The Sonos wireless music system is great. It allows you to stream music from the Internet be it Spotify tracks, the radio, or your own collection, in multiple rooms at the same time all controlled by your iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or a dedicated controller.
There has always been one big problem though: the cheapest component, the Sonos S5 (now called the Sonos Play:5 in part of a major rebranding of the company), isn't cheap and isn't small.
The Sonos Play:3, is a new smaller, more compact offering from the company that hopes to take the wireless music system mainstream. But does a smaller size mean a smaller sound? Does it still offer the same experience as previous models within the family, and should you get one regardless of whether you are already running the system? Read on to find out.
The Sonos Play:3 is available in black or white and measures 132 x 268 x 160mm (5.2 x 10.6 x 6.3 inches) and if you are familiar with the S5 is about half the size - think child's shoebox.
The speaker doesn't just dominate the front of the box, it is the front of the box. The sides and top tapers downwards towards the back and it's on the top that you'll find the controls. We say controls, but really it's just a volume up and down, and a mute button, and nothing more. How do you control it? Via the iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or dedicated controller more of which we will cover in a bit.
Around the back are power and Ethernet sockets allowing you to power the speaker and connect it to the Internet if you haven't either bought the Sonos Bridge that lets you connect to the Internet wirelessly. Unlike other Sonos gear there is only one Ethernet socket so you can't pass through your network connection.
Set-up is easy peasy. Plug it in, create an account, and you're off. The system lets you stream music via your computer (if it's on), via a hard drive connected to your network, via the Internet with services like Napster, Spotify, Deezer, and Last.fm, as well as thousands of Internet radio stations all as long as you've got a broadband connection.
Controlling it all
As we've said controlling the system is all done via an app on your phone, via a dedicated controller sold by Sonos (optional extra), or software on your PC or Mac. The idea is that once you connect your speaker to the Internet as a solo device or within a bigger system you download the free app and start playing.
However you access the music, it's the same experience throughout. Android users get a few extra bits like voice search, while the iPad users will get a more magazine style look and feel as the app uses all that extra screen space. Sadly there isn't an app for Honeycomb or Windows Phone 7 devices as yet.
Adding to a current system is a case of pressing two buttons.
The Sonos Play:3 features three integrated speakers - one tweeter, two mid-range drivers, and one bass radiator. Each driver of the product is individually powered by a dedicated amplifier that blast out of the front of the unit. We tried a number of different tracks and have been using it to supply the music in our office (around 20 square metres) for the past week 9 hours a day.
Tracks have included everything from the Tron Legacy soundtrack to Dave Matthews Band to Nirvana to Foo Fighters as well as Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newton and a stack of other artists too. Basically, we've been using this as our main music provider. In all cases the music sounds great. It's not as punchy as the S5/Play:5 understandably, but it has been more than enough to fill the room with music, and without getting anywhere near the high volume levels.
Like the S5 the sound is slightly on the soft side - it's certainly not as natural as the Hardon Karman systems, but that isn't a bad thing. It's not as bassy and booming as the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin and overall gives a nice rounded sound that most will enjoy.
The Play:3 happily coped with the high vocals of Smells Like Teen Spirit for example while still coping with the low bass. Running a series of bass testing tracks also proved the speaker could cope amply.
Landscape or Portrait
One of the biggest problems of placing a speaker in the room is where to put it and unless you've got a sideboard, as they do in the lifestyle shots, that normally means it's crammed onto a bookshelf. Realising this might be the case, Sonos has designed the product to sit lying down or standing up.
Surely that will change the dynamic of the sound, you ask, meaning that standing it vertically if it has been designed for landscape orientation will mean it doesn't sound as good. You would be right, however to combat this Sonos has added an accelerometer, as found in your smartphone, that automatically knows the orientation of the speaker and adjusts the sound accordingly. Very clever. Sadly the logo doesn't orient with it.
Two is better than one
Like the Play:5, Sonos has allowed you to pair two Play:3 speakers together to get true stereo sound. It isn't just a case of the music you play being louder, but the speakers taking dedicated sides - left and right. Something like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is really good.
Why would you want to join two together? Well apart from the better sound, it wouldn't be too far fetched that you could use two Play:3 speakers as the front speakers of your home cinema system either side of your TV - wall mounted of course (there is the option to do that you just need a bracket).
Sonos Play:5 owners don't get too excited, you can't mix and match Play:3 and a Play:5 speakers together to achieve the same effect.
It's not all amazing, amazing, amazing. The system does require an Internet connection to work and if you haven't got a router or Ethernet cable where you happen to want to put the Sonos Play:3, like your kitchen or bedroom, you'll need to spend another £40 buying the Sonos Bridge that connects to your router to create a wireless network for the Sonos speakers to work on top of the £259 you've just laid out for the speaker in the first place.
You'll also need to have a smartphone or tablet to get the most of the service as well and if you've only got the one, and that's in your pocket, and you're at work, those left in your house can't use the service. You can get a dedicated controller, but it's another expense.
The Sonos Play:3 sounds great, is easy to setup, and will happily sit in you kitchen or on your bedside table replacing that digital radio that doesn't do anything apart from play what's being broadcast now.
With the option to kit out your mansion with up to 42 of these (or variations of the Play:3) all controlled from a single controller this is also a system that will not only grow with you, but isn't like your traditional iPod dock reliant on you always having an iPod or iPhone (there is a dongle/dock if that really is your thing).
For us, where Sonos really works is using Spotify's premium service (£10 a month) giving you access to millions of songs at the press of a button.
Grumbles? We are surprised it's not £199. That price point probably would have meant many would have just bought two straight away - one for the kitchen and the bedroom, but then we always want things cheaper.
If you were thinking of getting a DAB radio and have a smartphone, don't. You should buy this instead.