Sonos Speakers: Play:1 vs. Play:3 vs. Play:5 vs. Playbar vs. Playbase
I’ve been a fan of Sonos since I purchased my first product four years ago.
Sonos speakers have become a staple at my house.
All of my friends have the Sonos app, and someone’s always loading the queue with new songs. It’s one thing everyone looks forward to doing when they come over.
In my living room, I have the Sonos Playbar, the Sonos SUB, and two Sonos One speakers for a complete 5.1 home theater setup.
I was impressed with the arrangement but I wanted to take my music with me from room to room, so I bought the first generation Sonos Play:5 speaker. I loved it!
When the second generation Play:5 came out, I bought that too.
I’ve now tried all of the Sonos collection speakers.
I’ve also tried several Bluetooth speakers (Jawbone JamBox, Beats Pill, UE Boom 2, UE Megaboom, JBL Charge 3, JBL Xtreme, Amazon Echo, Google Home), so I’m the perfect guy to guide you through picking a wireless speaker (hopefully a Sonos).
Are Sonos speakers worth the high price? Will a cheaper Bluetooth speaker get the job done? Which Sonos speaker is best for you?
We’ll get to that. But first, let’s talk about the things I love and hate about all Sonos speakers as a collection.
For those of you who’ve already decided to get a Sonos but can’t decide which one, skip to the comparison of each (Play:1 vs. One vs. Play:3 vs. Play:5 vs. Playbar vs. Playbase).
Prices range from $200 to $700.
All Sonos Speakers
- Sonos doesn’t use Bluetooth. It runs off of your WiFi. Why is that a good thing?
- Bluetooth has a limited range; as soon as your phone is out of range, the music stops playing. With Sonos, on the other hand, as long as your speaker is in the range of WiFi (much broader range than Bluetooth) you’re all set.
- WiFi provides better sound quality. The audio is not compressed.
- The music will keep playing if your phone rings.
- More than one person can control the music at once (multiple devices can be in control simultaneously).
- Connecting to a Bluetooth speaker can be cumbersome, but Sonos only requires a one-time setup.
- Sonos speakers stream the music directly, so you don’t drain your phone’s battery.
- All of the major streaming services are available within the Sonos app, including Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Last.FM, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, SoundCloud, and Tidal. Moreover, you can play music stored locally on your phone. Once someone signs into their Spotify account (or another service), everyone on the network has access to it. For example, one of my roommates pays for Spotify, the other has Google, and I use Apple Music. With the Sonos app, each of us has access to all three services.
- Anyone with the app (who’s on the network) can add songs to the queue, which is my favorite feature. It’s brilliant for parties or when hanging out with friends. You can add songs from any of the streaming services.
- You can buy as many Sonos speakers as you want and sync them. It’s also easy to disconnect if you want to run them separately. In theory, if all your friends brought over their Play:5s, you could arrange it so that they’re all playing from the same queue. I started with just one Sonos Playbar, but now I have four speakers and a subwoofer.
- The speakers don’t have to be in the same room to work together simultaneously. You get a complete multi-room, surround-sound experience.
- Sonos calibrates the speakers using Trueplay. During the setup, your speaker will play random sounds while you wave around your phone’s mic. The speaker analyzes your room’s acoustics and speaker positioning. Trueplay takes into account the size and shape of your room and adjusts the sound to match perfectly.
- Sonos’ customer support is incredible. You can send a diagnostic report straight from your phone, and they’ll know exactly how to fix the problem.
- The app is frequently updated with new features. The speaker firmware is also updated through the app.
- It works with Spotify Connect, which is beneficial if you prefer to play music through the Spotify app rather than the Sonos app.
- AirPlay 2 will be supported when Apple releases it in 2018.
- Sonos speakers work with Amazon Echo without a cord. Once you have everything configured, just say “Alexa, play [artist] on [Sonos speaker name]” and you’ll be jamming in whatever room you asked it to play in.
- No details were overlooked. For example, with the Play:5, Sonos made the box a carrying case with locking latches. Apple set the standard for product design and packaging, but Sonos is right there with them.
- I love the TruePlay technology, but I wish you could create preset room settings. For example, once I’ve configured my office, “Cam’s office” should be a preset option. However, once I move my Play:5 to another room and back into my office, I have to reconfigure it. That’s not a deal breaker though, and configuration only takes a couple of minutes.
- Anyone on the same WiFi network has access to the song queue, which is great most of the time. But there’s always that guy who decides to put a song in the queue no one wants. I’d like to see Sonos implement “admin access” for one person and give them control of who can contribute to the queue.
- Sonos doesn’t have remotes. Everything is run through the app, and that’s kind of the whole point. I don’t need a remote but some people might.
- Play:1s and Play:3s need to be connected to WiFi at all times because there are no 3.5mm in ports.
Use as surround speaker.
Sonos Play:1 ($150)
- The Play:1 is designed to pair with another Play:1 to be used as surround speakers with the Playbar, but they can be used as a standalone too.
- Play:1s sound great when used independently. The bass is much deeper than I expected for a small speaker. Surprisingly, the sound on Play:1s has more depth than Play:3.
- It’s easily transportable, weighing just four pounds.
- It’s wall-mountable.
- It’s humidity resistant, so you could keep one in your bathroom.
- There’s no auxiliary input jack. This means you need to be connected to WiFi at all times.
Feel like it’s in beta.
Sonos One ($200)
- Sonos One was released in October of 2017.
- It sounds the same as Play:1 and is the same internally. The difference is that it has built-in Alexa (with Google Assistant coming soon).
- Alexa works well for the most part in Sonos ONE, but there are a few issues:
- Alexa doesn’t work with a multi-room setup with other Sonos speakers. Apple Music doesn’t work natively. These are annoying constraints, but they’ll be fixed via software updates.
- The Amazon setup process is tedious.
- It’s hard to see if it’s is listening because it’s only signified by a tiny white light.
- One speaker sounds solid when used independently, but you can use multiple speakers for surround-sound, too.
- The bass is much deeper than I expected for a small speaker. And surprisingly, the sound on One has more depth than Play:3.
- The design was improved slightly from Play:1. There are no physical buttons and the all-black color is gorgeous.
- It weighs four pounds, making it easily transportable.
- It’s wall-mountable.
- It’s humidity resistant, so you can keep it in your bathroom.
- There’s no auxiliary input jack, meaning you need to be connected to WiFi at all times.
Rather have Play:1.
Sonos Play:3 ($250)
- The Play:3 can be used as a standalone speaker or as part of your surround-sound setup with the Playbar.
- While Play:3 gets louder than Play:1, the quality of the sound isn’t up to par with the Sonos One and Play:1, while Play:1 is $100 cheaper. You’re better off with a Play:5 or a pair of Play:1’s
- It hasn’t been updated since 2011 and probably should be cut from the lineup.
- Three Class-D amplifiers and three custom-built drivers (compared to the Play:1’s two drivers). It has a little bit more bass than Play:1.
- There’s no auxiliary input jack, which means you need to be connected to WiFi at all times.
- It sounds great overall, though it’s no match for the Play:5.
- It can sit on a stand or be mounted to a wall.
- It can sit horizontally or vertically and will optimize the sound as you change (stereo sound for horizontal, mono sound when vertical).
- It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as the Play:5 or One.
Best Hi-Fi speaker. Period.
Sonos Play:5 ($500)
- Play:5 is Sonos’ premium music speaker. You can pair it with other speakers, but it’s typically used as a standalone. It’s a bigger, improved version of the Play:3.
- The new Play:5 design is stunning. It’s a piece of art. You can get it in black or white with a matte polycarbonate finish.
- It has six custom-designed drivers with dedicated amplifiers compared to five in the previous Play:5 edition.
- I move my Sonos Play:5 around all the time. Carrying this 14-pound speaker is terrifying because it’s way too beautiful to be dropped.
- You can play music from anything with a line-out or headphone port.
- It delivers a much richer sound than the Play:3. I would be happy with the Play:3 or Play:1 sound if I hadn’t heard the Play:5. The Play:5 is on another level.
Similar to Play:5 but for TV.
Sonos Playbar ($700)
- The Playbar is a replacement for your TV speaker. You can also use it for music. It sounds similar to Play:5.
- It produces full theater sound.
- It can lay flat or be mounted on the wall.
- The Playbar is optimized for TV with it’s “Dialog Enhancement.” Have you ever struggled to hear people in a movie? Typically, you’d turn up the volume, but that makes everything else too loud. This is the solution.
- There’s a “Night Mode” for when other people in your house are sleeping. It makes the quiet sounds louder and the loud sounds less intense.
- The Playbar sounds brilliant as a standalone speaker (for movies and music), but if you add Sonos SUB, it’ll decrease the bass sound on the Playbar (because the subwoofer takes over the deep sounds). The same thing happens when you incorporate surround speakers. Sonos calls it “5.1 with zero drama.” It’s the perfect way to describe it. Your system will automatically optimize depending on the setup.
- It’s the only Sonos speaker with an IR receiver on it, which means you can set up your TV’s remote to control the Sonos’ volume.
- There’s only one optical port, and it connects to the TV. I would’ve liked to see two of these. They made one port to keep things simple, but it can degrade your audio (on older TVs) because the audio must be passed from the source through HDMI to the TV and then to the Playbar, rather than straight to the Playbar.
Playbar but TV goes on top.
Sonos Playbase ($700)
- The Playbase is a replacement for your TV speaker. It’s designed to fit under a flat screen TV (under 70lbs), provided the TV has a stand and isn’t mounted on the wall.
- The Playbase was released in April of 2017. It sounds amazing and exactly like Playbar. It’s shaped differently than the Playbar, giving you more options depending on your home theater setup.
- A lot of companies have failed to create a speaker that fits well under the TV. Playbase is a success in this respect, but it’s late to the party because most new TVs have elegant split stands now. Only cheap TVs come with the old school design with the stand in the middle. Who’s going to buy a $700 speaker to go with a cheap TV? It’s a great speaker, but I don’t see much of a market for it because it’d look goofy and stick out too far under a split stand TV.
- Like Playbar, it’s optimized for TV sound, but it can be used as a music speaker too.
- It has Dialog Enhancement and Night Mode settings.
The final piece to your home theater.
Sonos SUB ($700)
- Sonos SUB is the final touch for your home theater setup and is typically only used with the Playbar.
- Setup was ridiculously easy. You press one button, and if you already have the Playbar, you’re all done. Everything’s optimized and fully wireless.
- It’s not designed like any subwoofer I’ve ever seen. It has a hole in the middle and is beautiful.
- I don’t know much about subwoofers, but most I’ve seen rattle and vibrate. Sonos SUB is specially designed with drivers on opposite sides of the enclosure, so it doesn’t have that problem.
- You can lay it vertical or flat. You can even put it under the couch if you want without risking sound quality.
- Sonos SUB improves the movie-watching experience, but the level of improvement isn’t enough to justify the $700. You can get by without it, but if your money isn’t a concern, go for it!
1. How does the first generation Play:5 compare to the second generation Play:5? If you’re an owner of the first Play:5 speaker, the sleek design and (slightly) better sound quality does not warrant the upgrade. Overall, the new Play:5 is an incredible speaker and my favorite.
2. Do I need a Sonos Boost? Sonos used to sell the “Sonos Bridge,” which required to sync your Sonos speakers. That changed with a firmware update a few years ago, and now you don’t need the bridge. Sonos still offers the Boost, which is useful for homes with unreliable WiFi, or if you plan to use your speaker out of the WiFi range.
3. What does the Sonos Connect do? The Sonos Amp brings music streaming to your current equipment, by using a “line-in” port and connecting it to your receiver or stereo.
Which one is for you?
Sonos One feels like it’s still in beta. There’s no reason to doubt Sonos, but right now its Alexa features are lagging. It’s going to be a fantastic product though, and everything can be fixed with software updates.
If you’re planning on moving your speaker from room to room, go with Sonos Play:1 or One. It’s light (four pounds), can be held in one hand, sounds terrific, and can be paired with other speakers.
Is Sonos One worth $50 more than Play:1 for Alexa that doesn’t work well yet? I say yes because I’m confident in Sonos and know it’ll get better.
If you already have Echo Dot, you don’t need Sonos One if you’re going to put it next to Dot.
Sonos should discontinue Play:3 because it’s $250 and doesn’t sound as good as Play:1.
If you’re looking for the best music-listening experience and don’t care as much about your TV audio, go with the Play:5. Play:5 is three times heavier than Sonos ONE but with the extra weight comes a ton of extra power.
Is the Sonos SUB worth $700? It’s definitely not if you’re thinking rationally because It’s only going to add incremental value to your home theater. Your setup won’t sound $700 better, but it’s the perfect finishing touch to your setup, and man, does it sound incredible!
At the very least, I hope you’ll consider buying a Sonos Play:1. It’ll be the best $150 you’ve ever spent.
Sonos speakers are expensive, but well worth the price. You can always add more to your collection incrementally. You don’t need to buy everything at once.
Have questions about Sonos? Hit me up on Twitter (@camsecore)!