Sonos Play:3 Wireless HiFi System
By: Brian Kahn,
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As I sit down to write about the Sonos system, I cannot help but think about how ridiculously simple the system is to use while making sure I also describe its capabilities. If, at any time while reading this review, it seems like the system is complicated, it is not. All the features and flexibility I describe are easy and intuitive to operate. Sonos has been making music systems for about a decade now. During that time, Sonos has earned a reputation of being a reliable, easy to use wireless HiFi system. The entire Sonos lineup has been revamped and is widely available from a variety of online as well as brick and mortar establishments. Sonos systems are highly configurable to meet your needs and can be expanded with ease as needs or budgets require. You can begin your Sonos system with a single Play:3 for $299 and grow from there.
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The Sonos system is a wireless, multi-room, multi-zone music system that operates over its own SonosNet 2.0 wireless network. Generally, the system will contain a bridge that links the Sonos system to your computer network and internet and one or more playback devices. Also available are an iPod dock and dedicated controllers, but I suspect most users will simply use the free controller applications available for Android, iPhone or iPad. (Note: You must have an operational wi-fi system on the same network your Sonos system is connected to in order to use a mobile device as a controller.)
The Sonos system will let you play any of the music you have on your computer, including accessing your iTunes playlist; music off of an iPod; internet feeds of local radio stations; as well as music from an ever growing group of online music providers (including Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, iheartradio). In short, the Sonos system provides access to nearly unlimited supply of music. The proprietary Sonos network is easily linked to your computer network by one of two ways. If you are placing a playback device near your router, simply connect the two with an Ethernet cable. Otherwise connect the Sonos Bridge ($49) to your router with an Ethernet cable. Either method will automatically establish the Sonosnet 2.0 wireless network that connects the rest of the Sonos components. SonosNet 2.0 is separate from your computer's wi-fi network. It is a peer-to-peer wireless system. The more components you add, the more robust the system becomes and as you spread the devices throughout your residence, the bigger the zone of coverage becomes. This is a major advantage over wi-fi based systems that rely upon a connection to a single wireless router.
The current Sonos component lineup includes two all-in-one speakers with built in Sonos players, the larger Play:5 ($399) and the smaller Play:3 ($299 reviewed here; two Sonos players without speakers the Connect ($349) and the Connect:Amp ($499). The Connect simply connects to your existing stereo and the Connect:Amp has built in amplification to drive your speakers directly. A dedicated controller ($349), the aforementioned Bridge ($49) and iPod dock ($119) round out the lineup.
The components I received for review included a pair of Play:3's, a Connect and a Bridge. The first component I opened was the Bridge. This diminutive device has a white polycarbonate body and measures just over four inches square and about an inch and a half high. This device has a pair of Ethernet connections on the back, a plug for power and a single button to enable connection on the top. Despite its small size and low price, the Bridge was packaged with the same care as the rest of the Sonos components. Opening the Sonos components strongly reminded me of opening an Apple product (or Oppo for those of you familiar with this A/V brand). Needless to say, Sonos takes the user experience seriously and starts with the opening of the first product.
The Connect is the product that will enable you to add Sonos to a preexisting stereo system. The industrial design carries over from the bridge, but on a larger scale with the Connect measuring roughly 5.5 inches per side and just less than three inches high. The back panel has a pair of Ethernet connections (for systems without a Bridge), line level analog stereo input and output and digital output via both Toslink and coaxial connections. The front panel is bare with the exception of a neat, vertical rectangle with the controls. The controls are limited to a rocker button for volume with a mute button above. A small indicator light is between the volume and mute buttons. This control setup is repeated on the other Sonos components including the Play:3.
The Play:3's are Sonos' newest component and are the smaller brother to the Play:5. Each Play:3 is a small bookshelf speaker that can be placed vertically or horizontally on a table top or mounted to the wall with the included threaded insert. What makes the Play:3 special is its built in Sonos player and amplification. Once your Sonos system is setup you can take a Play:3 anywhere within range, plug it into a power outlet and begin listening to music. Two Play:3's can be paired together to create a stereo pair, pairing two units together made for a serious upgrade in sonic capabilities.
Each of the Play:3 units weighs in at 5.7 pounds and measures 10.6 inches across, 5.2 inches high and 6.3 inches deep. The sides taper together towards the rear. My review samples came with black cabinets that appeared to be made out of a relatively inert synthetic material, white is also available. Regardless of the cabinet color, the perforated metal grills and rubber trim rings come in a light gray. The rubber trim rings have molded in feet for either vertical or horizontal positioning. The trim ring in the back is part of a molding that covers the back of the cabinet which is heavily perforated to accommodate a rear-firing passive radiator. In addition to the passive radiator, there are three active speakers, one tweeter and a pair of three inch midranges, each with its own Class-D amplifier.
After unpacking the Sonos components from their Apple-esque packaging, I plugged the Bridge into my network router than began the installation of the Sonos Controller software on my Mac Mini. I chose the Mac to install the Controller software as it always stays on. If the Controller software is installed on a computer that gets turned off, the music files stored on the computer will not be available until the computer is turned back on.
Installing the Controller software was a breeze. On screen prompts guide you through the process. I was directed to push the button on the bridge to connect it to the system, which was the hardest part of the install as Sonos only provides two minutes to do this and the Bridge was on the opposite side of the house. The rest of the Controller install was straightforward and I had no problems directing the Controller to my music library which resides on a Network Attached Storage system. Once the Controller began scanning my music library, I let it run overnight and it had my over 200 GB of music imported into the library the next morning.
I then downloaded the free Controller application onto my iPhone and iPad. Under the settings menu, I was able to add additional components as simply as clicking on "add component" then simultaneously pushing the volume up and mute buttons on that component. I was then prompted to select a room name for each component I added. The whole process took about a minute for each component.
As with any system involving software, the occasional update is inevitable. With some products the update process can be a chore, but not with the Sonos. One update became available during the review process. I learned of the update when I went to use the controller application on my iPhone. My phone indicated that an update was available. I clicked on the button and the software update downloaded and installed itself.
Using the Sonos System
This part of the review is usually entitled "Listening" but this system is more about the user experience than just audio quality. I exclusively used either my iPhone or iPad to control, however if you happen to be in front of your computer you could use the Sonos desktop controller or the dedicated, handheld Sonos controller.
Learn more about using the Sonos Play:3 on Page 2.