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Review: Sonos PLAY:1, The Tiny Powerhouse That Started It All

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The Sonos PLAY:1 is the speaker that really launched Sonos on the world stage. Being small and relatively affordable helped the PLAY:1 popularise streaming music around the home. So what does this reviewer think about it? Read on to find out!

Build Quality and Design

I love its clean and simple design, with just three buttons handling your volume and music controls. The PLAY:1 is really small, around the size of a roll of kitchen towels, but hefty at 1.85kg. It’s got an aluminium speaker grille and a sturdy polycarbonate chassis. The innards are simple, two Class D Amplifiers driving a small tweeter and a Mid-Low Range driver. Its power cord is uniquely designed to make the speaker humidity-proof, and safe to use in the bathroom (or basement swimming pools for those who’ve made it in life). You can purchase this speaker in White or Black.

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Image Captured by: Aaron T.

The Sonos PLAY:1 emphasise the basics above all else. You don’t get a remote control, because (save for the top buttons on the PLAY:1) most controls are done from the Sonos App on your phone (iOS/Andriod/PC/Mac). The mobile app looks slick, but for some reason, the desktop app looks very dated and last-gen.

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Sonos Desktop App. Images Captured By: Aaron T.

You can upgrade your set up by adding a subwoofer or a soundbar (or both!) to really spice up those Saturday night movie marathons!

Performance and Features

Connecting it to my home network was more or less a breeze, but if you have a Dual-Band AC Router, you’ll have to make sure that your phone is on the 2.4GHz band, and not on 5GHz. Despite a weak WiFi signal, I had no trouble connecting a second PLAY:1 to my repeater in the bedroom.

Instead of providing sound presets, the PLAY:1 features TruePlay tuning to optimise the speaker to your room’s acoustics. It is by far the only audio calibration system (that I know of) that uses the microphone in your smartphone. And, it’s quite fun to do too!

After that, it was jolly simple navigating the Sonos app on my iPhone. I had no trouble selecting my favourite radio stations from TunedIn Radio, or putting on some tunes directly from my phone over WiFi. Unlike playing your phone’s music over Bluetooth, you won’t be tethered to a 10m range, and your music won’t be interrupted by calls or video streaming.

I had tons of music stored in my NAS server, so I tried to find it in the Sonos App. Turns out that my NAS won’t be automatically detected so I needed to get the App to detect it manually. What I had to do was to download the Sonos App for my Mac, then type in my music collection’s file directory. After that, the Sonos app had no trouble recognising all my files, including the Hi-Res ones. Network players from other brands tend to detect it automatically as a music source.

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Sonos Mobile App. Notice how different it looks from the desktop App? Image Captured By: Aaron T.

The PLAY:1 sounded impressive despite its size. When you set them up at home, most speakers don’t sound as good as in the shop. I’m quite positive that TruePlay tuning had a hand in this, taking in account my living room’s acoustics.

Though small, the PLAY1 sounds very muscular, with deep bass extension, powerful mid-range and clear, bright highs. It’s also very loud, loud enough to fill my living room effortlessly with minimal distortion at the loudest volume level. Music like ‘Stressed Out’ by Twenty One Pilots had good a good blend of all these key elements. The PLAY:1 performed admirably for most types strings, percussions and vocals music.

But, the PLAY:1 disappointed when I played Hip-Hop music like ‘Panda’ by Desiigner. Though it managed to hit much of the lower registers, I couldn’t feel any impact in its bass drops. When putting on high intensity music like ‘Cake By The Ocean’ by DNCE, the PLAY:1 will sound more tensed and compacted, a typical trait of small speakers.

The PLAY:1 will not deliver any sort of airiness nor sound-staging when you play it solo. But, if you get two and play them in stereo, the sound-stage opens up and you will get much better track and stereo separation. High Intensity songs will sound more relaxed and vocals will carry more presence.

Overall, the Sonos PLAY:1 performed well, but there are some things I wish it had. For a speaker that sounds this good, I want it to play everything, including my videos and YouTube! It does not have an AUX input jack, Bluetooth, Google Cast or Airplay, and this made it impossible to play anything that isn’t music or radio.

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Image Captured by: Aaron T.

Price

Measuring its small size, features, sound quality and performance against similar speakers, the S$399 Sonos PLAY:1 is moderately good value. It remains the only brand that supports streaming from Apple Music, and a variety of other streaming services. Most brands simply don’t support as many services, but products like the Oppo Sonica do have features like Bluetooth and Airplay, making them more versatile. Sonos speakers can be updated in future when new features are released (like TruePlay) so it can be worth more bang for your buck in future. For example, Voice Assistants are on schedule for full integration with Sonos through a software update, by end-2017.

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Image Captured by: Aaron T.

Conclusion

The Sonos PLAY:1 has had quite a successful run since it was released, and no wonder! It is small, sounds good, and with an ever growing list of features. Despite the lack of multiple connectivity options, the Sonos PLAY:1 will appeal to those who want to enjoy easy access to the world’s most popular music streaming services through a small and powerful speaker.

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Image Courtesy: Sonos

So here’s the final tally:

Build Quality and Design (Wireless Speakers)

  • Pros:  Small, clean and simple design. Simple 3-button control scheme. Humidity-proof and can be used in the bathroom. 2 different colours to choose from. Can be used as satellite speakers in a Sonos Home Theatre. Polished Sonos App for iOS/Android.
  • Cons: Desktop Sonos App look dated.

Score: 6/7 (23.54%)

Performance and Features

  • Pros: Easy and reliable connection to router, even with a weaker signal. TruePlay worked well in calibrating the audio to suit my room’s acoustics. App was simple to use and navigate. Features a wide variety of music services on a single platform. No trouble recognising my Hi-Res music files. Plays very loud at minimal distortion. Sounds impressive with deep bass extension, powerful mid-range and clear, bright highs. Can pair two of them in stereo for a more relaxed sound and more open soundstage. Reliable Multi-Room Streaming.
  • Cons: Can sound tensed up when playing high-intensity music. Can only play music from the Sonos App as it does not have Bluetooth, Google Cast, Airplay or an AUX input. Adding NAS as music source is not as straightforward as other brands.

Score: 9/12 (24.97%)

Price

Overall, the PLAY:1 has powerful sound for its size, and (as far as I know) an intuitive app with the most music streaming services available. However I am not able to enjoy content from other apps because it does not have any other means of audio input. Hence, at S$399 I will rate the PLAY:1 as moderate value for money compared to the Bose SoundTouch 10, also retailing for S$399.

Score: 3/5 (19.98%)

Final Score: 6.9/10

 

Aaron. T.
Aaron's dream is to meet the celestial man in the sky who blessed him with huge ears, and shake his hand with a big smile. His typical day is split between getting Rekt on Battlefield 1 and making exciting YouTube reviews at www.youtube.com/loudwirelesssingapore

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