We have smartphones. We have smart TVs, smartwatchs and even smart appliances, so why can't the speaker systems in our home be smarter too? And what if there were a more affordable way to get into the world of smarter sound? It is perhaps along that line of questioning that we find ourselves looking at the Sonos PLAY:1 wireless speaker, the least expensive entry into the Sonos HiFi wireless system to date. Is it up to the task?
Your Gateway to Wireless HiFi Music
You may remember when we went hands-on with the Sonos PLAYBAR earlier this year. That helped to introduce us to how the whole Sonos ecosystem works. In essence, you get a modular speaker system where each of the individual components can communicate with one another via a dedicated wireless channel, effectively streaming all kinds of audio content to the different rooms in your home. It can access your iTunes library and songs on your NAS, just as easily as it can tap into Internet radio through something like TuneIn.
Each of the speakers can act independently, playing entirely different content, or they can be mated together to create more of a speaker system. This is entirely flexible, so you can group and ungroup your speakers on the fly via the mobile app. While the PLAYBAR is geared more toward being a soundbar for your home theater, the PLAY:1 just looks like a regular little speaker, offering a little more versatility. Sonos recognizes that the smaller footprint and lower price point lends the PLAY:1 toward being used in the kitchen or even the bathroom and that's why the PLAY:1 has been designed to withstand humidity. It's not waterproof, though.
All this being said, the big idea with this smaller speaker (the PLAY:1 measures 16.15 cm tall and 11.91 cm wide) is that it's the most affordable speaker in the Sonos range. Once you get hooked into the system, you'll be more inclined to buy more speakers to fit into this modular system.
Connecting via the Bridge
However, the more convenient solution is to invest in the Sonos BRIDGE. Roughly the size of an Apple TV, this basically acts as a router or wireless hub for the Sonos speakers in your home. At the time of this writing, many retailers have a special deal where you'll get the BRIDGE for free (a $50 value) when you buy a Sonos speaker. This makes the configuration and layout far more flexible, as you don't need to have a speaker right by your router.
The actual setup process is similarly straightforward. After connecting the BRIDGE to my router and plugging in the power, I proceeded to download the Sonos app onto my Android phone. With my phone and the BRIDGE connected to the same network, I was then able to "discover" the BRIDGE through the app. I just had to hit the single button on top of the BRIDGE. I then proceeded to follow the same steps to add the two PLAY:1 speakers to the system, labeling them accordingly to correspond with the room where I was going to place them.
From there, I was able to add music to my Sonos library. This was also done through the app; I got it to sift through the files on my Seagate Central and WD My Cloud. Populating the library took a few minutes, but after that, I was all set.
Using the Mobile App
The core user interface on the Android app is quite robust, making it reasonably easy for to switch around to the different speakers in your home, getting them to play content from your existing music library or streamed over the Internet. Diving into the settings menu does take away from some of this charm, as it breaks down into looking like every other settings menu on every other generic Android app, but it gets the job done.
Going through the audio sources, changing the volume, adding songs to your queue and other basic functions are easy to understand, though it was not immediately obvious how I could activate and deactivate shuffle, repeat and crossfade. These buttons are not automatically visible, like how they are on the desktop app. To bring them up, you tap in the middle of the Now Playing screen where you find the song information and album art. Aside from that, pulling up the queue, going back to the home screen and bringing up the track info is all visible and easy to access. I did find that the multi-pane interface afforded by the tablet and desktop apps to be superior to the single-pane smartphone UI.
The Aural Experience
As far as I can tell, Sonos does not publicly list many of the specifications for its speakers, because they don't want us to get caught up in RMS and frequency response. There could be something to this approach, because a higher RMS number doesn't necessarily mean that the speaker is any louder or better sounding. In the case of the compact but premium-feeling PLAY:1 (there's some definite substance and weight to this speaker), I was thorough impressed and pleased with how it performed.
I tried listening to a broad range of musical genres, from rap to metal, jazz to indie rock, and the overall sound profile was warm and full. You don't get quite the same kind of ground-shaking bass that you would out of a subwoofer, of course, but there was a definite thump to this little speaker. The mids were rich and there was virtually no distortion, even at much higher volumes. And yes, this little speaker can get very loud without sacrificing anything in audio quality. Creating a stereo pair with two PLAY:1 speakers was even better. If you have an opportunity to listen to these speakers in person, I encourage you to do so. Words don't do it justice.
MEGATechie Sonic Playground or MEGATechie Audio Confusion?
Yes, it is possible to invest in one of those iPod speaker docks or you could get something where you can connect your smartphone via Bluetooth, but what Sonos is offering is a far more comprehensive solution where everything can talk to everything else. You can tap into your existing music library or stream off compatible services on the Internet. You can't plug in the sound from your Blu-ray player to the PLAY:1, but you can have this kind of functionality through other units in the Sonos ecosystem.
And that's really at the heart of the argument for the PLAY:1. With an MSRP of $199.99, it is the most affordable of the bunch. No, it's not cheap, but when you compare it to how much you would spend on a premium HiFi speaker without any of this kind of "smart" functionality, it's hardly outrageous. And, as mentioned above, many retailers are currently offering a deal where you get a Sonos Bridge included for free.
I'm not sure if I'm quite prepared to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for some Sonos PLAY:3 and PLAY:5 speakers, as well as the Sonos PLAYBAR soundbar and SUB subwoofer, but after taking a couple of PLAY:1 speakers for a test drive, I can certainly appreciate the appeal of this solution. And the beauty of it is that it is completely modular, so should you choose to upgrade or add to your setup in the future, you totally can.