(Pocket-lint) - Sonos is far from a new player in the multi-room speaker sector. It's been playing the game and playing it well for nearly two decades. However, multi-room is a very different market now to when Sonos first appeared - competition has increased significantly and, as streaming music is now the norm, lots of manufacturers are after a slice of the pie.
The original Sonos Play:5 launched in 2010 and, up until 2015, it held the crown as the biggest, most badass speaker in the Sonos line-up. In 2015, the company introduced a new Play:5; a refreshed and entirely redesigned successor, looking to show the rest of the market what its experience offers.
The new Play:5 is clearly cut from the same cloth as the original, but it made its predecessor look dated. There's a big difference in design between the two - but looks aren't everything. When it comes to multi-room audio it's all-important sound quality that's just as, if not more, important than design.
Does the Sonos Play:5 (2015) deliver the full marriage-material package?
- 364 x 204 x 154mm, 6.36kgs
- Black and white colour options
- Plastic design
- Vertical or horiztonal orientation
The Sonos Play:5 (2015) is a stunning yet subtle product, insofar as boxes that pump out your favourite tunes go anyway. Sonos doesn't do complicated, as the black or white monotone options suggest (both of which comes with a black grille).
Simple and sophisticated is what the second generation Play:5 goes for, delivering clean lines from its curved oblong design - a theme found throughout Sonos's multi-room speaker range. It features curves that sweep around its edges and top, before narrowing at the rear, giving it a similar shape to the Play:3, albeit on a larger scale. The Play:5 is more refined than the older model, with a more futuristic identity that we've seen transcend into other more recent Sonos products, like the Sonos Beam, Sonos One and portable Sonos Move.
It is neither small nor light, but the Play:5 is a home speaker and certainly not one you'll be carting around in a bag or bringing to the beach - so neither of these points really matter.
The Play:5 (2015) was three years in the making and the front grille - comprised of 60,000 holes broken up only by the Sonos brand tag - is one of the most interesting design details, despite being made from plastic rather than metal. Sonos informed us that metal was the primary choice aesthetically, but such a material choice wouldn't be best for sound.
The Sonos brand tag sits directly in the centre of the speaker, either at the top or the right or left hand side, depending on the product's orientation as it's possible to sit it upright rather than horizontally. No matter which position the speaker, though, the brand tag sits in front of the transducer, which would theoretically affect high-frequency sounds if not for the 828 holes drilled into this brand tag too. Crazy, right?
- Capacitive touch controls
- Swipe from one side to other to skip track
- Smart sensors to detect orientation
- Ethernet port, 3.5mm line-in
The tag isn't just about lots of tiny holes or ensuring everyone knows you've opted for Sonos as your multi-room speaker system though. It's designed to be helpful when it comes to locating controls, which are capacitive touch-based and sit either side and above of the tag.
The idea is that you needn't look for the controls too hard and a quick tap or swipe in roughly the right place will deliver an instantaneous response. Right increases the volume, left decreases it; a swipe from one side to the other will skip a track. The controls also benefit from smart sensors that detect the orientation of the speaker to ensure that volume increase is always facing in its logical direction.
Moving from physical buttons to capacitive touch could be seen as a risky move as many will appreciate the visual aspect and direct response actual buttons provides - a criticism we had of the Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus. But we love the new Sonos controls and how they're integrated seamlessly into the design. They're a pleasure to use and the same applies for the Sonos One, Sonos One SL, Sonos Move, Playbase and Sonos Beam, all of which also have capacitive controls.
The casing of the Play:5 (2015) is also plastic like the grille, which means you're essentially paying £499 for a mostly plastic speaker. It looks and feels every bit as well-made as previous Sonos speakers though, if not more so. The casing has a matte finish but a ceramic feel, which makes it lovely to touch and control.
The rear continues with the simple design trend, featuring just an Ethernet port, 3.5mm line-in, power lead, and a pairing button towards the bottom of the speaker.
Despite being not much more than a black box, every aspect of the Sonos Play:5 has clearly been considered; it's smart, sophisticated, but perhaps best of all, it's simple.
Dynamic and detailed sound quality
- Three tweeters
- Three mid-woofers
- Six Class-D amplifiers
- Two microphones
As we mentioned, looks aren't everything. Fortunately the second generation Sonos Play:5 has the audible personality to match its subtle but successful design. It's audio output is slightly bass heavy, as was the original Play:5, but the overall sound is absolutely brilliant.
Behind the front grille are three tweeters, three long-throw mid-woofers and six Class-D digital amplifiers, as well as two microphones that were built-in for future features, such as realising the potential of the Trueplay software that launched at the same time - more on that later.
Despite the inclusion of microphones and Sonos' habit of introducing future tech within its speakers even if it isn't used straight away - there is no built-in voice control on the Play:5 like the Sonos Beam, Sonos Move or Sonos One. You can still control the Play:5 with an Amazon Echo device or Google Home device though, or via a Sonos One, Sonos Move or Sonos Beam.
There is a great dynamic range and some serious volume from the Play:5 though - far bigger than most rooms it is likely to be placed in. Detail is clear even at lower volumes so you don't lose anything by not having the speaker on at full blast, but it isn't lost at higher volumes either.
We listened to several tracks and genres - from Adele's Someone Like You to Massive Attack's Unfinished Symphony and vocals - and instruments were as crisp and full-bodied as the booming bass. The Play:5 covers all departments well, offering a wide and impressive sound quality, and for those who enjoy a bit of extra bass, it won't disappoint.
We also asked a musician friend to pop over and listen to one of his own tracks, The Art of Silent War, to see whether he thought the Play:5 (2015) did it justice and reproduced the track the way he intended it to sound. In his opinion, highs and lows were perfectly separated and he thought it enhanced the bass of the track in a positive way.
- Stereo output possible with two Play:5 speakers
- Up to 16-bit supported
Stereo output is possible by using a pair of Play:5 speakers (or any combination of the same Sonos speakers, for that matter). During a demo before we got the Play:5 (2015) home for review, we experienced a stereo pairing in both horizontal and vertical orientations. When turned horizontally, the speakers deliver a wider soundstage to our ears, delivering sound just as impressive right at the sides of the room as the sweet-spot in the middle of the room.
Unlike some of its competitors, Sonos supports up to CD quality (16-bit), but it has yet to jump on the hi-res (24-bit) bandwagon and it isn't likely to do so any time soon. That may come as a disappointment to some. We were told back in 2015 by the company's sound leader, Giles Martin, that "it makes no sense in the consumer world", adding that he or the company "refuse to play the numbers game".
Martin also said that hi-res is a convenient way of audio companies doing what car companies do with their "0 to 60mph": he thinks most people would struggle to spot the difference between CD quality and a 24-bit file, whether 96kHz or 192kHz.
However, for those high-end listeners, a number of competitors do offer hi-resolution, including Bluesound, Sony and LG - so whether the difference is noticeable or not to many, it is happening in multi-room products, and Sonos isn't part of that just yet, not even for down-sampling. Even so, we didn't feel as though our experience from the Play:5 was in any way hindered by the lack of hi-res support, but for those who can't live without it, you'll have to live without Sonos.
Great app control
- 80+ supported services
- Apple AirPlay 2 support
- Wireless mesh network joins Sonos speakers
Sonos delivers simplicity and it's successful in doing so in both design and software terms. Take the Sonos app, which is up there as the best multi-room solution out there, if not the best. It offers a smooth and simple experience. You can search by artist, track, album, playlist, stations, hosts and podcasts and the app will search through all the 100+ compatible services it supports, which is a lot easier than going through each one individually.
Some big changes have taken place over the years since the second generation Play:5 originally launched, including a Sonos app redesign, as well as support for Apple Music, support for Apple's AirPlay 2 and the ability to control Sonos through Spotify.
You can read our Sonos tips and tricks to get to grips with all the features offered within the Sonos app, from search to equalisation settings for each individual room (if you have more than one Sonos connected).
Like the other Sonos speakers, the Play:5 (2015) can be connected directly to your router using an Ethernet cable, or wireless connectivity is available. We recommend the latter as the Sonos wireless mesh network technology is brilliant and it also means you don't have to use up those precious router Ethernet ports or trail wires anywhere. There's no longer the need for a Sonos Hub, as was necessary at the beginning of the system's life, to further simplify things.
We very rarely experience drop-outs or connection issues and we've experienced complete synchronisation across all speakers, no problems.
- iOS device required for Trueplay
- Trueplay available for all Sonos speakers
- Around a minute to complete
Trueplay is a Sonos software feature that launched at the same time as the Play:5 (2015). In a nutshell, Trueplay enhances audio based on the speaker's position to surrounding surfaces and optimises equalisation for the room it's placed in. It is available for all Sonos speakers, not just the Sonos Play:5, though it is automatic on the Sonos Move.
By using the in-built microphone of your Apple smart device (iOS 7 and above, no Android due to standardisation issues) to collect information about the room you are in, the tuning process requires you to hold your smart device and wave it up and down whilst walking around the room (no, really).
It emits a series of sounds and after 45-seconds (of admittedly looking and feeling rather silly) it's all done. You have to be completely silent as to not confuse the readings, and you'll need to make sure you don't have a case on your device, but if you do anything wrong then you'll be told to redo it. If you want to know more, you can read our Trueplay explained feature, or our feature on how to perform Trueplay.
We were able to tune both our Play:5 (2015) in the living room and the Play:1 we have setup in our office according to their surroundings. In their normal positions, with ample space around them, we noticed a minimal difference when we turned Trueplay on or off. But when we placed the Play:5 behind the sofa and re-tuned it, the difference was far more significant. That's where Trueplay really shows its worth: by avoiding the muddy sound that can occur when a speaker it too close to a wall.
Better still, Trueplay allows everyone with Sonos speakers, old or new, to get the best out of them. You needn't buy the Play:5 or even the latest Sonos speaker to benefit from boosting your current Sonos sound, but if you are looking for a heavyweight lead speaker then the Play:5 is certainly a solid choice.
Sonos has a fantastic track record in delivering great speakers - and the second generation Play:5 sets yet another precedent. It has a subtle yet sophisticated design that we love, offers a brilliant app to connect to streaming services and all your music, among other great features such as capacitive touch controls.
But more importantly the sound it delivers is superb, especially with Trueplay software tuning. Yes it's slightly bass biased, there's no hi-res support and it's not cheap, but the Play:5 (2015) is all-round fantastic and well worth the splash of cash.
Sonos has competition nipping at its heels left, right and centre, but the Play:5 (2015) shows what over a decade of experience can deliver. It's the ideal way to start a Sonos multi-room system, or add a badass centre piece to an existing one.
So is the Sonos Play:5 the full marriage-material package? We certainly still love it four years later and we are sure we will continue to for many years to come.
This review was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated to reflect software updates and additional features.
The Sonos Beam is £100 cheaper than the Sonos Play:5 and it doubles up as a soundbar for your TV too. It's a great alternative in the Sonos line up, offering good sound (even if not as good as the Play:5), as well as built-in Alexa or Google Assistant voice control.