updated 02:05 pm EDT, Thu July 21, 2011
Sonos Play3 gets our quick test
Sonos on Thursday gave us the opportunity to use the Play:3 for ourselves. As its new 'budget' fully-contained wireless audio system, it has the promise of showing what multi-room sound can be like. We're finding out in a quick review if the savings of the $329 system make it a sweeter deal or if it's best saving up just a bit more.
Perhaps the greatest appeal of the Play:3, apart from saving $80 over the Play:5 (formerly known as the ZonePlayer S5), is just its size. If the Play:5 is the size of a bookshelf audio system, the Play:3 is closer to the size of a nightstand radio. That, we suspect, is the point: it's small enough that it can be used to wake you in the morning or to play Internet radio in the kitchen.
That footprint can get considerably smaller through the Play:3's party trick feature, its orientation sensor. Sonos clearly prefers a traditional layout, but if you set the system on its side, it automatically tunes the output to account for the speakers' vertical layout. There's even feet on the sides to keep it steady. We didn't notice any difference, though that likely means it's working as intended. The vertical layout might help the most for those who use Sonos' stereo effect, where two systems can serve as the left and right channels.
Setting it up is as direct as any other Sonos device: load the software on your desktop, Android, or iOS device, make sure both the Sonos box and your controlling device are on the same local network, and go through a simple (if slightly long) pairing process. As with its bigger sibling, you'll need a direct Ethernet link if you want the most frugal setup, since there's no built-in Wi-Fi; Sonos' emphasis on its proprietary but low-interference wireless means you'll need a $59 Bridge attached to your home router if the Play:3 is significantly far away.
One thing you'll notice absent on the back that was appreciated on the Play:5: a line-in jack. If you want to play from your non-iOS MP3 player or use AirPlay, you're stuck. For most this won't be an issue. It's still something to keep in mind.
How does it sound? With three drivers instead of five, it still sounds generally good, but not quite as pristine as on the Play:5; there's a slight "hollowness" in certain music. It certainly sounds much better than most systems its size, though. If there's a real limitation, it's that there isn't a true subwoofer like there is on the larger model. Sound is actually surprisingly bass-rich -- drum-and-bass and even talk radio can dive deep -- but you can tell it's not quite as resolutely solid and distinct.
Software is much the same as it was before, and apart from a much fresher-looking logo, it's still the fairly straightforward if menu-heavy app of before. You can listen to your computer's own local library, a curated but very large list of Internet radio, or certain services like Rdio and, more recently, Spotify. We most like that you can use Internet radio for a wake-up alarm in addition to other sources.
Our takeaway from the Play:3 is that it's less universal than the Play:5, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. It works best as that nightstand or kitchen radio. We can also see it as an ideal (if pricey) companion to a tablet: if you're looking for a way to play music while you browse on your iPad and don't want a battery-draining Bluetooth or AirPlay box, this will work. Our main reservation is if you're looking for an all-encompassing system and aren't price sensitive. We'd be willing to pay the extra $80 for the Play:5 and consider it the smartest model, but if you want a foot in the door for the experience, the Play:3 is still a very good place to start.