Helping somebody to buy his first Sonos

by Volker Weber

IMG 6453

As I was talking to my neighbor yesterday he asked me about some advice. "You are familiar with Sonos, aren't you? I plan to ..." Here we go again. I am going to invite him over and we will be going from room to room and I will be showing him what his options are. I have every single speaker and component Sonos ever made, with the exception of PlayBase, and he can make an informed decisision of what he wants.

But something has changed two years ago.

I used to put the house in party mode and then go from room to room and show how different the speakers sounded. And there was a problem with that. The same speaker sounds different depending on where you put it. Not any more. Trueplay Tuning levels out the differences. As we walk from room to room, they all sound the same, helped by the fact that I have a SUB on each floor.

Trueplay Tuning is quite amazing. You place your speaker where you want it, and then you measure the room with your iPhone or iPad. Sonos then uploads a profile to the speaker and the music sounds as it was supposed to. For demo purposes, you can go crazy. Place it behind a curtain or inside a bucket and Trueplay Tuning fixes that for you.

This also means that it does not really matter which speaker you buy. They do sound the same, within their capabilities of course. I have two favorites: the PLAY:1 and the PLAY:5. For most rooms a single PLAY:1 serves the purpose. You only need two if you want an experience that gives you stereo sound and completely fills the room. I always recommend to start with two PLAY:1 and then place them in different rooms to get this multiroom experience. If you later upgrade to bigger speakers or more speakers you can still create a stereo pair for one room out of those two speakers.

PLAY:5 is the other big favorite. This thing is just unbelievable. A single speaker fills the room with stereo sound. It is very powerful and it delivers a thumping bass if it needs to. When you add a SUB to a PLAY:1, it makes a big difference, but not so much for a PLAY:5. It is also more versatile than a PLAY:1 because it has Line-In. You can connect a CD player or a record player if you want to. Some people connect their computer or an Airport Express. This Line-In is available from all speakers in the house and it can auto-play. Send music into this Line-In and it can play in a different room, or all rooms at once.

This is my recommendation for music. Start with PLAY:1 or PLAY:5, buy more than one.

If one of those rooms has a TV, that changes the equation. You should put a PLAYBAR or PLAYBASE in that room as a first speaker. It connects to your TV with an optical TOSlink cable and it will make your TV sound so much better while still doing exactly the same things any other Sonos speaker does for your music listening. Both are pretty expensive and they have about the same power as three PLAY:3. You tune the room and it will fill up with music.

If you watch lots of movies with surround sound -- Netflix comes to mind -- you will eventually add two back channels, depending on how rich you are these could be PLAY:1, PLAY:3 or PLAY:5. When you listen to music they will play along, and depending on how you balanced the room with Trueplay Tuning, play at the same volume as PLAYBAR or PLAYBASE or lower.

And now I am going out on a limb, because I don't have first hand experience. PLAYBAR has nine speakers, PLAYBASE adds a tenth. And that is a powerful woofer. I suspect that a PLAYBASE is all you need to fill that room with TV sound and music. Most people add a SUB to PLAYBAR, since it cannot deliver deep bass. I think PLAYBASE changes that equation much like PLAY:5 did. If you plan to buy SUB anyway, the differences between PLAYBAR and PLAYBASE probably don't matter. But if you just want one speaker only, PLAYBASE might be a better choice. End of speculation.

What I do not recommend is starting with CONNECT or CONNECT:AMP. One appears as a component to your existing stereo, the other as an amp for your existing speakers. You should get rid of that old stereo instead of dragging yourself along and ending up with lots of stuff in the attic. And those existing speakers would have to be quite exceptional to outperform a PLAY:5. Both CONNECT and CONNECT:AMP cannot use Trueplay Tuning which is quite a disadvantage. I have two BRAUN M12 driven by a CONNECT:AMP and they are completely dwarfed by PLAYBAR and SUB. Back in the day that was a 4000 DM/2000 € speaker weighing in at roughly 30 kg. With 3% inflatation over 25 years that would be more like 4000 € a piece, without the amp. And it can do nothing a PLAY:5 cannot do.

What do you recommend?

[The speakers in the photo are not mine. That is a wall in the back of the Sonos flagship store in Soho, NYC. I happened to be in the city when it opened last year.]

Comments

I fully agree with your assessment/recommendations.
Play:1 pair is sufficient for most people/most room setups
Play:5 pair if your focus is on music
Playbase + Sub if your focus is on watching TV (add surround speakers to your linking)

My unscientific tests in a somewhat noisy store also leads me to belief that your Playbase assessment is correct: without a sub, Playbase should be sufficient for TV + Music listening

And as you stated: setting up speakers in pairs makes a HUGE difference.

Markus Dierker, 2017-06-09 12:50

I don't think that the Playbase sounds better than the Playbar.
Playbase needs the woofer as the 6 mid range speakers are way smaller than those in the Playbar.
2nd gen Play:5 has no woofer any more but it sounds better than the 1st gen Play:5 (which had a woofer). So i wouldn't await too much from the built in woofer in the Playbase. In my opinion it's only about placement which one you should prefer.

But i fully agree to the rest.

Manfred Wiktorin, 2017-06-09 13:17

Thanks, Manfred. Have you heard both next to each other?

Volker Weber, 2017-06-09 13:19

You can buy currently a pair of Play 1 for a mere 350 bucks (about 310 Euros) at amazon.com. Not so over here, where it's still 458 Euros. I need an offer I can't refuse. :)

Kai Bode, 2017-06-09 13:33

Digital room correction is surely a huge USP for the Sonos speakers. It should definitely lift the audio quality to another level. Honestly I have not yet listened to a Sonos Speaker with Trueplay activated but I have listened to hifi speakers improved by Dirac Live Technology in my living room. And I will never forget that day. If you are interested in testing it go to the webpage of the vendor and download the trial version http://www.dirac.com. For calibrating the system you need an omnidirectional microphone attached to your PC. For listening you need a PC with the player software installed. But the improvement will be obvious. If you live in the Darmstadt area I can easily borrow you a microphone.

If you are satisfied with the correction and you fall in love with your hifi speakers again you might be interested in this tiny little DSP processor https://www.minidsp.com/products/dirac-series/ddrc-24 It uses the Dirac Live correction and is quite affordable. You could put it between the Sonos Connect (could even use the digital output) or any other musicplayer like the Amazon Echo Dot and your good old stereo amplifier and be happy.

@VOWE: Even BRAUN speakers age and maybe the comparison you made was not really fair. I'm looking at the old condensers in the crossover or the ferrofluid in the tweeter etc. But if they are still in their original condition I would be interested to see how they compete against the Sonos speakers after having the Dirac Live correction applied to them. I bet that at least they will put a huge smile on your face again when you listen to them. As they have much more membrane surface they should be easily able to outperform the smaller Sonos speakers.

But I must admit that the way how Sonos implemented room correction is really smart. They make that technology available for the "mainstream". I'm sure it is almost impossible to find a comparable speaker setup for a better price today. If the Connect or Connect Amp were able to apply Trueplay to a pair of passive stereo speakers I would have given it a try already. That would have possibly opened the door for other Sonos products into my home. But If they don't hurry up it might happen that Apple implements it into their TV box or possibly Amazon provides it for their Echo Dot (this has inbuilt microphones...).

Jens Japes, 2017-06-09 16:32

Sounds interesting, the way an Englishman would say it. But there is no need. These speakers are furniture now and will eventually be removed. Although they are older they have never been used as much as younger Sonos equipment.

Volker Weber, 2017-06-09 16:40

No, i haven't heard both next to each other.

Maybe Thomas Lang has further clue regarding Playbar and Playbase?

@Kai:
Wenn Du das befolgst, bekommst Du ein Angbot für den Play:1, das Du nicht ablehnen kannst:
https://vowe.net/archives/010974.html

Manfred Wiktorin, 2017-06-09 17:01

Thanks for the inspiration. Actually I am currently looking into buying a new OLED-TV and getting rid of my cable based 5.1 installation. The Playbase looks good as a starter and if not sufficient then I may add some sub or additional surround speakers as well.
First scan of the interwebs only praise the playbase for the good bass in comparison with the (older?) Playbar.
The 100 days return policy of Sonos may assits my decision.

Dirk Haunschild, 2017-06-09 17:05

@Dirk - i tested both, Playbase & Playbar next to each other (both trueplay calibrated with two play 1 as rear speakers) over a couple of days with different sources - i agree, for Playbar, the Bass is not as good as Playbase but the treble on the Base is too present / pronounced and - even after playing with some settings, it was still somewhat unnatural, so i finally decided on the Playbar and will probably get a sub sooner or later...

Tobias van der Plas, 2017-06-09 18:49

Indeed, I had a chance to listen to a PLAYBAR and PLAYBASE next to each other. And the speculation of vowe is true. The woofer in the PLAYBASE changes a lot and in my eyes dramatically lowers the need of a subwoofer. Espacially for people living in a flat with not so solid walls.

I would recommend PLAYBASE and PLAYBAR depending on the setup/furniture with a little advantage to the PLAYBASE regarding the woofer.

Thomas Lang, 2017-06-10 10:15

Well, I guess I'm with the family now. Thanks to the "good mother" I ordered a PLAYBASE, 2 PLAY:1 and a SUB for my living room setup. Time to get rid of the old cables and minimalize. Can't wait to try them out. And my wife has plans for the house, too.
Call me infected.

Dirk Haunschild, 2017-06-10 15:50

There's only one thing to complain about Sonos:
For streaming Music from a local NAS, Sonos still relies on SMB v1 and does not support SMB v2 or v3.
As we learned from Wannacry and now Petya, SMB v1 should be disabled on all file shares.
This reminds me of IBM Notes that did not support TLS 1.0 and newer when SSL 3.0 was declared unsecure (around October 2014).

Manfred Wiktorin, 2017-06-28 09:14

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.

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