For the past half-decade or so, Sonos has had the reigns on wireless home audio systems. However, a lot has been evolving throughout the years in the multi-room HiFi sound system arena. So is the Sonos Play:1, a high quality, relatively expensive HiFi speaker released in 2013, still worth your money? To answer this question, this article will cover four main topics: Design, setup, software and features, and of course, sound quality.
Let’s talk looks. Right off the bat, I noticed the speaker has a very elegant design. I got the black version, but they do make a white version as well. The speaker is small, but Sonos does make two other speakers, the Play:3 and the Play:5, and as the number naming system may have hinted, the Play:1 is the smallest and least expensive. But don’t count it out when it comes to sound quality, more on that later. Wrapping the Play:1 is a grey steel grill, which is very sturdy. If you get the black version, the top of the speaker is matte plastic. Do be aware, however, the plastic does attract fingerprints. On the top, you will find a volume rocker and a play/pause button, both made from a nice feeling rubber, as well as a status light.
On the back of the unit there are only two ports: An Ethernet port and a wall mount plug. The wall mount can be very convenient if you plan on making this speaker part of a surround sound home theater system. The clean back can be a convenience, but do be aware that there is no 3.5 mm audio in jack. The power plug lies on the bottom of the speaker. It has an L-shaped connector and was very well thought out. It sits flush with the bottom of the speaker and is very discreet. There are rubber feet on the bottom of the speaker that prevent it from moving around on a bookshelf or table. The Sonos Play:1 is built to live anywhere in your home, and it can even be put in bathrooms since it is built to resist humidity. It looks minimalistic and elegant, with very few design compromises. The size of the Sonos Play:1 is comparable to a bookshelf speaker, and with that, there’s the added convenience of not needing to run speaker wires, like would be necessary with other bookshelf speakers.
Just to get this out of the way, the Sonos Play:1 is not a Bluetooth speaker, and neither is the Play:3 or the Play:5. The Sonos ecosystem is wireless, meaning music is streamed over the internet. Setup for the speaker is very easy, and if you already have a Sonos setup at home, adding another Play:1 is as easy as hitting a few buttons in the Sonos app. Setting up a new system from scratch, whether that entails one or numerous speakers, is a little more difficult. You have two choices. The speaker can be setup over WiFi or over Ethernet. If you choose to set it up over Ethernet, which I did find to be a little easier to do, it can be unplugged and moved around later. The app does a great job at guiding you through the setup process.
The Sonos ecosystem is unique since it runs on an independent mesh WiFi network, versus just having each speaker connected to your existing home network. Two advantages of this are reliability and low latency. The proprietary Sonos application, which I will go into more detail on in a minute, allows streaming from lots of services, but you can still listen to your local music files. If your music is stored on your PC, configuring the speaker is as easy as pointing the software to the right path. However, if you plan on listening to music from a home server or NAS, it can get more complicated. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll let you know if I do. The Sonos ecosystem can playback a reasonably large assortment of file formats (including FLAC and Apple Lossless), although high-resolution audio is not yet supported.
Software and Features
After the super easy setup, software and features are a focus point of the Sonos ecosystem. The only way to officially control your Play:1 or any other Sonos speaker is through the proprietary Sonos application (more in a second). It is available for iPhone, Mac, Windows, and Android. This is great if you’re an avid music listener and are subscribed to services like Spotify and Apple Music. Do be aware that you need a premium subscription to both if you plan on listening with them. This is an especially big downfall for me as I do not pay for Spotify premium but still depend on the free version for my music streaming. Free services such as Pandora, SoundCloud, and TuneIn radio are supported, but this is still pretty disappointing. The same problem exists if you enjoy podcasts or YouTube videos, as you can’t stream YouTube Audio or Apple Podcasts to your Sonos system. This is where Bluetooth or AirPlay devices really show their advantages. With Sonos, you are limited to only what they offer, which is to be fair, a lot, but with other devices you can listen to whatever you want. In addition, music can be streamed to the Play:1 directly from the Spotify app if you have a premium subscription.
However, me being me, I found a workaround that lets you turn your Sonos into an Airplay device via a janky Node.js application called AirSonos. This does require quite a bit of tinkering to get working, and is really only reasonable for people who are technically inclined. That in and of itself may be a deal-breaker for some people. There is a delay with play, pause, and scrubbing, which makes watching YouTube videos with the AirSonos workaround impossible, but you can still listen to non Sonos supported music if you are fine to deal with the about 10 second delay. Here is a link to the GitHub repository where you can find AirSonos. However, if you don’t have a problem with sticking to the Sonos supported streaming services, you will be pleased with Sonos’s app support. The Sonos app offers lots of flexibility, making it super easy to stream different music to different rooms, or sync the same song everywhere. The speakers work together seamlessly, making it super easy to set up sound systems made up of two or three speakers in each room. You can also put two Sonos Play:1 speakers together to create a stereo pair, as the Play:1 alone is a mono speaker. This enables you to create really immersive home theater systems using all devices in the Sonos lineup. One thing I’m hopeful for in the future is Amazon Alexa integration. Sonos has said that it might happen, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
The Play:1 has a weighty and colorful sound, punchy and powerful enough to satisfy a listener in a small room. It offers class-leading audio quality for its size and price. Behind the steel grill you’ll find two drivers, a mid-range/woofer and a small tweeter, which is the typical arrangement in most bookshelf speakers. Since the speaker itself has a pretty small form factor, there is less space inside the enclosure. Not only does the Play:1 have to fit its own amplifier inside, but it also has to be able to create enough sound to fill a room on its own, unlike bookshelf speakers which usually come in pairs. Sonos combats this problem by using a stronger than average speaker magnet that enables the speaker cones to move farther, a whopping 7 millimeters back and forth. The Play:1 produces a relatively loud, hearty sound, and gets pretty loud. It refuses to distort audio even at maximum volume,which is impressive for a speaker of its size. It produces a pretty neutral sound across the board but definitely has more bass than I was expecting. Overall, the Play:1 is very pleasant to listen to, with enough bass and fulfilling mids and highs.
It’s conclusion time, and I think it really comes down to who this speaker is for. The Sonos Play:1 is a great little speaker and an excellent addition to the Sonos ecosystem. The design is elegant and fits almost any setting, setup is as easy as it gets, the software is great, and the sound quality is very good for the size and price. In my opinion, it’s probably not for the audiophile who obsesses over every single tone, but this brilliant little speaker is great for anyone else who wants a great speaker with expandability into a sound system. It crushes its competitors in every category, and while it’s not cheap, the Sonos Play:1 is a great entry point into the Sonos ecosystem.
Edit 3/19/17: Two corrections – There is indeed a way to stream music directly from the Spotify app, but a premium subscription is still required. In addition, the Play:1 has two transducers, one woofer/mid-range and one tweeter. Each transducer is optimized for its own part of the frequency band. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.