It’s difficult to only “dip a toe” into Sonos. Sure, if you must, you can just buy a single speaker. Each of the company’s products does just fine as a solo speaker for wireless music streaming in your home.

Sonos Play:5



Newly redesigned speaker enclosure with a more open, bright sound. Understated visual design will blend in easily with your decor. Touch controls for playing, pausing, switching tracks, and changing volume. Can be configured to work on its own or as part of a stereo pair. Very easy set-up.


Software calibration is interesting from a technological standpoint, but results may vary. It’s also iOS-only. $500 is pricey, especially for a speaker system that really works best if you have more than one.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Barely functional; don’t buy it
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10A solid product with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless, buy it now
  • 10/10Metaphysical product perfection

However, the Sonos stuff really shines if you jump all the way in, buy a few speakers or amps and scatter them around your home. Do that, and you’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of dollars in set-up costs (this stuff is pricey), but you do end up with a kick-ass experience. You get all the multi-room streaming options, the ability to group speakers into stereo pairs, and you can throw the audio of the baseball game from the TV’s sound bar to the speaker in the kitchen. Once you see first-hand what placing a few of these things around your house can offer, you wonder why anyone would want to buy only one.

But you’ve got to start somewhere, and if there’s one speaker that it makes sense to buy first, it’s the Play:5. It’s the biggest and, to my ears, the best-sounding speaker Sonos makes. The diminutive Play:1 is also a nice choice for a solo Sonos speaker, but the Play:5 is more capable of acting as the centerpiece in a home.

The California-based company has recently redesigned the big Play:5. The updated design has a sleeker case, new internals, and it sounds even better than before. Pre-orders for the new Play:5 start today, and the units will be available at U.S. retail outlets on November 20. The rest of the world will get them on November 25. There are two color choices (matte black and matte white) and the price for both is $499.

The improvements to both the physical enclosure and the audio quality are enough that I’d recommend it not only to those looking for their first speaker, but also those who are expanding an existing Sonos setup.

Platform Play

The company sent a new Play:5 for us to test. The first thing I noticed upon taking it out of the box was that it’s been entirely redesigned. Touch sensors near the logo on the top of the speaker provide capacitive controls for changing volume and for playing and pausing music. You can swipe across the capacitive strip to skip to the next track. There are more drivers inside, too. The old Play:5 had five speakers—two tweeters, two mid-range drivers, and one woofer. The new case holds six speakers total—three tweeters and three drivers that each handle both mids and lows. It really sounds great. I’d often found Sonos’ larger speakers to be a little dark, but this new Play:5 sounds brighter and more vibrant.

What really makes a Sonos speaker a premium product is the software.

The Play:5 now has three distinct orientations: By itself, either horizontal or vertical; paired with another speaker vertically to provide a tight stereo image; or paired with both speakers sitting horizontally, to provide a wider, more room-filling stereo image.

Of course, the specs and build of the speaker are only part of the experience. What really makes a Sonos speaker a premium product is the software. The company’s controller software runs on any phone or computer, and it lets you stream different audio sources to multiple locations around your home all at once. You can play a Spotify playlist in one room, NPR in another, and tracks from your iTunes library in a third (still no Apple Music, alas). Alternatively, you can sync all the speakers in your house and play the same music in every room. All of the nodes stay in contact with one another via a discrete wireless mesh network that piggy-backs on top of your home Wi-Fi network. It’s a solution that’s unique in both its versatility and solidity in the wireless audio market.

Tap to Calibrate

The Play:5 has one additional enhancement. It’s a software trick called Trueplay, and it lets you tune the audio output of your speakers just by tapping a button in the Sonos mobile app for iOS. Trueplay will make it into Android eventually, and it’ll also make its way into the other Play speakers in the line-up, including the Play Bar. But for now, just this speaker, and just iOS.

You stand in the room with the Play:5, fire up the app, and press the Trueplay button. The speaker emits a tone, and the microphone on your handset picks it up. The app is able to determine the acoustic properties of the room, how different frequencies are represented, and what the reverberations are like. The speaker then adjusts its output. Sonos says this adjustment to the digital signal processing in the speaker improves the quality of the audio. In my testing, it does change the audio. But improve it? Maybe only a little. It makes it sound different more than anything. Trueplay rolled off the treble or pumped up the mids depending on where I put it. (If you move the speaker to a different location, you can just run the test again and recalibrate it.) But I usually preferred to listen to the unaltered playback of my files—especially if it was music that I know well enough to know how it’s supposed to sound.

We’ve seen this sort of auto-calibration trick before, usually in home theater setups. Such systems often require a precisely positioned calibration microphone. In some cases, a set of speakers will ship with a special remote that has a microphone built into it. But Sonos’ use of the mic in your phone is a neat progression of the tech. So even though Trueplay is a bit of a gimmick, bravo to Sonos for innovation. And nothing’s forcing you to use the feature, either. If you don’t like it, don’t use it.

Software calibration tricks aren’t the reason to buy this speaker, anyway. The reason I’m recommending it is because it’s simply the most advanced and most complete piece of hardware Sonos makes. If you want to get an idea of a company’s vision for the future, look at its flagship. Apple has the iPhone, Microsoft has the Surface Book, Tesla has the Model S, and Sonos has the Play:5. It’s where the company has put all of its best ideas about digital music, wireless streaming, and convenient in-home listening. And I can tell you, those are some pretty sweet-sounding ideas.

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Review: Sonos Play:5