by Anthony Kershaw
This is more overview than review. I am fortunate enough to be spending several wonderful days in an idyllic setting by the Pacific Ocean in Victoria, BC at my brother’s new place. These four days are for catching up and partying. No complaints, here. My brother is a civilian when audiophiles are concerned (which can be a very good thing), loves music and great sound, but needed a quick solution for his media room and other areas of his perfect (and extremely elegant) party house. A local dealer set him up with Sonos products.
If you’re not familiar with Sonos (but, I bet you are), they are the California based company that has gone from zero to hero in a very short time. Very successful. Using its wonderful app, the wireless based products can fill the house with sound or different areas of the house with different sounds. Beethoven in the study and Frankie Goes to Hollywood where the party is. The products look great, use the latest technology and are very easy to set up. Truly, press and play.
The Sonos products in question are the ‘Playbar’ (a soundbar that lies flat on a table under the TV or attached to the wall), the ‘Sub’ (x2), the ‘Play:3’ (x 2) and the larger ‘Play:5’. The speakers are molded, quality plastic and metal and the subwoofer is stunning in high gloss piano black. With these products set up correctly, Soundbar, Sub and 3s (as rear speakers) in the media room and the Play:5 and an additional Sub on the very large main floor (living room, kitchen, long hallway, gallery and offices), you’ll have music in excellent sound filling the house in no time.
The media room was already completed when I arrived. The Playbar was hardwired into the router rather than using Sonos’ ingenuous ‘Bridge’. With the solid media room connection in place, the wireless connections for the additional sub and Play:5 in the upper level living space was: power on, connect via app by pressing a button on the speaker or sub, and we were ready to go. I’m not sure if the drivers need any break in, but the sound that filled the huge space was mighty impressive right out of the box for one standalone unit and a sub. The sound in the media room had already impressed me. Sweet highs (rare in this type of setup) and very subtle rear effects. More about the subwoofer later.
All drivers are proprietary to Sonos. The build quality is definitely high end lifestyle. As such, it’ll compare well to Bang & Olufsen in sound if not style. The Sonos products look great but miss that last ounce of Scandinavian Mid Century Modern meets utilitarian Viking that B&O has perfected.
Let’s be clear, here. The sound is quality ‘lifestyle digital’. Meaning, that the single point sources are direct, the sound stages are not natural, and subtlety is not its calling card. What is clear is refined sound (which surprised me after umpteen Bose TV systems — the Sonos products are a world above what I’ve heard lately from Bose), real power when needed (the volume of sound from the kit in both rooms was impressive and in no way distorted), and sexy visuals. This gear is a world away from cabinets, receivers, remotes and dust.
That said, when listening to Simon Rattle and his Berliner Philharmoniker play Mozart 39, the string tone was quite beautiful. This is always a problem on lifestyle digital systems. No resin, no bow, just a congealed mass of string blob. The Sonos defined the instruments by timbre. That’s quite an achievement for components that rely on aural trickery rather than pure hi fi engineering. I’m not saying these products are not well engineered. If you check on YouTube, there are some beautifully produced videos about the company, the designers and the designs.
For the audiophile purist, Sonos would make a great choice in addition to your dedicated listening room, especially if you entertain or have children. And, if you think of adding a Sonos system to your house, ensure you save enough (Sonos gear is expensive in civilian terms) for a sub or two. I dislike subs. I dislike poorly setup subs. I dislike the way every sub I’ve heard from the uber expensive to cheap add ons lag in the bass, orchestral string basses especially.
Yet, I loved this sub. It still lags ever so slightly, but for the purity how it executes its simple job description, it worked beautifully. It allows the single box speakers (3 or 5) to work easily and much more effectively, and adds a serious wallop to the sound. It looks stunning and is a must add to any Sonos system. Don’t leave the store without it.
The Sonos Wireless HiFi Music System
Manufactured by Sonos
223 E. De La Guerra
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
tel +1 805 965 3001
Prices: Play:3 $299,: Play:5 $399; Playbar $699; Sub $699
Source: Sibling purchase.