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Sonos PLAY:5 (2015) Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Minimalist design
  • Great user experience
  • Excellent sound quality

The Bad

  • Expensive
4.5

The Sonos PLAY:5 just received a long-overdue refresh and the 2nd-generation looks like it packs a serious punch. Here’s our review.

We met with Sonos back in September where we went ears-on with the Encore, so called because it serves as the follow-up to the brand’s most significant speaker ever. Now that same device is ready to hit the store shelves as the second-generation PLAY:5 and we’ve been putting it through its paces.

Design

Unlike designing a smartphone or a car, there are two distinct paths that can be taken when tailoring the aesthetics of a speaker; you can choose to make it elaborate, flamboyant and have it serve as the focal point of a room, or you can choose an understated look; a design that alludes to the power and performance of the hardware inside, without shouting about it.

Sonos PLAY:5 front grille

Sonos’ design team has taken the latter path in forming the new PLAY:5, giving it a clean aesthetic that makes a clear statement regarding the performance and advanced technology it possesses.

The body consists of four key elements; the satin finish plastic housing that employs gentle rounding on all sides, the metal speaker grille which covers the front of the PLAY:5 from edge to edge, the controls which consist of three backlit capacitive keys on its top and the back, where the power lead slots in with such precision that it creates a seamless appearance, as if it were hard-wired into the back of the speaker.

Every facet of the new PLAY:5’s design feels more refined and elegant than the company’s first-generation model and it’s easily the best looking speaker in Sonos’ portfolio right now.

Sonos PLAY:5 stereo pair

As we mentioned in our hands-on, the rotational symmetry of the Sonos logo also means that you can stand the PLAY:5 upright, either way around and it doesn’t look awkward – ideal if you want two to operate as a stereo pair.

Functionality

As Sonos uses a closed ecosystem the setup process can be a touch tricky if you’re not familiar with it, but we would be remiss if we didn’t tip our hat to the company’s incredible customer service, which ironed out the initial setup bumps we encountered (on the beta program).

Sonos PLAY:5 controls

Provided you don’t have any setup hiccups however, Sonos has built an app suite that accommodates multiple users on both desktop and mobile devices, all of whom have the ability to control independent Sonos speakers on the same network and manage everything from music sources (including the likes of Spotify Premium and Tidal) to EQ settings. It’s an incredibly well organised experience that makes light work of what in truth is a highly complex set of audio management tools.

The most apparent shortcoming with this system is that the app only supports experiences approved by Sonos, currently totalled at 38 streaming services plus internet radio stations. It covers most bases, but some more obscure audio sources like podcasts or audiobooks are trickier to play back via the system as is Apple Music, which doesn’t yet support the company’s technology (whether that’s Apple’s or Sonos’s fault is unclear).

Beyond the software experience, the PLAY:5 can connect wirelessly to your chosen network, or plug straight in via Ethernet to your network’s router, which reduces the risk of interference that has the potential to impede on streaming quality or connection fidelity. There’s also a line-in connection on the back to play locally from pretty much any device.

As well as controlling the speaker from any of the companion apps, the aforementioned capacitive backlit keys share a number of functions. The central button lets you play and pause tracks (it also features the indicator LED, used for things like pairing during setup), whilst either side are small square icons.

In a landscape orientation, tapping or holding the left key reduces local playback volume, whilst the right one increases it, but provided you have a music queue in place, you can also skip forward and back between tracks by pressing and swiping left or right. It’s a neat little gesture that complements the minimalist design with regards to its simplicity and elegance.

What’s more, fork out enough cash for a stereo pair, place them in portrait on end and the controls will adjust to set up and down volume control to the speaker’s orientation in space, thanks to an inbuilt gyroscope.

Audio quality

It’s no secret that Sonos makes great speakers, but the PLAY:5, as one of the company’s most established units, has some big boots to fill with its second generation.

Thankfully in this instance three years of development gets you one of the best sounding speakers for its size, weight and price. Beneath the sizeable front grille sits three primary drivers and three complementary tweeters designed to emit sound in an arc that most effectively fills the room considering most will likely listen from a single PLAY:5.

Sonos PLAY:5 Treuplay
Configuring Trueplay makes you look like Egon Spengler waving a P.K.E. Meter around the room, but it’s worth it.

Even with a balanced (default) equalizer setup, the bass response is fantastic and there’s a consistent amount of detail and depth in the mids and highs that doesn’t degrade when pushing the volume.

If for whatever reason you feel your music is misbalanced however, Sonos has also developed an incredible new technology which it debuted alongside the PLAY:5, dubbed Trueplay. It measures the acoustic attributes of the room the PLAY:5 is in and tweaks the EQ to output a more accurate representation of the original recording.

Read next: Hands-on: Sonos Trueplay technology and PLAY:5 speaker (2015)

Verdict

The company bills the new PLAY:5 as ‘the ultimate smart speaker’ and whilst we haven’t tested every rival device out there, the complete experience Sonos has wrapped up alongside this unit certainly places it at the top of our list of recommendations.

Sonos PLAY:5 logo

The biggest barrier as is so often the case with such competent products like this, is its price. At £429 for a single unit, you have to be sure that this is the system you want in your life, particularly if you’re yet to join team Sonos. Just remember that the PLAY:5 serves as a great standalone speaker, or as part of a complete network comprised of the company’s other products.

Sonos has pulled off the tricky task of convincing consumers that its closed ecosystem is the definitive connected speaker setup to buy (Apple-style) and once you’re in, it makes little sense to step back out, especially now that the new PLAY:5 is here.

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