New Sonos player released today - and everything changes

by Volker Weber

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Today marks the release of the Sonos PLAY:3. It also marks the day that Sonos changes its branding, new website, new artwork and all. The S5 will now be referred to as the PLAY:5. And all the other products will be rebranded as well through the rest of the year. Today, Sonos also updates the software to 3.5. It comes with updated controllers for iOS and Android. The Android controller gets multiple localizations, including a German one. You may also notice that the PLAY:5 will sound better at lower volumes.

Before I talk about the new player, I will let you in on a dirty little secret. You are not going to buy one Sonos player. Unless you live in a one room studio, you are going to buy about half a dozen. And with that, it gets very important to bring the price down. That's the driver for the PLAY:3. It's 25% less than the PLAY:5. If you can afford the PLAY:5, continue buying it. It's the superior machine.

I have often been involved in early testing of software, but never in hardware. The PLAY:5 is the first hardware I got many months before the product gets to market. That comes with responsibilities. And today I am finally relieved from yet another secret I have to keep. Testers are not supposed to write about the things that happened during the test, and I am going to adhere to that guideline. Let's just say that I would not have recommended the initial machine I tested, and that judgement has turned around during the course of the months. Today I am quite happy with it.

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Anyway, on to the new player. The PLAY:5 had five amps and five drivers. One bass, two midrange, two tweeters. The PLAY:3 has three amps, three drivers — two midrange, one tweeter — plus a passive bass speaker going out the back. Where the PLAY:5 has line-in, headphones out, two Ethernet ports, the PLAY:3 has only one Ethernet port and no audio in or out. So it's very basic: Ethernet, power, that's it. And of course the wireless SonosNet. And there is a small feature you will love, if you want to mount the speaker to a wall: on the back of the PLAY:3 there is a metal thread like you find on cameras. If you can run power to the place where you want to mount a speaker, things will look very tidy.

The PLAY:3 has four tiny rubber feet on the bottom, and another four on the left side. It can be run vertically and horizontally. It actually adjusts its sound parameters depending on how it sits. You will probably want to run two PLAY:3 players as a stereo pair, if it sits upright. There is your classic stereo with shelf speakers. The PLAY:5 is easy to carry, since its bass reflex opening on the back serves as a handle. The PLAY:3 has no handle at all, and it's surprisingly heavy. Which in itself is a good thing. It has two rubberized bands around the front and the back, so it's better protected, not just as easy to carry.

On to the most important thing: how does it sound? It's not as airy and as powerful as the PLAY:5. More middle of the road. The PLAY:5 can deliver quite a punch. I am missing that on the PLAY:3. Near field, it can deliver stereo separation, but if you move away just two meters, you want two players instead of one.

I have spent hours comparing six different configurations. One PLAY:3, one PLAY:5, PLAY:3 stereo pair, PLAY:5 stereo pair, ZP120 with original Sonos speakers (no longer available), ZP120 with original Sonos speakers and Yamaha subwoofer. I like them in this order:

  1. ZP120 with speakers and subwoofer
  2. PLAY:5 stereo pair
  3. PLAY:3 stereo pair
  4. PLAY:5
  5. ZP120 with speakers
  6. PLAY:3

#3 and #4 are almost a tie. The PLAY:3 stereo pair wins on stereo separation, but the PLAY:5 wins on bass response, volume and transparency. It's just an incredible machine. The big loser is the ZP120 with inexpensive speakers. Today, you would certainly buy two PLAY:3 instead, unless you need the audio inputs on the ZP120. If you want to add a subwoofer, you need to go with the ZP120, since the PLAY:3 do not have any audio out.

However, if you replace the Sonos speakers with something bigger, everything changes. I also have one ZP120 with floor standing Braun speakers and that configuration trumps all of the above.

Now look at this. No more cheesy videos from Sonos.

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Comments

Das neue Branding ist ein offensichtlicher Gewinn - und scheinbar noch nicht ganz abgeschlossen. Im Video, in dem das ganze System vorgestellt wird, heißt der ZP90 schon "Connect", der ZP120 "Connect:Amp". Oder war diese Änderung erst geplant, aber dann verworfen? Connect klingt ja nicht ganz so eindeutig.

Benjamin Bock, 2011-07-20 09:26

Ja, das dauert noch ein paar Monate, bis das Branding rund ist. Die Dinger kriegen auch alle ein neues Logo. Mal gespannt, ob es die auch als Aufkleber gibt. :-)

Volker Weber, 2011-07-20 09:29

Ein fetter PLAY:1 würde mir noch als Ergänzung gefallen.

Marco Simon, 2011-07-20 09:49

Thanks for the great review.

Looks like the PLAY:3 turns out to be a great machine for bathroom or other smaller rooms. Anyway I think I still would go with the PLAY:5 if I had to choose, sound like the "better sound for the buck".

Cheers,
Eric

Eric Bredtmann, 2011-07-20 09:54

Nitpicking: "The PLAY:5 had five amsp and five drivers." probably should have been "The PLAY:5 had five amps and five drivers."

Ragnar Schierholz, 2011-07-20 10:05

And "you want to players instead of one" probably should be "you want two players instead of one" ;-)

Ragnar Schierholz, 2011-07-20 10:07

Thanks, vowe, for your insights... I'm still stuck in the decision making whether I want a Sonos or not. Earlier this year, the purchase of the Roland drumkit postponed this decision, but as time goes by... ;-)

Ragnar Schierholz, 2011-07-20 10:10

Thank you, Ragnar. I always appreciate any help in providing a better experience on vowe.net. In the future though you may want to use the handy email link below the post if you do not want to go down in history as an expert in finding typos.

Volker Weber, 2011-07-20 10:13

Do I have to buy a Sonos BRIDGE to be able to use the wireless functionality of the Sonos PLAY:3?

The Sonos PLAY:3 product website doesn't say so.

But the Sonos BRIDGE product website sounds like I have to.

Or do I only need a Sonos BRIDGE if I want to combine multiple devices?

Christian Heindel, 2011-07-20 10:26

You need to run an Ethernet wire from your router to one Sonos component. This can be a player or the bridge.

Volker Weber, 2011-07-20 10:28

For really good sound quality I would also recommend running the digital output of the sonos into a good quality, external, DAC before plugging it into the analog amplification.

I have this on my system (I also let the sonos unit be modded by Cullen, which helped a lot) and now the sound quality is just slightly less enjoyable to me than my high-end Meridian CD Player.

Volker, I have an S5 in my kitchen. I am tempted to add a second one. Please tell me that I cannot live without the second one!

Andrew Magerman, 2011-07-20 10:31

Andrew, there is no such thing as "too many Sonos players". ;-)

Volker Weber, 2011-07-20 10:34

Thank you, Volker! Counting rooms and calculating price now... :-)

Christian Heindel, 2011-07-20 10:34

Sounds great. I will wait a little longer though, hoping that it gets a little less expensive to try an S3 in my bathroom. Really dont want to destroy 300E by exposing it to hours of steam.

Unfortunately the Android controller still is not available for tablets :-(

Mariano Kamp, 2011-07-20 10:38

Ragnar,

You want one. At least one. Really.

Federico Hernandez, 2011-07-20 10:38

As said above looks like the perfect model for kitchen / bathroom.

Personally the feature im lacking the most on the S5 is a battery mod så i can take it outside for x hours (no clue on how much power it uses)

Flemming Riis, 2011-07-20 11:05

Shorty after the S5 came out, Sonos conducted a customer survey on what to do next. A battery driven player was one of the options. "Less expensive player" obviously won that survey. We don't know what came second.

What I am looking for is "outdoor player that withstands heavy rain, but not ice and snow".

Volker Weber, 2011-07-20 11:08

An outdoor player should work nicely in my bathroom :-)

Mariano Kamp, 2011-07-20 11:18

Well, I do hope that P:3 survives a bathroom environment as long as I don't stick it right next to the shower.

Frank Quednau, 2011-07-20 12:50

It has survived four months here at vowe's magic flying circus.

Volker Weber, 2011-07-20 12:55

Volker, always appreciate your reviews here on vowe.net and would like to ask you and all others following the discussion here: Inspired by your praise of Sonos and its devices I was going to order the ZP90 (because I mainly want to connect it to an existing hifi system). Now with this announcement I'm confused - should I wait until after a rebranding because the ZP90 will get improved along with it or is it just a new sticker and features / pricing remain fairly unchanged?

Henning Wriedt, 2011-07-20 13:08

Henning, I do not know anything about this matter.

However, my own usage pattern has completely changed over the years. My own stereo has been decommissioned. I started off feeding my stereo with a ZP100, and then a ZP80. But now it's either a self contained Play:3 or Play:5, with ZP120s where I continue to use existing speakers. No more central components.

if you look at this pattern, I don't see much incentive to improve on the existing ZP90 and ZP120.

Volker Weber, 2011-07-20 13:18

@Mariano & Frank:
The S5 in my bathroom survived the last 8 months showering and bathing. No problems visible.
Important note: I have a window in my bathroom, so humidity isn't really high....

Michael Klüsener, 2011-07-20 13:19

And I've got a bathroom without a window and my S5 works since it's release. But I'll replace it with an Play:3 because I think it's big enough for the bathroom. So Mariano, if you don't have an Hamam in your bathroom it should work for you :-)

Thomas Lang, 2011-07-20 13:49

Thomas, do you take it back if it doesn't? ;)

After a long bike ride I tend to take a book, magazine, tablet and stay for hours in the tub. The humidity level goes up to 90% during that time.

Btw. I had two Kindle's, a lot of Android phones, one iPhone, one 1st gen iPad and a Moto Xoom with me and they all survived. Maybe I should try it out.

Mariano Kamp, 2011-07-20 13:52

Maybe you should. If you write a diary about your bathroom adventures I'll think about taking it back if the story from the diary is interesting enough :-)

Thomas Lang, 2011-07-20 15:44

"Old man sitting in a tub, turning pages ..." I am sure a book with that title will fly off the shelves ;)

Maybe we split the first repair bill from Sonos instead?

Mariano Kamp, 2011-07-20 15:45

the model numbers are no coincidence. 1-series with a tough looking portable cube? 7-series flagship with a sophisticated floorstander? (Z-series without grille, 8-series failure?)

Frans Swarte, 2011-07-20 23:10

@Henning, there will be no change in functionality or price. You are good to buy now.

Fiede Schillmoeller, Sonos, 2011-07-21 11:31

Nice write-up. After months of research about such different brands of players bought a ZB, ZP90, Play:5, and a controller three weeks ago. Wife uses the controller as she has an allergy against anything i-droid related ;-) . I use the android app. I am extremely happy with the purchase and my wife who normally hates technology gadgets loves it, too. I am also thinking the Play:3 might just be what's been missing in the bathroom all these years. I need a break between scanning in all of my CDs! May as well enjoy the fruits of my labor whilke I'm soaking.

Sign me,

No Regrets

Don Draut, 2011-07-23 21:12

@Fiede: just arrived! Install took 3min and I'm already loving it (ZP90). A happy customer ...

Henning Wriedt, 2011-07-27 18:39

How much of a difference is a PLAY:5 stereo pair compared to a PLAY:3 stereo pair? I'd like to use them in a ~24m² room @ 3.3m height.

I guess the PLAY:3 would be enough, but still think about buying the PLAY:5's to support some future scenarios using the line in.

Ralf Stoltze, 2011-12-16 21:27

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