Sonos has been leading the charge into wireless music for a while now, but its prices have been a barrier for potential customers. The new $199 Sonos Play:1 makes the system significantly more affordable without compromising on sound quality or convenience.
The Play:1 comes with a 3.5-inch mid-woofer and a tweeter packed into a dense cylindrical design. The sound it produces is simply amazing, and should be loud enough for most rooms. At 4.69 inches wide and 6.36 inches tall, the speaker’s roughly the size of tissue box holder or a flour canister. The metal grating extends all the way around the device, giving it an attractive, but understated, look.
When compared side by side with the Play:3, the Play:1’s bass reproduction was noticeably weaker, but if you’re on a budget, the extra bass boost probably isn’t worth the extra $100.
Sonos has sweetened the Play:1 deal even further by bundling in its $49 wireless bridge for free through this holiday season. Without the bridge, you’ll need to plug in the Play:1 via ethernet.
Two Play:1s can be paired for stereo audio, and you can incorporate the speaker into your existing setup. Sonos says you can put together two Play:1s, a Playbar and a Sub for a 5.1 home theater experience.
One new feature that comes with the Play:1 is a physical Play/Pause button on the device that also lets you skip to the next song by pressing it twice. A software update enables the functionality for the mute button on older Sonos units like the Play:3.
The Play:1 is also rated as “humidity resistant” so you can keep it in the bathroom while showering. However, it’s not actually waterproof, so don’t take it in the bath with you. If you have the Play:1 connected via the Bridge, you can use the speaker’s Ethernet port to provide internet access to devices like a set-top box or gaming console.
The Play:1 is just as easy to set up as its other wireless speakers. Connect the Sonos Bridge to your wireless router via ethernet and launch one of the Sonos controller apps on PC, Mac, iPhone or Android. Simply press two buttons and wait for the app to find the device, then repeat the process for the Play:1.
You’ll play all your audio through the Sonos app. You can play locally from your device, select pre-loaded Internet radio, or register your speaker to gain access to third-party services. Sonos has integrated with just about every major online music service, including Spotify, Amazon, Pandora and Rdio.
While it’s convenient to have everything under one app, the flows for searching for and playing music were too long. It’s a minor complaint, but I’d actually prefer to see Sonos integrated into music services’ own apps.
When I reviewed the Phorus Play-Fi speaker, its $199 price tag was one of its advantages over other wireless music systems, which tended to be more expensive. By introducing its entry-level Play:1, Sonos is pushing into the affordable audio segment and even approaching Bluetooth speakers like the Jawbone Jambox.
Listening tests between the Phorus Play-Fi and the Play:1 found Sonos’s speaker to have a warmer sound. Personally, I preferred the Play:1, though one of my housemates said he thought the Play-Fi speaker sounded better.
Sonos wins out on third-party service support, as Play-Fi is fairly limited in what it can play. Play-Fi works as Bluetooth speaker and is supposed to get AirPlay support as well, so you can use it to play regular audio as well as music, but the overall experience isn’t as polished as Sonos.
If you’ve been waiting to buy a Sonos because it was either too pricey or too overpowered for your apartment, now’s the time to buy, especially while the Play:1 comes bundled with the wireless bridge. Meanwhile, those of you who already own a Sonos setup will find that the Play:1 will play nicely with your existing speakers.
Sonos earned its position as the king of multi-room wireless music, and now it is rewarding us with royal sound at plebeian prices.