Sonos Play:1 speaker packs powerful punch, costs less

Sonos just rolled out its lowest-priced speaker yet, the $199 Sonos Play:1, but don’t let its tissue-box size fool you. It’s built like a truck and exudes high quality throughout. Sonos sent me a pair of these self-powered, networked speakers, and I put them to the test.

Pricing a single speaker at just under $200 sounds expensive, but this is Sonos, a company that charges a lot of money for its products, and for good reason: You get what you pay for. I’ve tested the $399 Sonos Play:5, the smaller Play:3 ($299) and its formidable “Sub” subwoofer ($699), and I’ve been impressed by all of them. How would the Play:1 measure up?

Picking up one of these Play:1 speakers, I realized this is not your ordinary Bluetooth speaker. First of all, it doesn’t use Bluetooth for its wireless connectivity. It connects to your network via the Sonos Bridge ($49, but it’ll be offered free for the rest of this year), and can be part of a whole-house network of speakers, either as singles or in pairs.

Second of all, it’s just downright lovely. Its clean design and 4.75-inch-square footprint will fit just about anywhere, and it’s available in either this white color I tested or black.

You control the speakers via the Sonos Controller app for Android, iOS, Mac and PC, which lets you connect to just about any major music service, including Pandora, Rdio, Amazon or Spotify. The downside of that? You can’t simply play music from any app on your smartphone.

That’s quite a drawback, given the clunkiness of the Sonos Controller app. I’ve been a Sonos user for about four years now, so I have grown accustomed to the Controller’s ugly interface and inexplicable navigation. It’s not good. An update to this shopworn interface is long overdue, especially for a premium brand such as Sonos.
sonos controller app
However, the Controller app is versatile. It lets you group speakers in stereo pairs, play different music in each room of your house, and separately control their volume. Or in “party mode,” you can have all your Sonos speakers playing the same music in every room.

First, I listened to just one of the speakers, and I was astonished by how much bass emanated from an enclosure so small. Its 3.5-inch woofer sounds like a driver twice its size. Along with its The speaker can rock some serious volume, filling up a large high-ceilinged room here at our Midwest Test Facility.

Connecting the other Play:1 speaker and configuring the two as a pair, I was blown away. In fact, I have a pair of Sonos’ flagship Play: 5 speakers ($399 apiece), and I was able to A/B test them against these new Play:1 speakers. I was surprised to find out that it was hard to tell the difference between them and the Play:5s that cost twice as much.

I expected the bass of the Play:5 speakers to be much more powerful than these smaller Play:1s, but there was little difference. In fact, through my intense listening sessions, I think the Play:1 has slightly more presence than its older brother, and I hardly think the more expensive model is worth twice the price. Overall, the Play:1 sounds great, especially configured in a stereo pair, with a clean, warm sound that sounds downright musical.

One notable omission I certainly missed on the Play:1 is the lack of an auxiliary input, a feature that I use all the time with the Play:5. So, for instance, if you want to plug your computer or music player into a Play:1 speaker, that’s not going to be possible.

It was a good idea for Sonos to reach downmarket with a new model, but the $199 Sonos Play:1 is almost too good. It’s hard to tell the difference between its quality and that of its brandmates, the $299 Play:3 and the $399 Play:5. Perhaps Sonos has outdone itself, introducing a competitor that might drain sales from its more expensive models. Even though a pair of these babies will cost you just shy of $400, you get that Bridge free, making it an excellent value.

I love these effortless-to-connect and musical-sounding speakers, and wish I had a pair of them in every room of my house. Now one of my main objections to Sonos products has been lifted with this new model: their high price. But as a Sonos aficionado, I must warn you: Once you buy one of these speakers, you’ll want more.

Images: Charlie White