Sonos Review20 Feb 2016
I’ve been aware of Sonos as a premium wireless speaker solution for a long time, but the price always seemed excessive for what, on the face of it, offers little more than a simple Bluetooth speaker. But after Subsonic needed its database rebuilding for the third time and I was unable to play music for a dinner party, enough was enough. I was willing at last to pay the premium for something that was purported to work.
My music collection is mostly comprised of purchased Audio CDs that I have ripped under Linux. Currently I have a Music folder on our MythTV system, and have installed Subsonic to share our music to our many tablets and phones, using the excellent Subsonic Android App. If I want to play from Subsonic to my music system then I have a Logitech Bluetooth Audio Receiver Adapter that receives the audio and plays it through my old-school Sony amplifier.
The main issues with this set-up is that the music only plays in the living room and not elsewhere in the house. We have bought an additional Creative D80 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker, but of course each can only play independent streams.
I also find Bluetooth a frustrating technology where you don’t have a simple 1:1 paradigm. In our case we have probably a dozen tablets and phones, each determined to pair with the Bluetooth receivers and then prevent other devices from connecting.
Choosing Sonos Speakers
The Sonos range comprises of the small Play:1 at £155, a medium-sized Play:3 at £229 and a larger Play:5 at £413. On the Goldilocks principle of the middle one being “just right”, I opted for two of the Play:3 at £229 each - one for the living room and one for the kitchen. The plan was to move those elsewhere at a later stage and hopefully upgrade the living room system to a pair of Play:5 speakers.
The important thing to understand is that neither the Play:1 nor the Play:3 speakers have a Line-In. This means that you can only play from on-line content. If you currently subscribe to one of the supported Sonos Services, then that is fine, but if you’re wanting to play content from a CD or other input source - then you can’t. The Play:5 does have a Line-In, as does the Sonos Connect at £264.
A word about the Sonos Connect. A simple way to imagine it is that it is basically a Play:5, but without the speaker. In other words it has the same Sonos interface with Line-In but no speaker. If you have an existing music system then this is potentially ideal and with hindsight I wish that what I had done was to purchase one Play:3 for the kitchen and one Sonos Connect for the living room. The opposing view is that a pair of Play:5 speakers complete obsoletes an existing music system - so why not do away with the legacy equipment.
Amazon Prime Music
One great disappointment was that, whilst Sonos supports Amazon Music, it does not support Amazon Prime Music. One of the main reasons we had bought Sonos was to play Amazon Prime Music, so this was a major problem. At the time of writing it is available in the US as a Beta service and has been for a few months. One can only hope that it will trickle across to the UK in due course.
Google Play Music
Hoping that the Amazon Prime issue would be resolved, we signed up to a 30 day free trial with Google Play Music. This worked extremely well, except for the recommended playlists which do not appear as a Sonos Queue. The main issue we found was that our children would choose a song and click “Play Next” and this would interrupt the playlist - very irritating if you were enjoying a particular song. We assumed that this was a feature of Sonos, but Spotify does not work like that (see below).
We then subscribed to the 30 days free trial with Spotify. You only need the individual member subscription to work with Sonos, but the ongoing cost is the same as Google Play. The only advantage of Spotify is that the recommended playlists appear as a proper Sonos queue, enabling you to save it as a Sonos Playlist, or add a song into the queue.
One delight was that we were able to play our local music via Subsonic. This is a Beta service and I did have a small problem getting it working. Unfortunately I cannot remember the nature of the problem, other than an Internet search solved it.
Obviously we were disappointed at the lack of Amazon Prime Music. I was also a little disappointed at the abrupt handling of music changes - if you click “Play Now” the music stops instantly and the next track starts. I do feel that with a premium set-up like this that music transitions should be handled more smoothly.
We also have had issues with our children messing about with Sonos - as the interface is open to all. We have sufficient control of our children that this isn’t a significant problem, but knowing some families this could be a serious issue. I do feel there should be some security, to enable clients to be de-authorised, or limited only to a subset of features.
Will I continue to invest in Sonos? Undoubtedly yes, but I think the next purchase will be a Sonos Connect followed by a better set of audio speakers.