Over the last couple of years, Sonos has really upped its game. Since the company began over a decade ago, it has developed a much more public profile.
You might not be aware of what Sonos provides and how it works, but chances are if you are reading this feature, you have probably come across the name - especially if are in the market for a multi-room audio system.
If you want to know how Sonos is different to an iPhone dock or Bluetooth speaker, what it offers within its portfolio and what alternatives there are to a Sonos system, you've come to the right place. This is our handy little guide to Sonos and wireless audio streaming in general, but for a more in depth look at multi-room audio, you can read our separate feature.
What is Sonos?
Sonos is an American company that was set up in 2002 to make and distribute multi-room wireless speaker systems. The products have changed in shape and size over the years, but the idea remains the same. The devices connect to your home Wi-Fi network in order to play music from a variety of local and cloud services, connected together through a wireless mesh network.
This means individual Sonos components talk to each other on a proprietary peer-to-peer network. After they are setup and linked to your home network, they will all work wirelessly and talk to each other directly. You can listen to music individually on each speaker or link them all up to play the same music at the same time.
The speaker(s) are controlled by PC and Mac desktop applications, or apps for iOS and Android.
What are the products available?
Sonos makes several speakers and solutions that work together to make one large system. Sonos Play:1 is the smallest addition in the range. It is a single small speaker with two drivers and costs £169. The Sonos Play:3 costs £259 and has three drivers - hence the name - and is a slightly larger device. The Sonos Play:5, which was redesigned in September 2015, features five drivers in total and deep base. It is the largest in the range and costs £429.
There is also the PlayBar, a soundbar that can sit under a TV and costs £599. A separate wireless subwoofer, called Sub, is also available if you want to create a home cinema solution, for example. That also costs £599.
Speaking of home cinema, some of the speakers can be linked together to create surround sound systems. For example, use the PlayBar as the front soundstage, with a Sub and two Play:1 speakers as the left and right rear channels.
A few other components are available too. There is the Connect:Amp, which contains an amplifier so you can hook it up to existing stereo speakers, and the Connect, which you can plug into a separate AV or audio amplifier. These cost £399 and £279 respectively. There is also the Boost for £79, which will help your Wi-Fi stretch to more remote rooms to ensure no drop outs occur.
What can I listen to with Sonos?
Sonos offers access to a huge number of music services that it has partnered with. The full list of services comprises Apple Music, Spotify, TuneIn, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Deezer, Prime Music, Rhapsody, Napster, 7Digital, 22Tracks, Blinkbox Music, Calm Radio, Concert Vault, Dar.fm, Day Trotter, Guvera, Hearts of Space, Hype Machine, Last.fm, Mixcloud, Mood:Mix, Qobuz, Radionomy, RadioPup, RUSC Old Time Radio, Saavn, Shuffler.fm, Soundmachine, Spreaker, Stingray Music, Stitcher, Tidal and Tribe of Noise.
You need to have subscriptions with most if not all, and in many cases premium accounts. But there is plenty of choice as you can see, including smaller name choices that alternative multi-room systems don't offer.
You can also access your own music on a computer or network drive and stream from those more local sources too. The Sonos app for Android and iOS will allow the brand's speakers to play music stored on a smartphone or tablet too, a bit like an Apple AirPlay or Bluetooth speaker.
Why is Sonos different?
The main thing about Sonos, and we've been advocates of the system for a long time on Pocket-lint, is that it removes some of the fuss normally connected with wireless audio streaming. You don't have to pair your phone with any of the speakers. All of them are controllable through the same application, no matter where in the house they are located, and because they don't need to connect to your home router via Ethernet, they can be placed wherever you like in your home.
It is also staggeringly easy to setup and seeing as it is the Sonos software that drives the system, new features are being introduced all the time that's compatible even with some of the oldest components. The TruePlay software that was announced in September 2015 with the new Play:5 speaker is a great example of this.
TruePlay allows you to tune any of the Sonos speakers you have or are planning to have according to the room they are in, helping them deliver the best sound they are capable of, even if they are in a cupboard. It's super simple to do and it makes a big difference.
What are the alternatives to Sonos?
Sonos is not without rival, though. There are plenty of systems out there that want a slice of the multi-room pie, including the Bose SoundTouch system, Pure's Jongo, Denon's HEOS (from £399) and LG's MusicFlow, to name but a few.
Taking the Bose system as one example - it too offers several different sizes of speaker, that all work on the same wireless network and it also offers wireless internet radio and local music file streaming. Plus, it has apps available for iOS and Android to control its SoundTouch speakers, along with native AirPlay support, the latter of which the Sonos setup does not.
In price terms, the SoundTouch system ranges from £170 for the SoundTouch 10 to £500 for the SoundTouch 30.
Another alternative is Pure's Jongo wireless speaker system that offers a similar prospect to Sonos. It too has multiple components that you can add as you go and they are also designed to suit modern households and look sleek.
There are three different-sized traditional forward firing speakers in the range, the Jongo T2X, T4X and T6X, for £100, £150 and £200 respectively. The Jongo S3X is more of a stand-alone portable speaker that plays music through 360-degrees. It costs £130. A Jongo A2 hi-fi adapter is also available for £70, which you can plug into an existing amplifier or stereo system.
Like the Bose system, the Jongo's connect together over the home network, rather than a proprietary wireless technology. They also, however, have Bluetooth connectivity, so you can pair your mobile device directly.
Music streaming is controlled through the Pure Connect application for Android and iOS. It too has access to internet radio and various streaming services, albeit not as many as Sonos. Unlike the Sonos system however, Pure is also good with streaming podcasts.
These are just two of the Sonos alternatives available. As we mentioned, there are plenty more, which you can find more information about in the feature below, along with a deeper explanation into multi-room audio as a whole.
As well as like for like rivals, there are other options to have wireless audio streaming in the home. There are a tonne of Bluetooth speakers available these days. Small speakers like the Beats Pill, or larger, more premium solutions, like the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, work by you pairing your smartphone or tablet to them and streaming local files (or internet radio and cloud services through apps). But they don't all tie together to create a multi-room solution.
There is also Google Chromecast Audio that allows you to create a multi-room setup with existing speakers however.
Where Sonos works best is that it is simple to use and setup. Like the Bose and Pure systems too, it is scalable and can be started off with just the one component. Then, as your budget allows, you can increase the amount of devices that are linked together throughout the house.
And with access to the biggest cloud music services on tap, you can turn your entire home into a giant virtual jukebox. Who wouldn't want that?
For all our reviews on Sonos products, you can visit our Sonos Hub.