Sonos Play:5 review: Classy multiroom speaker delivers quality in spades

£429
Price when reviewed

Sonos gear has a fearsome reputation when it comes to multiroom audio, but in recent times, its rivals have been improving rapidly. Sonos’ answer has been to improve its offerings slowly but surely, and the latest model to get an overhaul is the Sonos Play:5.  

And not before time. The original Sonos Play:5 has sat at the top of Sonos’ range of multiroom speakers as its flagship model for so long that its design was beginning to look a little dated. The new model looks far more elegant and more modern – as befitting a flagship speaker from the company whose name has become synonymous with multiroom audio.

Where the old model sat on a sort of pedestal base that looked slightly ungainly, the new Play:5 has a clean, one-piece design. It’s available in a choice of matte black or white and both are equally good-looking.

Importantly, the rounded-rectangular design now means that the speaker can be stood horizontally, or vertically on either end, giving you more flexibility as to where you place the speakers.

Aside from these changes, the design is typical Sonos fare. It’s impeccably put together, with 60,000 “precision-drilled” holes in the metal front grille, and has a nicely solid and weighty feel. Along the top are touch-based controls that respond to swipes to adjust volume, while a gyroscope inside the Play:5 detects its orientation so that the volume up button is always at the top when the speaker is on end. That’s why there aren’t the traditional “-” and “+” volume markings.

Rotating the Play:5 will obviously also have an effect on how the speaker produces sound, and Sonos has taken this into account as well. When the Play:5 is stood on end, the volume of the tweeter at the top is reduced so sound isn’t directed up towards the ceiling. The larger centre tweeter takes over the main bulk of the work, as with traditional stereo speakers.

Streaming Services and Sonos Controller

As with Sonos’ other multiroom speakers, however, the Play:5’s real strength lies in how well supported Sonos’ speakers are when it comes to internet streaming services.

These are delivered via the Sonos Controller app (availably for iOS, Android, Windows and OS X), and there’s an impressive list available. Sonos supports Spotify, Deezer, Google Play Music, Apple Music and Tidal, as well as a broad selection of internet radio services, including TuneIn and Rdio.

The Sonos Controller app works well with all these services, and its killer feature is universal search, which allows you to hunt down tracks, albums and artists across multiple services simultaneously.

The Play:5’s real strength lies in how well-supported Sonos’ speakers are when it comes to internet streaming services

That’s a handy feature, especially if you’re into artists that aren’t on every service, but there are some downsides. Spotify, for instance, is handled through the Sonos Controller app, rather than via the Spotify Connect protocol, which means you miss out on certain features.

Artists and albums you’ve saved in Spotify aren’t displayed in the Spotify section of the Sonos app for you to browse, which means you’ll have to manually search for content instead. Only your saved playlists appear.

Another thing that’s great about Spotify Connect that’s missing here is the ability to listen to an album or song on your smartphone, then swap over to speakers and continue playing – useful if you’re listening on headphones on your commute and want to switch to speakers when you get home.

However, Sonos has one big advantage: you can play multiple streams from one Spotify account. This means that you can play different tracks in every room where you have a Sonos player; normally, Spotify only allows you to stream one track at a time.

Another strength of the Sonos system is that it isn’t just limited to streaming services. You can also access music stored on the device that’s running the Sonos Controller app, as well as networked computers and NAS drives.

I personally find that Sonos uses an awkward and slightly unwieldy queueing system for playing music and creating playlists. To queue your albums, rather than simply selecting a track from the album and it continuing on to the next track as you would expect, you need to specifically add the album.

It means starting an album midway is needlessly fiddly. Once you get used to the system, however, this isn’t a problem and the queuing system means it’s easy to build a playlist on the fly.

There’s also an independent Sonos playlist system, which lets you save your queue for later use, or create a playlist for another day. This is particularly useful for creating playlists of tracks that span multiple streaming services or network locations. Aside from a few annoyances that you eventually get used to, the app is otherwise cleanly designed and easy to navigate.

Sound quality and features 

As with all Sonos speakers, the Play:5 is incredibly flexible. It can be used on its own, of course, but it comes into own as part of a multiroom or multi-speaker setup.

If you have multiple Sonos units around the house, you can group them together to play music simultaneously, or a pair can be linked to deliver music in stereo. Sonos says if you position the speakers vertically you get a wider soundstage; horizontally gives you more distinct stereo separation. 

The Play:5 can be used on its own, but it comes into own as part of a multiroom or multi-speaker setup

It’s also possible to use two Play:5s as rear channels in a PLAYBAR and SUB setup to create a wireless 5.1 system. This, however, will prove costly. I recommend using Play:1 speakers for this job, which are considerably less expensive.

Finally, there’s a bog-standard auxiliary line-in on the back of the Play:5 for those who want to connect a wired audio source.

Sound quality and Trueplay tuning

Under the grille are six custom-designed drivers: three mid-woofers and three tweeters for the high frequencies, which are paired with six class-D amplifiers. It’s an impressive setup on paper, and the Play:5 gets even better when you start to play music through it, delivering room-filling sound with aplomb.

The bass, in particular, is rich with good weight and impact, but not so much that it dominates the highs. Mid-range notes and treble are bright and crisp, and across genres the Sonos performs exceptionally, delivering impact and excitement when tracks require it, or a more delicate touch on acoustic, vocal-driven music.

This will vary depending on where you place the speaker, of course, but Sonos thinks it has the answer with its new Trueplay tuning technology. 

Part of the Sonos Controller app, Trueplay attempts to bring “acoustic transparency” to your setup by calibrating speakers based on the acoustic response of your room.

The speaker emits a test sound and uses your iOS device’s microphone to take measurements as you walk around the room. The Trueplay software then analyses how the test frequency bounces off different surfaces and tunes the speaker accordingly for the best result.

At present, Trueplay only works with iPhones, iPads and iPods. This is because of the standard hardware inside, so Sonos knows how each microphone performs.

In testing, Trueplay did help but only in more extreme scenarios such as when the speaker was placed on an enclosed bookshelf. Where it sounded muffled before, with a lot of the treble being lost, Trueplay adjusted the EQ to emphasise the higher frequencies, helping restore some of the lost detail.

In short, it’s well worth doing; it’s just a shame you might need to borrow an iOS device in order to do so.

Sonos Play:5 verdict

There’s an awful lot to like about the Sonos Play:5. The only real disappointment is the lack of Bluetooth support. Rivals such as the Sony SRS-X99 including every connection under the sun, which leaves Sonos feeling slightly short on features – an unusual position for Sonos to find itself in given its past record of audio innovation.

Regardless, if you’re an existing Sonos owner looking to introduce a new speaker to your collection or simply buying your first, the Play:5 is a great-sounding, attractive and flexible speaker. You won’t be disappointed with its performance, and you’ll almost certainly want to buy another.

See also: Best Bluetooth speakers of 2016 – our favourite portable music companions

When it comes to multiroom audio, 

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