Small but powerful addition to the Play lineup (November 13th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Sonos
- Great sound
- Stylish build
- Easy setup
- iOS app interface could use iOS 7 makeover
- Audio playback is limited to Sonos-supported services
Improvements in wireless technology over the years has made it increasingly easier to offer music playback in every room of the home. Involved in this "music everywhere" movement since 2002, Sonos has long prided itself on providing customers with audio products that not only sound great, but are also incredibly easy to use.
The latest addition to the Sonos lineup, the Play:1, fits right into this plan - but, for the first time, does so in a product marketed for customers on a tighter budget. Similar to its larger siblings, the Play:3 and Play:5, Sonos' new speaker can easily be linked to an existing Sonos network and used alongside all of the company's existing products.
The first thing you will notice after taking the Play:1 out of the package is that, despite its smaller form, the coffee tin-sized speaker has some serious heft to it. Weighing in at just over four pounds, the Play:1 establishes its place as more than just another cheap Bluetooth speaker before it is even plugged in.
The exterior of the speaker is wrapped in a silver grille while the only buttons, Play/Pause and Volume, can be found on the top. The back of the device houses the Ethernet jack that can be used to connect the Play:1 directly to a network if a Sonos Bridge isn't being used, as well as a screw mount for wall or stand mounting. Beyond this, the only other port is the two-pronged power port that is found underneath the device, which is accessible thanks to the included 90-degree power cable.
Overall the speaker is a very attractive unit, with no visible screws anywhere on the device. Sonos sells both black and white variants, and while we personally tested the Play:1 in black, we grew particularly fond of the white version after seeing it in-person at a Sonos demo. Regardless of your color preference, the Play:1 has been designed to fit in with modern decor, and is just at home on a kitchen counter as it is on an office desk.
For the first time in Sonos history, the Play:1 has also been marked as humidity resistant and safe to use in a bathroom. Sonos has made it clear that the device is in no way waterproof, but will simply be able to survive conditions with very high humidity.
Anyone already familiar with Sonos' other products will already know how dead simple it is to get started. Setup simply requires either the Play:1 or a Sonos Bridge to be connected directly to the home network. After that the speaker can be found in any Sonos Controller app and assigned to the Sonos network with only a few taps. After this is done you are ready to start playing back music from any of the Sonos-supported services.
Along with streaming music from a local music library, the Sonos system also supports a wide range of Internet streaming services. This includes, but is not limited to, Rdio, Slacker Radio, Audible, and Songza. Unfortunately, this is where audio support ends. If you wish to playback audio from any other source through the Play:1, then you will need to invest in the $399 Sonos Connect component which adds analog audio inputs.
Comparatively speaking, we believe it will be hard to find a speaker in the same price and size range that can match the sound of the Play:1. Featuring two Class D amplifiers, one 3.5-inch mid-woofer and one tweeter, the Play:1 is able to reliably play a wide range of music genres. We tested the speaker with various jazz standards, top 40 hits, and some harder rock, and found that no matter the style, the Play:1 was able to hold its own and create a solid representation of the music.
While sonically very solid, there are a few shortcomings that should be noted. In bass-heavy tracks, the woofer really has to work hard to keep the low frequencies clear, and does a great job of it -- however this also results in some of the midrange being lost. It doesn't sound bad necessarily, but some of the track's background elements can end up being lost. The average listener will likely never notice this, but anyone looking for a more complete sound might be happier with the Play:3 or Play:5.
Put side-by-side against various Bluetooth speakers, the Play:1 stands heads and shoulders above them. Only one other speaker, a Logitech Wireless Boombox, was able to compete with the Play:1 in terms of sound clarity, however it couldn't keep up with the Play:1 when it came to pure volume. The Play:1 can easily fill a room with music on its own and when paired with another Play:1, can even provide true stereo playback. Distortion was also never really an issue, with only slight amounts of distortion noticed when playing certain songs at maximum volume.
There isn't much to say about the software as it hasn't really changed with the release of the Play:1. Both desktop and mobile clients still provide access to personal music libraries, along with a host of online music sources, as well as give users the options to organize speakers into different zones and groupings.
Both mobile and desktop apps do a great job of keeping music from various sources organized, and provide an incredibly simple queuing system. Music can be added to a queue list from across any of a user's music sources, and the software will automatically jump between services to create a seamless stream of music.
Our only real complaint when it comes to the software is the outdated iOS interface. It is still perfectly usable and organized in a logical manner; however, it feels out of place when used among other iOS 7 apps. We are sure that Sonos is already hard at work updating this, though, and look forward to seeing what they come up with.
In the market of portable speakers, $199 is a pretty high asking price; however, customers should keep in mind that they are investing into a system that can grow over time. Setting up and maintaining a Sonos system couldn't get much easier. After speakers are connected to the system, separate audio sources can easily be sent to any of the speaker groups, and controlled from any iOS or Android device, or computer running on the same network. New speakers can be set up with only a few taps, and in certain cases linked together to great a more complete sound system.
What's great about the Play:1 is that it has been designed inside and out for a specific role. The speaker is not meant to replace an entire audio system, but instead extend the reach of music at home to new territories. The Play:1 can literally be placed in any room thanks to its smaller form, and requires only a single cable (the power cable) to ever be attached. Even better is that Sonos didn't use the size as an excuse to sacrifice sound quality. The speaker offers a full sound that puts most Bluetooth speakers to shame.
The Play:1 would certainly make a great gift for anyone looking to start a home audio system. Better yet, Sonos is currently offering a free Bridge -- a $60 value -- with the purchase of any Play series speaker.