Sonos offers one of the best multi room audio platforms out there and the Sonos Play:1 is the cheapest way to get started with a Sonos system.

Before the Play:1 was announced in 2013, a typical Sonos system started at over £250 and climbed rapidly upwards depending on what speaker, or speakers, you went for. It was a rich-man's game. The Play:1 changed that though, making Sonos more accessible thanks to its more affordable £149 price tag.

With the newer, more seamlessly designed, voice controlled Sonos One and voiceless Sonos One SL now available alongside the Play:1 though, does the old Play:1 speaker still have a place in the Sonos portfolio and is it still worth considering for those looking to start or add to their Sonos system if you can get hold of one?

Design

  • 161.45 x 119.7 x 119.7mm, 1.85kg, same as Sonos One
  • Black or white colour options
  • Physical button controls
  • Ethernet port, Wi-Fi, mounting screw hole

The Sonos Play:1 is a dinky bookshelf speaker designed to sit on a shelf or kitchen counter out of the way. At about the size of a large Kilner jar, approximately 16cm high, you'll have no trouble fitting the Play:1 speaker in any room, in any situation, but you will need a power socket nearby as it's not battery powered and therefore not portable like the newer Sonos Move, despite what its small size suggests.

It's also surprisingly heavy. Unlike the Play:3, the next Sonos speaker size up that has a flatter, wider design and larger footprint, the Play:1 takes a more rounded approach in its design with an external mesh pattern that wraps almost all the way around, like the newer Sonos One and Sonos One SL speakers. It comes in a black or white finish so there are no snazzy fashion-conscious colours on offer, as there are with the Sonos One Hay Editions.

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The Play:1 keeps button options to a minimum, which is standard for Sonos speakers, with the newer models like the Sonos BeamPlaybase, Sonos One, Sonos One SL and Sonos Move opting for capacitive touch controls over physical buttons. As the Play:1 is one of the older speakers in the Sonos line-up now however, you'll find physical volume up and down buttons and a play/pause button on top of the speaker.

The play/pause button replaces the mute button that is found on even older Sonos speakers, such as the Play:3 and original Play:5. It pauses your streaming music, as you might expect, rather than just making it go silent but still using bandwidth and playing, while a double tap of the button skips to the next track in the queue as a handy trick.

Around the back of the Play:1, you'll find a screw hole for mounting this compact speaker to a wall and an Ethernet socket if you want to hardwire the Play:1 to your network rather than connect it wirelessly. Sonos uses a secure wireless mesh network that is one of the best out there with audio dropouts few and far between however, so the Ethernet port will likely be redundant for most, except for when required during the initial setup.

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Originally, Sonos required you to buy a Sonos Bridge in order to connect your Sonos speakers to your Wi-Fi network to enable the speakers to talk to each other and allow you to control them through the app, but this is no longer the case, making everything much easier.

A tidy power socket - which we never thought we would find ourselves saying either - plugs in underneath, keeping the power cord tucked away. This is the same on the Sonos One and Sonos One SL.

Features

  • Compatible with over 100 music streaming services
  • Controllable though Sonos app
  • Multi-room audio 
  • Stereo pairing possible

Sonos plays nice with over 100 music streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer, TuneIn Radio and a whole stack you've probably never heard of too. Sign into your respective account (or accounts) with any of the compatible services and you can stream music to your heart's content, though Sonos also allows you to play music from your synced device, be that your smartphone or tablet, as well as a NAS drive.

Controlling the Sonos Play:1 can be done in a number of ways, depending on your setup. The traditional way is through the Sonos app, available for smartphones, tablets and desktops, and it's a fantastic platform that is exceptionally easy to use. Through the Sonos app, you can do everything from controlling volume, skipping tracks and creating playlists to adding a new Sonos speaker to your system, signing into a new music service and grouping Sonos speakers together, if you are lucky enough to have more than one in your system. 

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Grouping Sonos speakers together allows you to play the same music in every room you have a Sonos speaker, but you can also opt to have different music playing in different rooms simultaneously. We've had the kids listening to Bieber while we listen to Brahms with a spot of whiskey. It's here that Sonos stands out from its competition, offering excellent multi room capabilities.

Through the Sonos app, you'll also be able pair two Sonos Play:1s together to create a stereo pair for a 5.1 setup if you have a Sonos Playbar, Sonos Beam or Playbase and a Sonos SUB, as you can with the Play:3, Play:5, Sonos One and Sonos One SL. To create a stereo pair of Sonos speakers however, the two speakers you are pairing will need to be the same speaker - unless it's the Sonos One and Sonos One SL - so you can't pair a Play:1 with a Sonos One or Sonos One SL for example, despite them offering the same composition and being the same size.

Voice control through Alexa and Google Assistant

  • Voice control with Alexa-enabled device
  • Voice control with Google Assistant-enabled device
  • Can also control through Spotify and Tidal

The Sonos app is no longer the only way to control your Sonos Play:1 or Sonos system however, even though when the Play:1 first arrived it was. Sonos regularly pushes updates to its system, which have included the ability to use Spotify Connect to send music directly from the Spotify app to Sonos speakers and Tidal users can also send music directly from the Tidal app to Sonos speakers.

One of the biggest updates it pushed was voice control though. The Sonos One, Sonos Move and Sonos Beam feature integrated voice control with an array of built-in microphones, but the Play:1 requires the addition of an Amazon Alexa-enabled device, such as an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, a Google Assistant-enabled device like Google Home or Google Home Mini, or a Sonos One, Sonos Move or Sonos Beam in order to control it with voice.

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The Alexa-enabled device or Google Assistant-enabled device is used to send music and other audio tracks to your Sonos speaker and although it isn't as seamless an experience as voice control on the Sonos One, Sonos Move or Sonos Beam, it's very easy once set up. For example, you could say to your Alexa-enabled device, "Alexa, play Justin Bieber in the living room (or wherever you have set your Play:1 up)", and music by Bieber will start to play on your Play:1.

If you're a Google Assistant user, you could say to your Google Home speaker, "Ok Google, turn Sonos up", and the volume of your Play:1 speaker will increase without you lifting a finger.

It's possible to play anything the Sonos app recognises and you can also play or shuffle Sonos playlists you've manually created. Unlike the Sonos One, the Play:1 doesn't become a voice assistant, with Alexa or Google Assistant effectively becoming the Sonos controller instead, but it's a great feature addition to have for anyone with an Alexa-enabled device or Google Assistant-device that wants voice control for their Play:1.

If you don't have an Alexa-enabled device or Google Assistant device and you want voice control, you might want to consider the Sonos One instead, especially as the £50 price difference between the Play:1 and Sonos One will need to be spent on an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini in order to get voice control functionality.

Sound quality and performance

  • Two class-D amplifiers
  • 1x tweeter, 1x mid-woofer

In terms of sound performance, there is a noticeable difference in the capability of the Play:1 compared to the next speaker in the Sonos line up, the Play:3, but then at £100 cheaper, that's to be expected. The Play:3 is also no longer available through Sonos anymore, like the Play:1 isn't following the Sonos One SL launch, making the next speaker the Sonos Move, which is significantly more expensive. The Play:1 still sounds great, offering the same sound quality capabilities as the Sonos One and Sonos One SL.

The Sonos Play:1's performance varies depending on what room you put it in but for most UK homes, i.e. small rooms, it is more than ample to fill the room with sound. In fact, it holds its own in larger rooms too. We found it worked better at louder levels though - a trait we've found with many of the Sonos Play speakers in our experience.

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Bass levels are rich on the Play:1 and the speaker copes well with trebles too. We tried a number of bands and artists with the speaker including the movie-bass-laden Inception soundtrack, through to the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and all the latest chart releases. 

If the sound feels a little off then you do have some control over the equaliser settings including treble and bass as well as loudness through the Sonos app, and the Play:1 is also compatible with Trueplay, which allows you to tune the speaker to its surroundings using an iOS device, even if its surroundings are in a cupboard. It's worth removing any protective case you have over your device or you'll have to Trueplay tune twice.

Verdict

The Sonos Play:1 is a great little speaker that has so much potential beyond the speaker itself that we can't recommend it enough as a starting place to embrace the Sonos system - if you can get your hands on it. That said, six years following its launch and it's got some serious competition, with its biggest rival coming from the more feature-rich Sonos One, as well as the Sonos One SL which isn't smart like the Sonos One but it offers the latest features and an updated design.

For those enticed by voice control, the Sonos Play:1 is outshined by the £50-more expensive Sonos One, which not only offers integrated voice control for the One itself but any other Sonos speakers you have, while also bringing touch controls and a more streamlined design compared to the older Play:1.

For those not interested in seamless voice control however, or those that already have an Alexa-enabled or Google Assistant-enabled device, the Play:1 is a perfect speaker to start embracing the Sonos system, or adding to an existing Sonos system - if you can get your hands on it. The voiceless Sonos One SL has taken its place. The Play:1 doesn't sound as good as the Play:3 or portable Sonos Move but the Play:1 is about getting the most out of your music streaming service without spending a fortune in doing so.

Expect music in your house to multiply very quickly and for good reason: the Sonos Play:1 is great.

This review was first published in October 2013 and has since been updated to reflect the current market.