Sonos Play:5 Review: Our favorite speaker system gets even better

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As the kid of two musicians—and a bit of a dabbling musician myself—music is practically in my DNA. I listen to it constantly, and as someone who works at home, my music library is pretty much a co-worker at this point.

All this to say: Music and I are pretty good pals. But despite this close relationship, I've been very stubborn about listening to it properly. There were years where I relied on nothing but my laptop's speaker system, to my friends' horror (and my father's disapproval).

When I did finally upgrade my setup a few years back, I briefly considered Sonos (opens in new tab), but resisted its siren call. The company's wireless speakers were awesome technology, to be sure, but they were too expensive, I protested. I lived in a studio apartment; what use had I for a wireless speaker system?

When I joined iMore last year, those excuses were silenced: I found myself on the receiving end of a Playbar (opens in new tab) and very quickly discovered the joy of the Sonos ecosystem.

My Playbar is pretty great. But Sonos's newest speaker reinvention, the Play:5 (opens in new tab), is a symphony of delight—one that both incorporates current Sonos themes and sets the tone for the future of the company.

A little night music

The Play:5 of years past says adieu to make room for Sonos's new take on the largest of its standalone speakers: Gone are the boxy edges and platform base. The Play:5 now comes closer to the Play:3 and Play:1 in design, looking more like someone sliced off a perfect rectangular slab of speaker—with a few edge curves, for style.

Thanks to this redesign, the Play:5 can sit either horizontally or vertically depending on the niche it's filling. Horizontally, it can take over a room with its power; vertically, it works as a stereo pair to give the ultimate home theater experience.

When I say power, I'm not joking: The Play:5 at its maximum volume can be heard clearly all over our two-story house, and at quite a distance outside the house, as well—with little to no distortion.

For fun, I grouped my Playbar and Play:5 and did a little full-volume bass test with "[Uptown Funk](". The Playbar, sans SUB, started to distort around 55 percent volume; the Play:5 never did, even when I had it blasting at 100 percent—so loud that I expected to get a noise complaint from our neighbors.

The Play:5's six digital amplifiers, three tweeters, and three mid-woofers all do an exceptional job here to keep music sounding crisp and immersive, even at low or high levels of volume. I couldn't find a song that sounded flat—and I threw quite a few different genres at it over my week and a half of testing.

All that said, I expect a $499 speaker to sound great. The best part of the Play:5 is, of course, how it expands beyond its footprint into the iOS world beyond.

Baby, Be TruePlay

This is the part of the review where I'd really love to write "And the Play:5 has AirPlay now!" Sadly, no: Sonos is sticking pretty firm to its proprietary wireless system. This has been a long-time frustration between most Apple users and Sonos—AirPlay is incredibly useful for, say, playing audio from your computer, or streaming a podcast you just downloaded. You can get the best of both worlds by adding an AirPort Express to a specific Sonos speaker, but it's not an ideal solution.

But as someone who relied on AirPlay and AirPlay speakers for years pre-Sonos, I've come to prefer the Sonos system—even if it does require a somewhat clunky OS X app to add your local music. AirPlay is rarely rock-solid, especially when you start playing tunes for hours at a time. I can't count the number of times where an AirPlay connection glitched on me after 5 hours of play, and while I love the freedom of AirPlay, the reliability of the Sonos system is what keeps me coming back. In the year I've had my Playbar I've never had a network music glitch—no easy feat.

Sonos's multi-room grouping also makes the system especially compelling for those who have multiple speakers: You can play the same music throughout your house on all speakers at custom volumes; switch it up and have different rooms rocking different tunes; and control it all through the Sonos iOS app. Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil can help you do the same thing for your AirPlay devices, but I go back to the reliability factor: Airfoil helps patch things together, but needs to be running constantly on your Mac for the system to hold.

The Play:5 continues the Sonos tradition of solid, smart connectivity, and its mobile app is better than ever. Like always, you can wirelessly manage your queues, which can include music from your music library (uploaded via OS X) along with any subscriptions you might have to Spotify, Amazon Music, Bandcamp, Google Play, iHeartRadio, Last.FM, Mixcloud, MLB Game Day Audio, Pandora, Rdio, Rhapsody, SiriusFM, SoundCloud, Tidal, and a bunch more.

Sadly, that list has yet to include Apple Music—it's still projected to come to the speaker system by the end of 2015. But you know what? When Apple Music finally does arrive, it's going to sound spectacular—and not just because of Sonos's amplifiers and mid-woofers.

You see, there is a big app addition launching with the Play:5—TruePlay (opens in new tab), Sonos's iOS-based answer to room tuning.

With TruePlay, when you first set up your speaker, you'll be asked to wave your iOS device around the room in question to the tune of a ping, using your iPhone or iPod's microphone to define how sound penetrates the space. In theory, this allows the speaker to change its equalization to provide you with the best sound, no matter where it's broadcasting.

If it sounds a little goofy, you're not wrong: It definitely feels a bit odd to use an iPhone like you would a metal detector. But the results are nothing short of impressive.

I set up the Play:5 in several vastly different spaces and configurations—my tiny office, our combination kitchen/living room, the basement, a bathroom—and after each minute-long setup, TruePlay helped provide a surprisingly consistent sound. I got the same great Etta James sound in our cramped tile bathroom as our spacious living room—a result I was definitely not expecting.

Sonos's TruePlay (opens in new tab) technology isn't all that revolutionary: You could even equate it to the modern-day equivalent of musicians tuning their instruments before a concert to test the room's ambience. But by incorporating iOS devices, the company has come up with a brilliant way to make the technology accessible and useable to the average music enthusiast.

Best of all: TruePlay may be launching with the Play:5, but it's not exclusive to Sonos's newest speaker. The Play:1 and Play:3 will get TruePlay tuning in a future update, too. Unfortunately for Android and Windows Phone users, TruePlay is iOS-only for now—I suspect the sheer number of OEM devices and varying microphone builds may make it a lot harder to engineer this sort of calibration.

It's just a swipe to the left

The Play:5 looks great, sounds great, and has some fabulous new iOS technology making it shine. But let's talk a little bit about what, in my opinion, is the unsung hero of the device: the new touchpad.

Yes, physical buttons have gone the way of polka, replaced with a sleek touch-sensitive surface and three tiny markings atop the speaker (if set up horizontally). The slightly-raised Play/Pause button sits directly above the vertical Sonos logo, framed by the player's signature white light. On either side of it are four dots arranged in a square—the volume down and up buttons, respectively. These are pressure-sensitive in that you can tap and rest your finger on the square to lower or raise the volume multiple degrees; a single tap will provide one jump, respectively.

To move forward and backward through your queue, you can now swipe to the right or left—across the volume and play buttons. Sadly, there appears to be no scrub built into this function; you can't drag slowly to just speed up the song, for instance. I'm hoping this might be considered in a future update, however, because the recognition is certainly there: I tried swiping at a number of different speeds, and every time the speaker recognized that I was swiping, not tapping on a specific button.

These are the kinds of controls it's easy to half-ass in the name of "the future!". I'm glad to see Sonos hasn't done so. The touch controls work, and they work consistently—and I've never had so much fun jumping between songs.

Bottom line

What do you get when you redesign one of the best wireless speaker systems in the world and pair it with the power of an iOS device? Great sound. Smart room analysis. A sleek, Apple-worthy redesign. And a pretty phenomenal update overall.

After testing the Play:5 these last few weeks, I want them all over my house. Sonos knows its game, and it plays it exceedingly well: This is a well-crafted, dynamically-powerful speaker that looks at home in your bathroom, in your office, on your kitchen counter, and in your living room.

Is a Sonos system worth investing in over an AirPlay speaker or two? It depends on what you want to do with your sound system. If you plan to group speakers together, use them with your television, or keep your queue device-neutral, the company provides one of the best platforms in the business for doing so. And the Play:5 gives you a better entry point than ever to jump in.

You can pre-order the Sonos Play:5 starting October 29; it's available in stores starting November 20 in the U.S. (November 25 worldwide).

Sonos Play:5 - $499 - Pre-order now! (opens in new tab)

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

  • No AirPlay, no Apple Music, no buy. Upload songs via OS X? You gotta be kidding me.
  • Upload via OS X is not a requirement. The Sonos app can play any songs that are in my iOS music app. For me, that's any song I've purchased from iTunes, but I guess it would also include any song I have in iTunes Match (if I used iTunes Match).
  • When you have a local music library, either on a computer or an external disk or NAS drive, Sonos will scan it, catalog it, and make it accessible to your speakers as long as the host device is available. I use a Synology NAS and I have all my music available. The built-in tools for Sonos are quite excellent. I don't miss my online library at all.
  • I considered Sonos at one point, my Son has a Play1, but wasn't happy that you could only use their app, so if, like me, you have free Spotify, Deezer etc. then you can't use it. So I've gone down the AirPlay route, can listen to any source I want and when needed I can have multi room by using Airfoil on my iMac. Sent from the iMore App
  • "Sonos works seamlessly with Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, TuneIn, SiriusXM, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Rhapsody, Rdio, Qobuz, Tidal and downloads from any service offering DRM-free tracks. (Service availability varies by region.)" Might want to double check your info on the Play:5
  • You need to have Premium accounts for Spotify & Deezer, it will not work with free accounts. Sent from the iMore App
  • Same here. As long as Sonos has no AirPlay support there's no way I'm buying a Sonos system. C'mon Sonos!
  • I have the current Play 5, a Play 3, and a couple of Play 1's throughout my home. I am waiting for Sonos and Apple to deliver on the promised Sonos integration of Apple Music before the End of the year. If they don't do it before too long I will simply switch to a different music service which does.
  • My dentist uses a Sonos system in the office and it's great. But as someone who listens to a lot of podcasts and has a large iTunes library, I have not found anything more user friendly than AirPlay.
    However, I do wish you could select multiple AirPlay speakers directly from Control Center in iOS.
  • Cool product... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I don't understand why all the technorati think Sonos is so great. Their speakers are literally the same as any other bluetooth speaker with the exception of their "system" which is proprietary and doesn't support AirPlay. If you aren't going to support AirPlay, then pretty much ANY bluetooth speaker is as good as any other (within reason) and you are more or less choosing based on aesthetics and where the speaker is going to go in your home. Since AirPlay has basically failed at this point, I replaced my broken iHome speaker (I recommend NEVER to get iHome anything based on my experience), with a simple Marshall Stanmore. It's a quality bluetooth speaker with all the right inputs and it's not attractive, but not ugly either.
  • I don't think any other bluetooth speakers will allow you to stream the same music throughout your home like Sonos. That is their biggest selling point. I only have one Sonos speaker (planning on adding a couple more but also waiting to see what chromecast audio does), but I like that my phone is not tied to it for streaming music. I can even start listening to the last station/playlist without having my phone near me.
  • If you think it's the same as Bluetooth, you don't understand what it is.
  • Good product. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I own a sonos 5.1 system plus two play 3s. Clean mounting and offers plenty of services. Can't wait for Apple Music to join but to all the skeptics out there don't knock it until you try it. As for anyone using s Bluetooth speaker and is happy with it great I hope you continue to enjoy it. I never had great luck with them and if I took 15 steps away from the speaker it would drop connection from my phone. I enjoy hitting play, choosing the speakers I want playing, and walking out the door out of wifi range without interruption because my guests are still listening. This can be done because sonos does not rely on your phone to stream the music. The phone is just a lowly controller. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm really into Sonos too. But I wish they wouldn't be so minimalist with the controls built into the Speaker. I'd like a touchscreen panel to be integrated from which I could select my sources and stations. Sometimes I get irritated I have to hunt around to find my phone just to change the station/source.
  • Sorry is this a repost? Wasn't this posted about a month ago?
  • I'm not sure what problems folks are having with AirPlay. I'm operating my speakers without flaw since 2006. My setup even incorporates an older AirPort Extreme which is not supported anymore by Yosemite (which is upsetting). This speaker sounds decent, but with no AirPlay it's a no-go.
  • I suspect Sonos is much better at handling environments were the wifi network performance is less than great. This is my experience anyway. I'd guess you've always had a very good wifi network all throughout your home if you never experience issues with AirPlay. Unrelated to performance, but my decision to use Sonos is also driven by a preference to have a speaker system that's cross platform.
  • If you have a Mac (or even dare I say a pc) that you leave running it's pretty easy to add airplay to any Sonos speaker (without having to plug in an airport express). Check out AirSonos here I've been using it for a few months to AirPlay to my Sonos Play 1
  • I have a couple of Play:1s, Play:3s and a previous model Play:5 (5 total speakers). I was pumped about the TruePlay when I heard about it. I rushed home and installed the updates to make it happen, walked around like a loon to tune it and 3 of the 5 I "tuned" told me they were properly tuned and only small adjustments were made. Bunk. I didn't do the last two because I couldn't bear to get that message again. Colour me disappointed.
  • It just seems way easier and cheaper to connect a Chromecast Audio to stereos I already own. So many services stream to Chromecast now that it works not only for me, but for guests.
  • Chromecast sounds like garbage because of their awful DAC. Airplay with an Airport Express or Apple TV is far better because Apple doesn't skimp on Dac's. Not to mention Chromecast, like all other Google products, exists so they can collect the data on what you do with it and sell it to advertisers. Creepy.
    I never have Airplay dropouts so I suspect the author has a wireless setup issue. There are apps that allow you to airplay to speakers in multiple rooms at the same time with much higher quality and more flexibility that buying into the extremely limited and inflexible Sonos setup.
    For the commenter who said Sonos is the same as bluetooth, Sonos uses a wifi signal like Airplay while bluetooth is a compressed radio signal. Not the same thing at all.
    Sonos 5.1 is a joke especially compared to a receiver and real speakers and $699 for a Play bar with a single optical port is ridiculous. No wonder Sonos is in financial trouble and laying people off. They had a short run really when there was nothing else other there but have failed to update their technology.
    The Playbar should have HDMI ports, they should not require an app to play to their products. and Airplay should be built in. Sonos made choices that limit you to their way of doing things to tie you into their products ad now there are many competitors eating their lunch.
  • I just returned the pair of Play: 1s I had in my bedroom and replaced them with a Play: 5 (gen 2). I think it works and sounds amazing. I already have the Playbar, Sub, and a stereo pair of Play: 3s in my living room connected with the Sonos Boost. While Apple Music will most likely be out of beta soon, it doesn't concern me because I get a great deal using Spotify with my student discount. The lack of bluetooth and AirPlay support doesn't bother me either because between my living room and bedroom my music can be enjoyed throughout my whole downstairs and the Sonos app is user friendly.