have lacked the option of a portable Bluetooth speaker that can be taken into the garden to soundtrack a party, or even just to the bathroom to keep them company. But Sonos has now made its move – literally.
The Sonos Move is as much a Sonos wi-fi speaker as those before it – you get network music streaming, multi-room and voice assistant – but it also goes where no Sonos speaker has gone before by boasting a built-in battery and Bluetooth.
It’s big, heavy and expensive but it does deliver the sound to match, sounding spacious, loud and entertaining.
Why should you buy the Move?
If you want a portable, Bluetooth Sonos speaker, this is your only option. Luckily, it’s a pretty good option. It’s heavier and more expensive than we expected, and it can’t beat the best wireless speakers at this price, but for the Sonos experience in a portable package, the Sonos Move is still a great bet.
Sonos’s answer to the growing trend of smart speakers is a revamped version of the now-discontinued Play:1 with Amazon’s Alexa voice-control built-in – and it passes its smart test with flying colours.
It’s not the best-sounding smart speaker out there (that’s probably the Apple HomePod), but the One’s solid, detailed, spacious and organised presentation is identical to the excellent Play:1, and its Alexa is as seamless to use as on Amazon’s own speakers.
It has the crucial feature of being able to use Alexa to control Spotify, and it even supports AirPlay 2 and Siri, with Google Assistant due soon. The One is easily the most well-specified and versatile smart speaker currently around.
Why should you buy the Sonos One?
You wouldn’t buy the Sonos One just for its AI smarts. But it’s a great perk that’s hard to ignore. If you want a good-sounding wireless speaker that’s your stepping stone into the world of multi-room streaming (especially the convenient, feature-packed Sonos one) that just happens to have the added bonus of voice-control – all for an affordable sum – then the One is the one for you.
Sonos One SL
The cheapest wireless speaker in Sonos’ range, the One SL is essentially a Sonos One without voice control. To that end, it looks almost identical to the Sonos One, with a touch-sensitive top plate and pairing button at the back. And it sounds like one too, which is to its credit; the Sonos One sounds excellent.
The sonic performance, streaming options and app-support are among the best we’ve tested at this level.
Why should you buy the Sonos One SL?
If you don’t care for voice control and simply want Sonos integration, the One SL makes a lot of sense for you and your bank account. But it also serves another purpose for those who do want voice control: to work in a stereo pair with the One. Pair a One and One SL together in stereo – a set-up that looks and sounds good for the money – and you’ve created a pair of stereo speakers where the One can handle voice activation.
Sonos IKEA Symfonisk bookshelf speaker
We didn’t know what to expect when IKEA and Sonos released a bookshelf that could sing… but the results are actually quite impressive. The Sonos IKEA Symfonisk bookshelf speaker can be wall-mounted (or stand upright) and hold up to 3kg of books, ornaments or any other clutter you decide to place upon it. But as well as that, it also has all the Sonos wireless multi-room functionality you’d expect.
Though it was never likely to rival the Sonos One for sound quality – and doesn’t – the same character is there. This Symfonisk bookshelf speaker sounds bold and focused, only lacking a little refinement compared to the best speakers at this price.
Why should you buy the Sonos IKEA Symfonisk bookshelf speaker?
Do you like the design? Do you want a Sonos speaker that’s also a bookshelf? Do you want the (joint) most affordable Sonos speaker on the market? Look no further. But if you value sound quality and are prepared to spend a little more, we’d go for the Sonos One instead.
Sonos IKEA Symfonisk lamp speaker
Not content with a bookshelf, Sonos and IKEA also made a speaker that doubles as a lamp. And just like the bookshelf, the Symfonisk lamp speaker doesn’t quite match Sonos’s own products, but the performance is certainly better than you might expect.
The lamp itself is not entirely unassuming – especially if you opt for the white finish of our test sample – resembling something of an Apple Homepod in a hot air balloon, but being half home furnishing the design is by definition something you would have to want to see in your house regardless of its sonic capabilities.
But even when you ignore the Symfonisk’s obvious USP, this is a good-sounding speaker – one we certainly wouldn’t mind sitting on our desk or bedside table.
Why should you buy the Sonos IKEA Symfonisk lamp speaker?
There is nothing else quite like it on the market, but the real plus is that you aren’t forced wholly to sacrifice sonic prowess to accommodate the quirky design. And again, it’s the (joint) cheapest Sonos speaker available.
Surely the Play:3 is the next speaker to get an update? Originally reviewed in 2011, the Play:3 made waves by matching its smaller sibling for features but offering bigger, better sound. There’s an extra speaker driver and bass radiator, which helps bring more bass weight and depth, as well as extra volume and power.
Unsurprisingly, its trapezoidal chassis has a larger footprint than the Play:1, measuring 13cm tall by 27cm wide and, thanks to rubber feet and automatic EQ adjustment, it 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?
It looks old next to the newer, stylish products, but the Play:3 performance over its smaller sibling is worth the extra cash – especially now it’s come down in price. 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.
While the Play:3 is still knocking around in its original guise, the Play:5 had a hefty update in 2015 – all for the better (even if we knocked it down to four stars recently).
An enclosed chassis, redesigned drivers, touch-sensitive controls and the ability to position the speaker both horizontally and vertically were all welcome changes.
It sounds better than its mark one version and is, of course, bigger-sounding than its smaller siblings. The scale is huge, and the sound is packed with lively dynamics, rich basslines and attention to detail that makes it fun to listen to.
Why should you buy the Play:5?
The Play:5 remains Sonos’s biggest and boldest wireless speaker – but it’s no longer the best in class, not when Audio Pro’s Addon C10 sounds better for less money. But if you’re building a Sonos system and want a big sound from one box, the Play:5 will do a fine job.
The Sonos Beam is a small soundbar, around half the size of the discontinued Playbar and even smaller compared with the new Sonos Arc (below) that delivers one of the best sound-for-pound performances we’ve heard from a product of its kind. Chunky weight, clear dialogue and a rich, big-scale sound that belies its smaller size, and with all of Sonos’s streaming features for just £359 ($399)? That’s not bad at all.
The Beam features four full-range drivers, three passive radiators and one tweeter, but the headline features are an HDMI ARC connection (finally), Apple AirPlay 2 support, and integration of Alexa and Siri voice assistants.
Why should you buy the Beam?
The compact dimensions are ideal for those who can’t fit the larger, pricier Arc into their homes, though getting the full spectrum of Sonos’s multi-room and streaming features for a more affordable price will be hugely popular, too. It has HDMI and it sounds great.
Sonos’s latest achievement is the Arc, a Dolby Atmos soundbar that is, as we said in our review, “simple to set up, lovely to live with and supremely capable”. It’s a current What Hi-Fi? Award winner in the soundbar category too, if you needed further convincing.
The Arc is big – at 114cm wide, it is a bit wider than a typical modern 49in TV and proportionally best partnered with a 55in model (for comparison, the Playbar is 90cm wide). But if you can accommodate it, you won’t be sorry.
Unlike the Beam, the Arc supports eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), so it can handle Dolby Atmos signals from compatible TVs. And, in short, it delivers one of the most convincing Atmos presentations of any soundbar we’ve heard.
Why should you buy the Arc?
If you want one of the most convincing surround sounds performances from a soundbar on the market, plus the usual Sonos functionality, the Arc is the only thing for it. The Sub can be added for more brunt (although we don’t feel it necessary) and other Sonos speakers can be used as dedicated surrounds if you wish, just as with the Beam (above) and Playbar and Playbase (below).
The Playbar was replaced by the Arc so has essentially been discontinued. But it’s still on sale at some retailers – and for a discount too. It’s compatible with the latest Sonos S2 platform update, so owners won’t miss out there, and generally a good option for those looking for a soundbar at this price.
The Playbar offers the same core functionality and streaming features of its speaker siblings, but can also connect to your TV (via digital optical cable only, not HDMI as with the Arc and Beam). As you’d expect, its room-filling presentation is a huge improvement over a TV’s sound, offering weight, solidity, dynamics and bass depth that can be made all the more impactful when a Sonos Sub is added to the mix. As its size suggests, it offers a greater sense of height and a bigger spread of sound than the smaller Sonos Beam above, but it isn’t as sonically mighty as the Arc and doesn’t support Dolby Atmos.
If you want a more enveloping sound, any of the other wireless speakers can be paired with the Playbar 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 give you better audio performance, but the fact it delivers TV sound 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 a space-hogging surround system isn’t practical and/or you can’t afford the Arc’s outlay, the Playbar is hard to ignore.
Another discontinued (but Sonos S2-compatible) product that’s still knocking around at a discount, 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. In fact, it’s the only Sonos option if you’re set on the soundbase form.
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. It’s punchy and dynamic, 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, the great S2 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.
Sonos multi-room system
The great thing about Sonos is not only its wide range of products, long list of streaming services, user-friendly app and set-up, and consistently impressive performance. It’s also that your system can constantly grow – whether that’s through adding wireless speakers to your soundbar set-up or planting them in another room. And if you want to add voice control into the mix, it’s a seamless process.
While no longer compulsory, we would recommend anyone committed to the multi-room cause to hardwire at least 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 multi-room system?
As an entire ecosystem, Sonos is hard to fault – if you don’t mind sacrificing high-resolution 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.
Of course, Sonos is now far from the only option when going multi-room. The company may have been first, but big players such as Bose, LG and Yamaha, and hi-res supporting brands, including Bluesound and Denon, have since joined the fray.
The increasingly popular (and cheaper) smart speakers from Amazon and Google also offer multi-room streaming across their various voice-controlled products, while the Apple HomePod now has multi-room powers thanks to AirPlay 2 (which Sonos also has in select products).
While most rivals may not have been able to topple the multi-room giant, newcomers such as Audio Pro have shown it is possible to deliver great-value sound.
Check out our full Sonos guide for everything you need to know about the company’s speaker ecosystem and its alternatives.