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Sonos Play:1 is a well-priced, super-sounding wireless speaker

Sonos is a manufacturer of high-fidelity, wireless audio speakers that bring your digital music into every room of your home, all controlled from the Sonos app on your Mac or iOS device, through your home's WiFi network using the Sonos Bridge.

There are currently 5 speakers in the range; the Play:1, Play:3, Play:5, Playbar and Sub. The Playbar and Sub are more geared towards home theatre. I've had the pleasure of testing the Play:1 over the last couple weeks.

Design

The Play:1 (US$199) is Sonos' entry-level speaker. It's compact enough to fit just about anywhere in your house -- it's also wall mountable -- but large enough to produce compelling, high-quality sound. In fact, as I type this in a coffee shop that's approximately 10 meters x 10 meters large, there's a Play:1 on a book shelf comfortably filling the room with weighty, clear sound.

The Play:1 weighs 4 lb. (1.85 kg) and has dimensions of 6.36" tall, 4.69" wide and 4.69" deep (16.15 x 11.9 x 11.9 cm). It's really solid and unassuming in its appearance, but has a premium look and feel to it. There are just three buttons on the Play:1 (and it's the same for the Play:3 and Play:5): volume-up, volume-down and a play/pause button that doubles as a pairing button when you first connect the speaker to your network.

On the back is an Ethernet cable input (in case you decide to go for the wired option) and a threaded mounting hole. Underneath is the input for the AC power adapter. Unfortunately there's no auxiliary input on the Play:1 for those odd occasions when you might want to connect the Play:1 to another audio source (Mac, CD player, or even your iPhone for those moments when you don't have a WiFi network available). The Play:1 is certainly portable enough to move around and use in different rooms around the home or office, though it's not what you'd call a portable speaker. There's no battery or anything like that. In that sense, it's designed to be stationary. Sonos wants you to get a speaker for each room!

The Play:1 has two Class-D digital amplifiers, one tweeter to cover the high frequencies and a mid-woofer to cover the mid- and low-end range.

Setup

In order to get the Play:1 up and running wirelessly, I had to connect the Sonos Bridge (sold separately) to my WiFi network router, which in this case is an Airport Extreme. The Bridge ensures that wireless range is solid, with no quality issues during playback. Once connected and the Play:1 powered up, I ran the Sonos app on my iPhone to pair the two. After a few false starts, the Play:1 successfully paired.

The Sonos app

With Sonos speakers, the Sonos app becomes, for better or worse, the control center of your digital music. Wherever you get your music from (local library, streaming service, internet radio, iOS device), it needs to be routed through the Sonos app. Fortunately, Sonos has done a great job at partnering with a wide range of streaming and cloud-music services (that's continually expanding), including Spotify and many others, to make this happen smoothly. However, it's worth checking that where you get your music from is compatible with Sonos. For example, Spotify requires a premium account to work with Sonos.

Using the app takes a bit of getting used to. For example, I repeatedly found myself opening Spotify or iTunes to play something and then realizing I needed to go to the Sonos app instead. Or in the Sonos app I would hit play on a track in an album and the app would only play that track. It doesn't automatically go to the next track. Why? I don't know. You've got to add tracks to the queue. Another little niggle was with volume control. You can't use the the Mac's keyboard shortcuts or the volume rockers on an iPhone or iPad to change volume levels. You've got to do it through the Sonos app. It's not a big deal, but when you're used to using the volume controls on your Mac or iOS device, it's a little counterintuitive.

It was also quite frustrating to find that not all audio from my Mac or iOS device would play through the Play:1. For example, I would be listening to music while on my Mac, come across a movie trailer that I wanted to watch while browsing in Safari, play it, only to discover the audio would go through my Mac's speaker instead of the Play:1. That's when it hit me: the Play:1 is for music only. Don't plan on watching a movie on your iPad, for example, and routing the audio through it. It won't happen. Everything has to go through the Sonos app, and if it's not supported, you're out of luck. I know the Sonos app is designed to make sure everything sounds as best as it can, with no playback issues etc -- and I never had any issues with audio quality -- but the Sonos way of doing things felt a little limiting when it came to audio that wasn't music.

Performance

Despite these issues, when you do want to listen to music, the Play:1 really does deliver. In fact, with its smaller form factor and very reasonable price, it really feels like the Play:1 punches well above its weight. Coldplay's A Sky Full Of Stars was punchy, rich and driving. Turn up the volume and the Play:1 continues to handle things very well. There's balance and clarity with no hint of distortion. It really was astonishing just how loud the Play:1 could go when you see how small it is. The more subtle Ryan Adams Amy carried just as well, with vocals clear and warm, while the acoustic guitar and chamberlin instrument are detailed and well-placed.

But that's not the end of it. The beauty of the Play:1 is not just its fantastic sound reproduction, but the fact that you can easily add more Sonos speakers to the mix, perfectly in time, without any quality issues. Get another Play:1 and create a stereo sound stage or place a Play:1 in all the rooms of your house and have an awesome house party with music perfectly synced in every room.

Conclusion

While the Play:1 won't meet all the audio requirements you have on your Mac or iOS devices (films, YouTube, gaming etc), when it comes to playing music as a dedicated speaker in your home, the Play:1 has a larger-than-life premium sound, considering its size and price point. Furthermore, Sonos has superior music streaming compared to Bluetooth and Airplay. Finally, when you're ready to get your digital music into more rooms in your house, Sonos makes it really easy to add and expand your Sonos system in a way that suits you. If you're wanting to invest in a digital music system for your home, but you're only ready to take the first step. the Play:1 is the right place to start.

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