Sonos Play:3 £259.95
29th Jul 2011 | 15:12
New wireless music system is cheaper but is it still as cheerful?
Sonos Play:3 - Overview and features
Sonos has been leading the wireless multi-room music revolution since before anyone really knew what wirelessly streaming music was.
The idea being that you can stick a speaker in every room and wirelessly play your digital music tracks on any or all of them at once.
The company's last wireless speaker unit, the Play:5, was an excellent piece of kit – we gave it 4.5 stars – but the one thing that the it lacked was an affordable price tag.
But, after a spot of rebranding, Sonos is back with the Play:3, a speaker set offering the same great functionality in a smaller, cheaper package.
The lower price is big news - a single Sonos Play:3 will set you back £259 which may sound like a fair lump of cash, but it's a snip compared to the Play:5 units, which sell for around £100 more.
The beauty of the Sonos system is that you can start with one speaker attached wirelessly to the Sonos Bridge (which, in turn, is attached to your router by Ethernet cable), and later add more to the system in different rooms – as many speakers as you like up to 32 (in case you happen to live in a palace).
Once you have speakers all over you house, you can control them all from your PC desktop. The other option is to use the free controller app on an iOS or Android device; perfect if you don't fancy shelling out over £200 for Sonos' own touchscreen controller.
Unfortunately you do have to go through Sonos' proprietary software, which takes an image of all the music and playlists stored on your PC and allows you to create a queue of songs to be played.
But it also gives you the option of listening to the hundreds of digital and internet radio stations out there, or, wonderfully, hooking up to a premium Spotify account and a handful of other online music services.
The Play:3 comes with three speakers inside its plastic and mesh housing, where the Play:5 has five; this means you're looking at slightly less rich music playback – but we'll come back to that later.
It does all come in a smaller housing, though – about half the size of the S5, meaning its small enough to slot onto a bookshelf or into a kitchen nook, with feet on both sides so you can stand it either on its side or on its end.
There's also the wall mounting option, as the Play:3 comes with the necessary holes for a standard wall bracket (sold separately).
Sonos Play:3 - performance
Wireless multi-room music streaming may sound fairly daunting to a technophobe, but the Play:3 is very simple to set up. If you already have a Sonos system set up, it's a case of plug, pair and play, if not there are just a couple of extra steps to follow. Sonos really has made it incredibly easy.
For such a small speaker, the Play:3 manages to fill a good-sized room with sound, although it's worth thinking carefully about placement as the drop off as you move to the side or back of the unit is quite significant.
Music playback from both a Spotify account and your existing MP3s is very satisfying; the Play:3 handles bass better than we'd expected with just a hint of fuzziness, but its trebles are occasionally a bit tinny, especially at higher volumes.
Inside the Play:3, there are three dedicated amps that work with the three interior speakers; one tweeter, two mid-range drivers and a bass radiator. This means it's lacking one tweeter and one subwoofer driver compared to the Play:5.
So yes, there's a drop in sound quality – compared to the Play:5 you lose a that rich creamy quality to playback.
It's not the speaker for audiophiles who'll notice and hate that slight fuzz, who'll pick up on when distortion is that little bit too distorted and a bit jarring on the ear.
But there is the option to install two Play:3 units in one room for stereo playback, which should round the sound out. We haven't tried it yet, though; we're waiting on a second Play:3 unit to arrive, and will bring you our verdict on this next week.
Because you've got the option to turn the Play:3 on its side and slot it on to a shelf in portrait mode, you might think you're going to get unbalanced playback because the speakers are formatted for landscape – but you'd be wrong; there's an accelerometer inside the casing that detects when its turned on its side and adjusts the playback accordingly. It works really well; you'll notice the music shifting and the sound changing as you turn the speaker, and once its in place, there's minimal difference between the two.
On the software side of things, we're not in love with Sonos' proprietary player; although it has no trouble finding music folders and syncing existing playlists from iTunes and Spotify, the queuing system is a bit clunky and, at times, slow to respond.
However, the free Sonos iPhone app is excellent. Changes made to the volume and playlists are immediately reflected by the speaker and switching between playlists was straightforward.
The only problem we had with the app was with navigation; at times it's easy to get bogged down in a mire of now playing and the existing queue, and a little too difficult to get back to the main home screen.
Sonos Play:3 - Verdict
The Sonos wireless system is so easy to set up and use that it's difficult not to rave nonsensically about how wonderful it is; and despite the lower price tag, the Play:3 doesn't let it down.
The easy set up, the wealth of music options (digital radio, MP3s, Spotify, Last.fm etc.) and the size of the Play:3 are all major positives.
Being able to slot the unit into a nook or cranny where, previously, we'd have had to make do with a low-quality wired speaker is brilliant, and we're absolutely in favour of the lower price point.
And despite that, you don't lose out much on sound quality with a full, filling sound that offers the depth and breadth of a larger system.
The free control apps for Android and iOS devices offer a brilliant remote control experience at no extra cost.
We didn't like:
We're still not massive fans of the price; for a system that is intended to be built up and added to, you're still looking at over £500 to kit out two rooms; and that's not even counting the premium Spotify account (£10/month) or any additional extras like the remote.
While the Play:3 is brilliant for incidental rooms, like the kitchen or the bedroom, you're not going to want to replace your high-end living room hi-fi system with the dinky little speaker, and audiophiles will no doubt notice the grating trebles and slightly hollow bass more than most.
We'd really like to see Sonos rethink its desktop software, which isn't very beautiful to look at and could be clearer to use.
The Play:3 is an excellent multi-room option and brings the Sonos system slightly closer to the realms of the common man's bank account; worth saving up for? We think so.