It would be instructive to read my original review of the full SONOS system [PLAYBAR, SUB, PLAY:5].
This review will examine the addition of two PLAY:1s to that superb system. The PLAY:1 is the smallest SONOS speaker at (USD) $199.00 /each. They will be auditioned as rears converting my main floor lifestyle system into 5.1 surround sound. I'll also add my thoughts with the PLAY:1s setup as a standalone stereo pair.
Surround Sound 5.1
Adding additional SONOS speakers to your system/house [up to 32 speakers] is one of the reasons the company has been so successful. Basically, plug in the speaker(s) then use the iOS app (or Android) to setup. The speakers do their magic wirelessly and synchronize the sound throughout your house -- which is a pretty amazing feat of engineering.
SONOS as a company never ceases to amaze me. When judged on the level to which they aspire -- they are definitely not a two channel, high end company with the design aesthetic that goes with it -- the company's engineering prowess is something to behold. Their products definitely make life better; no higher compliment. Lately, they've run into a little trouble - devaluation, layoffs and the resignation of the CEO -- there's only so many units you can sell, but they'll bounce back. Voice recognition is the next project.
SONOS describes the technology of the PLAY:1 as:
A pair of Class-D amplifiers and custom-built drivers, all meticulously tuned to the speaker’s unique acoustic architecture.
I was setup and hammering out J. J. Abrams' reboot of Star Trek within minutes. A few simple steps and it works perfectly. Much like the addition of the SUB to the PlayBar, the PLAY:1s as surrounds had the same effect. They opened up the sound so musical images had more flesh and were more specific. The soundstage, the most obvious change, was wide and detailed with significant musical information coming from behind. The sound bloomed and felt more substantial. They are a significant upgrade.
Music from TidalHiFi sounded splendid in 5.1. With the richness of the soundstage, instrumental timbre was accurate and imaging was excellent. Interestingly, the imaging in 5.1 sounded more specific than when setup as a stereo pair. Aural trickery, possibly?
When things got loud and raucous, as in Gustavo Dudamel's live LA La Mer on DG, the surround system handled even the loudest passages with ease (the SUB was the helpful partner here) and when the cellos subdivide into 12 parts, many of the contrapuntal lines were heard clearly. A difficult test for any system.
They not only sound wonderful for music and movies, they'll fit your decor and pass the WAF easily. The cost is reasonable and for that investment, you'll be getting quality sound for the money. You have not heard the PLAYBAR/SUB at their best until you add the PLAY:1s as surrounds. They are a wonderful family of speakers, tuned to lifestyle sound perfection. As such, in the guise of a 5.1 system, very highly recommended.
A single PLAY:1 will play in stereo as it has its own left and right speakers. But if you want better separation, you can setup two PLAY:1s to perform in stereo. This simple software toggle turns the speakers into dedicated left and right channels.
The PLAY:1s work well as a stereo pair. But here is where SONOS competes with high end, two channel audio.
Still, the diminutive speakers gave a good account of themselves, with an enticing soundstage. Of course, imaging did suffer in comparison with my 75K reference system, but audiophiles probably will not purchase SONOS as a dedicated, two channel system. But if stereo is your thing, you can setup the PLAY:1s quickly from surrounds and have the best of both worlds.
You can see from the photo above how they were placed. They worked well. Dedicated stands are available. They're recommended.
There's only so much volume an engineer can conjure from a small enclosure. But the SONOS magic, playing way larger than they look, is alive and well here. They played loud enough to fill my large main level. And bass heavy (I didn't add the SUB when in stereo -- hey, there's an idea!) repertoire proved no problems. They don't go too low, but each tessitura is in balance.
Popular music (Led Zeppelin 1 through 4 and Steely Dan) all sounded better than classical, which, because of the many point sources, did not sound as detailed. But classical could still sound impressive. Even historic performances sounded good.
If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive speaker for a lifestyle setup, the two PLAY:1s will work very well. I'll be keeping mine, primarily in a 5.1 setup. Recommended as a stereo pair and very highly recommended as a surround setup.
Further information: SONOS