Sonos Sub Review (Stampede Review)

Sonos wireless audio systems were once the exclusive playthings of the rich and famous. Then the company rebranded themselves, rolled out the “Play” line of $300 and $400 networked speakers, and started selling their wares at Target. So why was their next move to launch a $699 subwoofer? I’m still not sure. But I’m happy they sent me their new Sub to muck around with for a few weeks – even if my neighbors weren’t so happy about it.

What is the What?

Sub is a 36 pound, two speaker/two amp subwoofer with integrated networking and a glossy black finish. A matte black version is said to be arriving this October for $599. Sub connects to your existing Sonos system if you’ve already got a Play:3, Play:5, or Connect:AMP; owners of older Sonos equipment aren’t invited to this block rocker. Adding a Sub to your system is just as simple as adding any other Sonos component: Plug the AC cord into the wall, fire up your controller (preferably via the company’s newly updated iOS or Android apps), and follow the directions. So long as your wired or wireless network is functioning properly and you can make a few simple choices that boil down to, “Do you want it loud, louder, or loudest?” you’ll be fine. Within ten minutes I’d transformed my living room setup from a single Play:5 to a 2.1 stereo array featuring two Play:3s and a Sub.

Who Might Buy It?

Sonos devotees who want to add a little – okay, a lot - of extra oomph to their existing setups. Musicheads with deep pockets. Fans of cutting edge consumer tech that resembles modernist furniture – seriously, the Sub looks more like an Italian end table than a home entertainment component.

What’s Good

The sound is good. The sound is utterly fantastic. Sonos claims that Sub’s amps and speakers are positioned “for deeper, richer sound and zero cabinet buzz or rattle.” They’re right. Adding Sub to a Play:3 speaker is like taking a cute and serviceable Ford Fiesta and “upgrading” it to become the 640 hp monster that Ken Block drifted around San Francisco to the delight of 21 million YouTube viewers. In other words, a Play:3 backed by Sub is an entirely different beast than a mere Play:3 on its own. Lucky me, I’ve got two Play:3s to fool with, so I’ve got the Full Monty and then some: Pink Floyd blares incredibly loud, amazingly distortion free, and in true stereo across my living room whenever I get the chance.

Seriously, Sub is incredibly impressive. If you can live with the core philosophy that all your music and tone controls are digital, with a reliance on a bunch of digital sound processing that you have no control over, you’ll have no issues with Sub’s performance. Whatever I threw at it, from Miles to Zeppelin, Brahms to The Beatles, and Pandora to FLAC, it all sounded as good as the source file was pure and my ears could pick up on. At low volumes Sub adds a ton of range, depth, and low end to Sonos’ sound, both because it’s a capable subwoofer and because it shoulders a lot of the low- and mid-range load so the Play:3 can do what it’s best at. At high volumes Sub does exactly the same thing – just a whole lot louder. I got well into rattling the windows and doorknobs in my house before I came anywhere near maxing out Sub’s capacity.

Adding a Sub to a single Play:3 speaker is akin to finally breaking down and getting prescription glasses for the first time – everything suddenly becomes that much clearer. Adding a Sub to a dual Play:3 array adds a joyful experience of true stereo separation. Adding a Sub to a Play:5 is bordering on overkill. Unless you’re planning on filling a giant room full of people and sound, that is.

Also, Sub is designed to work equally well whether in vertical or horizontal orientation, and virtually anywhere in your room. So you can stand the thing up or lay it down flat. You can tuck it in a corner or slide it under a table. As long as it can reach an AC outlet (and wireless signal or Ethernet port), odds are Sub will perform just fine no matter where you place it.

What’s Bad

Sounds fantastic, goes way past 11, dead simple to set up, and doubles as a borderline classy/cheesy piece of nouveau art furniture: Sub sounds like a winner, no? Sure, if you can afford it. Sub sells for $699, which is a lot of cash for a subwoofer. Add to that the cost of at least one compatible piece of Sonos gear to use with Sub, and you’re looking at a minimum $1,000 outlay for an audio system that can’t even do surround sound. Seriously, for as fantastic as my demo dual Play:3 + Sub system sounds, that particular combo retails for $1,298 and offers exactly zero Aux inputs. I can stream audio from my local collection and myriad online sources, but I can’t plug my TV, xBox, or Blu-Ray player into the thing. Suddenly all of that awesome loudness and smartphone-based controller wizardry is confronted by the cold reality of my bank account and the lackluster speakers on my TV set.

Does it Belong in the Herd?

If you’ve got the cash to invest and/or are already a happy Sonos owner, Sub offers stellar performance, slick looks, and ease of use that’s second to none. Said another way, if a seven hundred dollar subwoofer works for you then go for it, no questions asked. Otherwise, it’s hard to recommend laying out this kind of cash on a dedicated audio system when you could put together something slightly less slick but more home theater friendly up for a whole lot less – especially if (like me) you’ve still got a surround sound amp and speakers lying around.