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SONOS PLAY:1 (Product Review)

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I have been wanting a SONOS product for quite a while but the cost of any of their speakers has been too high for me – until now.

Pros: Setup is incredibly easy, sounds great, easily controlled from any device, can be grouped with other speakers to create zones or whole home listening

Cons: No auxiliary input jack, cannot be used to output sound from other sources on your device (i.e. video sound from your iPhone’s video player)

I’ve been interested in getting a SONOS speaker but I haven’t wanted to put down $299 for their base speaker the SONOS PLAY:3 or $399 for their top model the SONOS PLAY:5. It’s amazing what $100 will do to your purchasing decisions, because at $199, their latest speaker was worth a try.

When I wasn’t prepared to buy a SONOS PLAY:3 for $299, I went with a Philips AD7000W wireless Airplay speaker for $150 (now $99.98 through Amazon). I went with the Philips for a few reasons. First, it was half the price and did virtually the same thing. Secondly, the Philips has an auxiliary input jack. Lastly, I have an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro so having an Airplay device appealed to me. And while I think the Philips is a great speaker, overall I am happier with the SONOS PLAY:1.

To start with, I’m not an audiophile at all so when I say the speaker sounds great, that’s coming from the ears of an average person who isn’t extremely picky about the audio source I listen to. I can tell the difference between extremely expensive speakers and cheap ones, but the stuff in the middle isn’t as easily distinguishable to me. Keeping that in mind, I think both speakers sound great and can easily fill any room in my house with quality tunes. The Philips does have more bass to it but the SONOS PLAY:1 does well in this area too. I won’t go into how I think the SONOS handles highs, mids and lows, because as I said, I’m not an audiophile so you’ll just have to take my layman’s word for it when I say it is a good speaker.

I installed the SONOS controlling software on my PC, iPhone, iPad and every other iDevice in the house including my 7 year-old daughter’s iPhone 3g (Wi-Fi only). My daughter loves music and singing and when I showed her the app and how to use it, she started sending music to the SONOS immediately and hasn’t stopped since. The interface on all of my devices is straight forward and easy to use. I used the controller application on my PC to point the SONOS to the music on my hard drive. I only have one iTunes folder of music but if you have multiple music libraries or file locations, you can add as many as you’d like. I also quickly set up my Pandora account and the local radio settings. There are a plethora of other internet radio services but I only use Pandora so that’s the only one I set up. I almost never listen to local radio but my fiancée likes the radio setting that lets you listen to the radio based on your zip code. Although I haven’t tried it, I’m guessing you could enter the zip code for any city and start pulling up their local stations which might be of interest to some people.

The SONOS searches your iTunes library file for playlists and automatically imports them to the controller menu. For some reason, each of my playlists is showing up twice and the first of each duplicate is actually a blank list. I can’t figure out why or how to get rid of it. I honestly haven’t put more than five minutes into trying to fix it so I might just have made a mistake somewhere. You can also create SONOS playlists which could be useful if you were pulling music from many different sources and making combined playlists.

One interesting feature is the queue. Every time you play a song it gets added to your queue and the list builds unless you delete it. So if I’m playing one song and then select another song, I have several options for the second song including play now, play next or add to queue. So I can build a queue or change songs on the fly. I’m kind of a neat freak so I don’t like seeing the queue and I clear it out often.

On the top of the unit is the Play/Pause button and volume button. If you’re listening to Pandora and want to stop it for any reason, you don’t have to pull up an app, you can just physically press the pause button. So when you get back from the grocery store, just press the play button and pick up where you left off.

I really like that I can expand the system and make listening zones as well as a wireless surround system for my living room. It will be expensive to outfit my entire house but in the end it will be worth it. The main difference between any Airplay speaker and SONOS is the ability to play music through multiple speakers. If you’re using Airplay through an iDevice, you can send music to only one speaker at a time. So if I’m in my bedroom and then go to the living room and then back again, I have to use my device to change the audio output each time I change rooms. With SONOS, I can start the music and send it to every speaker in the house at the same time so as I’m moving around doing chores, I always have music. If you have AppleTV you can use your phone and an Apple Remote App to send the music to multiple speakers but only music in your iTunes library, not sound from other app sources. You can also use iTunes on a computer to send music to multiple Airplay speakers at the same time but neither option is as easy as SONOS.

One thing I like better about Airplay is that I can send audio from any iDevice app to the speaker. So if I’m sitting in bed and watching YouTube or College Humor on my iDevice, I can send the audio to the Airplay speaker in my bedroom and get much better sound to go with the video. You can’t do this with SONOS at all.

My last observation about an Airplay speaker is that you must have an iDevice to use its proprietary wireless abilities. I don’t see switching from my iPhone or iPad to other devices, but if I did, my Airplay speakers would become useless to me. If I outfitted my entire home with Airplay speakers, I would be locked in to iDevices or forced to buy all different speakers. With SONOS, that won’t ever be an issue.

As far as the auxiliary input goes, I’ve almost never used it on my Philips speaker. So while it was a factor in my original purchase decision, I now know that it doesn’t need to be in most future decisions. I will most likely end up getting the SONOS PLAY:5 for my bedroom so I can plug my TV into it instead of buying a $699 SONOS sound bar.

One thing I’ve noticed with Airplay that I haven’t seen with the SONOS is dropout. It could be my network so I won’t automatically blame it on the equipment but I’ll still mention it. I run a dual-band router and the Airplay speakers only run on 2.4 Ghz which is what my iPhone 4S runs on. Every other device in my house runs on 5 Ghz including my fiancée’s iPhone 5. When she tried to use the Airplay speaker there was a lot of dropout and there hasn’t ever been any with my phone. So I set her phone to use the 2.4 Ghz and there has been less dropout from her phone but it isn’t completely gone. There is no dropout on the SONOS at all.

One other unique thing about the SONOS is the equipment requirement. Each speaker has a wireless antenna in it but at least one speaker or other SONOS device MUST be hardwired to an Ethernet cable in order for the system or even a singular speaker to work. Most people opt to buy the $49 SONOS Bridge to plug into their system and then set up speakers wirelessly throughout the house. I bought my SONOY PLAY:1 on an Amazon deal of the day where the bridge was bundled for free; this was part of my decision to buy the speaker. I unfortunately did not read the instructions and forgot to add the bridge to my cart, I thought it would be added automatically. A five minute online chat with Amazon corrected my error and they sent me out a free bridge; their support was awesome as usual. I haven’t received the bridge yet, it’s sitting at my PO Box waiting for me to go get it, so I can’t talk about that piece of the puzzle. I do know that if you plan on having a speaker near an Ethernet cable then you don’t need the bridge. You could also decide to outfit your home with speakers, make individual purchases of the speakers and get a free bridge with each of them and then sell the extra bridges online for $40 🙂

In the end, I love my new speaker and having it has helped me come to the conclusion that I will make SONOS my home speaker system. I will add a couple more PLAY:1 speakers throughout the house and eventually get a sound bar and subwoofer for the living room. I hope that one day they offer a weather resistant model for use on our patio, but the PLAY:1 is small enough that it won’t be difficult to move around if we want music outside. In the end, my only two complaints are that I can’t send audio to a SONOS speaker through any other apps on my iDevices, and that it doesn’t have an auxiliary line in. I would definitely recommend this product to other consumers.


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