As rumored, reported, and otherwise wished-upon-a-star for, Sonos recently debuted their smallest, lowest-cost receiver to date, the Play:3. Part of a brand makeover, Play:3 slots in alongside the Play:5 (formerly S5) as the company's two self-contained wireless receiver/speaker/amplifier products. In a nutshell, Sonos is a networked music system that lets you stream local or Web-based audio around a home network to just about as many "zones" as you've got the budget to outfit with Sonos receivers.
Known for its ease of use and high performance wireless playback, Sonos has also long been known as a music solution available only to the wealthy elite. Along with a new logo and a new Android app, Sonos has lowered their entry-level price point to $299 with Play:3. Three hundred bucks is a lot for many people to think about spending on a single-room music system that doesn't even include an input jack. Is it worth it? Let's find out!
Sonos Play:3 Pros
- Very good sound quality with big volume from compact design
- Easy to set up and use with local or Web-based audio sources
- Compatible with iOS and Android remote control apps
- Integrated networking makes it easy to add to existing Sonos systems
Sonos Play:3 Cons
- Not as much low-end punch as Play:5 unit
- Wireless networking requires $49 Sonos Bridge
- No input/output jacks
Best For: New Sonos owners on a budget, existing Sonos users who want a smaller and/or lower-cost way to expand
Company Website: http://sonos.com/shop/products/play3
Suggested Retail Price: $299
In a nutshell, Play:3 delivers the goods. Sonos owners swear up and down, "Once you go Sonos you'll never go back!" And it might just be true. I've been fortunate enough to demo a Sonos system in my home over the past few months and I absolutely love it. While the product was founded on the notion of effortless streaming of local music across a wireless network, I dare say today's Sonos is custom-made for the plethora of Web-based music services currently available for a low (or free) monthly fee. MOG, Pandora, Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, Wolfgang's Vault and more: They all work pretty seamlessly with this thing. Sonos easily integrates with everything from Wolfgang's Vault and Pandora to MOG and Spotify, and if you already own an Android or iOS device you're a mere free download away from also owning a touchscreen remote control for your wireless music system (a dedicated hardware controller is also available from Sonos for $349).
It's all true: Sonos is easy to set up (though I had to upgrade my iOS app to support Play:3) and the performance is top-notch. I added my Play:3 review unit to a setup consisting of two Play:5s and a Sonos Bridge tethered via Ethernet to my Wi-Fi router. Cards on the table: That's a $1,150 system for getting music to three rooms, and none of them with much in the way of true stereo separation. That's expensive. But it's also pretty great.
If you're starting from scratch with Sonos, you'll either have to tether your Play:3 to your router via Ethernet or shell out an extra fifty bucks for a Bridge unit to serve up the company's proprietary SonosNet 2.0 wireless mesh network. That's kind of a drag on the ol' wallet but ultimately worth it if you're interested in multi-room music; SonosNet has by far outperformed Apple AirTunes/AirPlay over Wi-Fi in my personal testing, exhibiting faster playback times, more accurate multi-zone syncing, and (most importantly) fewer headaches overall. Yes, spending fifty extra dollars to enable a second wireless network in your home seems absurd at first. But also, yes, if you're already dropping $299 or more per room on cord-free music, stepping up to $349 isn't that much to ask for awesome performance; one Sonos Bridge will set your entire network up for life.
All that tech talk is well and good, but here's the thing: Using Sonos is an oh-so-pleasant experience that puts the focus on listening to music, and if you subscribe to a streaming music service (Sonos furnished me with three months of Spotify Premium) that focus extends to "pick a song, any song … odds are you can hear it right now … just by tapping on a touchscreen." Play:3 is small but gets plenty loud and sounds clean. While it lacks a bit of the bass that the $399 Play:5 exhibits, it's plenty fine for a smaller room or if your tastes tends toward low quality mp3s or just plain' cranking it. I've been using the unit in my home office, bedroom, and bathroom, and frankly so long as the thing in somewhere upstairs I can fill my second floor with sound without getting anywhere near the amplifiers' upper limits. The unit comprises three drivers (one tweeter, two mid-range) and a bass radiator, and can be software configured to work as half of a dual-Play:3 stereo array. To reiterate, it doesn't sound as good as the S:5. But, you know, it's $100 cheaper.
For $300 I do wish Play:3 had integrated input (iPod) and output (headphone/line out to home theater) jacks, but it doesn't. This leaves Sonos with a bit of an odd product lineup seeing as your two choices for integrating with your prexisting audio system are the $349 ZonePlayer 90 or the $399 Play:5 and its 1/8″ headphone out jack. Clearly there's a low-cost, tether to my stereo system hole waiting to be filled there. Not to mention some sort of "stream to my portable music player" option.
That being said, if the Sonos platform appeals to you and you can live without window-rattling bass, Play:3 is well, well, well worth a look and listen. Honestly, it's hard to overstate how fun it is having a Sonos system in the house – especially one that's linked to an unlimited streaming music account. With three Sonos zones going, I can play the same or different music in three parts of the house at the same time. And the alarm function lets any of said zones wake you up in the morning or otherwise stream whatever audio you desire into your life at whatever time you deem fit. I also like that the company saw fit to pack an accelerometer into Play:3 to help with left/right channel separation whether you've positioned the unit horizontally or vertically.
Sonos ain't cheap, but the all-in-one, $299 Play:3 is more on price point par with high-end iPod docks than the company's products have ever been. If only they'd seen fit to build an Aux jack into the unit as they did on the Play:5, it'd be a little bit easier to recommend Play:3 as a dual-purpose iPod dock / entree into the awesome world of Sonos streaming. Scoff if you will, but the whole iPod docking thing is a big deal to lots of people. As it is, if you want to stream tunes from an iOS device to Play:3, you're looking at another $119 for a Sonos Dock. Or you can just spend an hour or so making sure that whatever's on your iPhone is also in your iTunes library, and available to stream to Sonos.
Either way, here's the point: Sonos is great, and Play:3 is the cheapest way into Sonos yet. If you're looking to fill your dorm room, bedroom, or a smallish whatever room with wireless music, check out the Play:3. It's easy to use, sounds good (or, frankly, awesome if you don't need big bass), and can serve as the cornerstone of a bigger system to fill out your long range plans. Just don't forget to budget an extra fifty bucks for a Bridge if you want to take advantage of Sonos' killer wireless mesh networking system.
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