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Review SONOS PLAY: 5 (2019)

The Play:5 is Sonos’s largest speaker designed for music. Home theatre fans should check out the Playbar and Playbase, but if you just want to stream from Spotify or another music streaming service, this is the model you need.

It offers bigger, better sound than either the Play:1 or Play:3. As you’d hope for the £499 price, this is the sort of multi-room speaker designed to be used as your main hifi.
For long-term Sonos fans, we can also confirm the current Play:5 sounds a lot better than the original Play:5, if you’re considering an upgrade.

Build

Sonos says the idea behind the design of the current Play:5 was to create “the quintessential speaker for the digital age”, with a revamped design and the focus on flagship sound.

It looks and feels different to the original, but fits in perfectly with the company’s other more recent additions, such as the One and PlayBase.

Design has never been taken lightly at Sonos, and every inch of the Play:5 is there for a reason. It can be orientated in three ways – horizontally or vertically either way up. This means the design has to work across all orientations and, as a result, it leans more towards the more simplistic styling of the Sonos Play:3.

This gives it greater flexibility for placement as well as a more ‘natural’ look when used in a stereo pair. Though technology tends to get smaller and thinner with every iteration, this Play:5 went the other way. It’s probably around the same width and height as the original, but is noticeably thicker – and for good reason.

The original Play:5 had a bass port on the back, which helped enhance the bottom end while keeping it as slim as possible. However, this meant sacrifices too – it couldn’t go as deep as Sonos wanted and was at risk of port chuffing at certain frequencies.

For the replacement, Sonos lost the port and went for a sealed architecture, increasing the acoustic volume to allow it to go louder and lower in the bass. Sonos says the Play:5 is capable of deeper, cleaner bass than even the Playbar – quite an achievement for a product around one-third of the size.

The front grille is made out of plastic rather than metal – a process that extended the production by a year. In the original Play:5, the antennas were in the plastic base, but that wasn’t an option for its successor, so the six antennas (positioned for every possible orientation) had to be placed within the main body. A metal design proved impossible without affecting the wireless performance, so the design team devised an Audiofoil polycarbonate grille.

At the time, Sonos claimed the new Play:5 offered the best wireless performance it had ever produced and, while it’s presumably now been surpassed by the likes of the PlayBase, we’ve found no fault in the Play:5 in the three years we’ve been using it.

The second-generation Play:5 was the point at which Sonos lost the physical buttons, replacing them with touch controls that you’ll now find on many of the company’s products. There are controls for play/pause and volume up/down, as well as the ability to swipe left and right to change track.

The volume and track controls alter depending on the speaker orientation, and while you’re more likely to do most of the controlling with your phone or tablet, the interface is responsive, with subtle tones that sound when your touch is acknowledged.

The only physical button you’ll find on the current Play:5 is the sync button on the back, which sits alongside the ethernet port and a 3.5mm aux-in. Even the power cord was tweaked and designed in-house.

Not only does the Play:5’s only wire look rather stylish by the standards of such things, it’s also a more environmentally-friendly, PVC and halogen-free cable too.

sonos play 5 sound

Design

The new-and-improved Sonos Play:5 is a Play:5 in name only - it's been completely re-engineered by Sonos. No part has been left the same. It may have that similar lozenge look that the original Play:5 had, but its edges are rounder and the flat foot that was found on the original has completely disappeared, making way for very small legs.

These leg rests are on both the bottom of the Play:5 and the side, because this time around you can use the speaker in either a horizontal or vertical fashion - a sensor inside determines which orientation the speaker is set in and adjusts sound quality and controls accordingly. This also means that you can pair up two Play:5 speakers for stereo sound, which would be a pricey but brilliant way to re-invent any home cinema system.

The physical buttons have gone from the top, too. Sonos' band of designers and engineers have embraced touch controls, making use of a capacitative top that is signified by the logo in the middle of the device.

'But won't a logo on the front mess with the acoustics?' we hear you cry - Sonos has thought about this and made it 'acoustically transparent' thanks to 800 holes lasered into the material. This is alongside the 60,000 holes that make up the grill.

According to Sonos, the designers had a fight on their hands to keep the logo tag where it is but we are glad they did - it acts as a central point for the touch control. A control that now allows you to track back and forward through songs, something that has been missing on Sonos' other touch controls. Considering there's no plus or minus signs to point you in the right direction for the touch panel, this is a clever bit of design. It makes something that's all-but invisible feel intuitive to use.

Colour-wise, there is a choice of black or white for the chassis - the grill stays black no matter your choice.

Looks-wise, the Play:5 is definitely a lesson in reduction. There's nothing on the chassis that doesn't need to be there. It's sleek, minimal and will fit easily into any home, not matter the decor.

best bluetooth speakers - play:5 setup

Sonos Play:5 – Setup

The Sonos system is still restrictive, and there’s currently no official way to “voice” control speakers using a digital assistant like Amazon Alexa. However, Sonos’s software is still best-in-class, and setting everything up is very easy.

In the earlier years of Sonos you had to have a Bridge to setup your speakers. Now you can just boot up the app and type in your Wi-Fi password. If there are any issues there’s an Ethernet socket on the back of the Play:5, which is a more-or-less foolproof alternative.

Setup takes just a few minutes.

sonos play:5 review Australia 2019

Sound

A highlight of the Play:5 is its ability to fill even the biggest room with a rich, powerful sound. Much of that is a result of the driver set-up, with six matching Class D amplifiers and almost three times the acoustic horsepower of its predecessor.

Along the bottom, there are three custom-designed 10cm mid-woofers, which are bigger and more powerful versions of those found in the Play:1, alongside three tweeters along the top.

The left and right tweeters are in horns, directed out to the side to help give a wider sound. These measure 20mm, while the central tweeter is slightly bigger at 23mm.

Some of the extra acoustic power here is used to create a speaker array, similar to that used in the Playbar, to help give a wide sound from a single box.

A highlight of the Play:5 is its ability to fill even the biggest room with Its rich, powerful sound
The result is unquestionable – this is a speaker that could fill even the biggest room of the house, and yet for a single box it sounds huge.

The ability to go loud (and we mean loud) helps, but there’s so much space to the presentation that even at lower volumes this sounds like a much bigger speaker than it is.

Play The Weeknd’s Earned It and the Play:5’s command over dynamics is clear. The dramatic strings intro, punctuated with sudden drum strokes is delivered with both fluidity and punch, rising and falling on queue with timing that’s on point.

It’s a lively, energetic sound, and a forgiving one at that. Although you might get a touch more insight and subtlety from some rivals, it’s more forgiving of the relative shortcomings of low bitrate Spotify tracks.

A good move considering streaming lies at the heart of the Sonos experience.

That’s not to say the Play:5 isn’t capable of plenty of detail.

Play Diana Krall’s Peel Me a Grape and the soulful vocal is articulate, richly textured and full of sass. There is clarity in the midrange no matter what you play, which ensures vocals are always pushed to the front of a mix and never overshadowed.

This is one area that proved a real improvement over the previous generation, where vocals could get mixed up in a busy arrangement and lose their clout.

Another huge improvement is in the bass. The original Play:5 wasn’t lacking for its size, but not only is there more of it, but it’s deeper and more refined. You can add a sub should you wish, but we don’t see why you’d ever need to without a serious grudge against your neighbours.

The sub bass intro to A$AP Rocky’s L$D is enough to challenge any speaker, but the Play:5 handles it.

Even at high volumes it keeps a lid on things, never sounding loose or flabby. Similarly with Drake’s Hotline Bling, where the original Play:5 struggled to deliver a clean bass line, the current model is clean and solid.

There’s no doubt it creates a wonderfully rich sound, but there may be a touch too much bass for neutral ears. Luckily, EQ settings can put this right – we found turning it a notch or two down helped make it more tonally balanced.

The top end is rolled off just slightly, but this helps with its forgiving sound, ensuring nothing sounds hard or harsh. Straight out of the box, you might find certain frequencies a bit sharp, so give it a few hours of running in to get to its best.

Make sure you run Trueplay on your speaker to make sure it sounds its best

Make sure you run Trueplay on your speaker to make sure it sounds its best
Make the move to stereo (with a second unit) and the sound is even bigger, with a solid stereo image. You can choose to place them horizontally or vertically in this arrangement, and while horizontally will certainly offer a wider sound, we preferred it when vertical.

In stereo, you notice an improvement in dynamics, with the added power to get behind the peaks and troughs in dramatic orchestral productions, like Hans Zimmer’s Gotham’s Reckoning.

That rich bass response is even more emphasised in this set-up though, so you may find a visit to the EQ settings might be necessary to level things out to a more neutral playing ground.

But the Sonos Play:5 now has a problem (and its rivals too, for that matter) that it didn’t when we first reviewed it: the Audio Pro Addon C10.

This, the biggest speaker in Audio Pro’s new multi-room range, might lack the technological sophistication and room-filling scale of the Play:5, but for punch, detail and dynamics it’s the better listen. For £200 less, it’s simply too good value to ignore.

play 5 features

Features

Round the back things have been simplified, too, with just an Ethernet port, a 3.55mm audio port and a button you need to press to sync the Play:5 with your existing setup. The arrival of this button means that setting up the Play:5 is one of the easiest things to do, though there is a small caveat to this.

My current Sonos setup is WiFi only - I don't have any tethered to an ethernet port. The Play:5 can also work perfectly well on a wireless setup but our unit did need to be connected to ethernet on initial setup. This isn't really an issue but it did mean I had to unplug it from the dining room, cart it over to the router in the lounge and set it up again.

Having to unplug and re-plug in the Play:5, though did mean I paid attention to the unit's plug. It's clear that the designers, in a very Apple was, have made sure that even the plug looks great.

The way the lead has been sealed within the system compliments the minimal look of the Play:5 brilliantly. It's a small detail but if they are that meticulous about the plug then you know the rest of the device is going to be built well.

A sole ethernet port means that the Play:5 has lost an ethernet connection in this iteration. It also doesn't have the optical port that can be found on the Sonos Playbar.

Underneath the grill, things have dramatically changed. Instead of two mid-woofers, there's now three 10cm drivers powering the mid range. These are backed by two 20mm tweeters situated on the left and right of the device (in cones) and one 22mm tweeter in the middle.

This is by far the most powerful speaker Sonos has created - it built these components by taking a look at what was in the Play:1 and upgrading the drivers accordingly.

All of this is nestled beneath a sealed acoustic enclosure. Again, this is a marked difference from the original Play:5, which was vented. While it has meant Sonos has had to do some clever things to make sure the heat of the speaker escapes, it's promising that this improves the bass and clarity of the sound, while making sure extraneous noise is kept away.

Conclusion

The Sonos Play:5 is one of the best wireless speakers money can buy. It has great sound, great software and the design to suit a classy house or flat.

If the still-restrictive Sonos approach is a turn-off, you should also look at the Bluesound Pulse 2 and Riva Festival. Both are great-sounding speakers that have slightly different approaches to wireless multi-room. The Riva in particular welcomes all sources, with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, DLNA and AirPlay support.

However, if you’re happy to sink into the Sonos way of things, there are few reasons not to pick up a Play:5 if you can afford it. It’s a class act.

The multi-room speaker of choice, combining great design, software and sound.

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