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Sonos Play:3 Review

It might not feel like it, but Sonos has been around for quite a while. Perhaps the reason it always feels fresh and vibrant is because the company is constantly evolving.

A recent rebranding exercise has resulted in the Play:3, which brings with it an all new, more affordable speaker to the range.

Like the Play:5 (previously known as the S5), the Play:3 is an all-in-one that combines a network music client, amp and speakers, making it simple to add an extra zone to an existing Sonos system (or start a new one).

You can also link two Play:3s together to make a stereo pair, and now, thanks to an update, stream music directly from your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Last but far from least, the company has now added the Sonos Playbar.

Setup and app

Setting-up the Sonos Play:3 is very simple, and is something you’re guided through from within the Android or iOS Sonos app – which is a free download. Using a Wi-Fi connection, you merely press one button on top of the wireless bridge, then two buttons simultaneously on the speaker to get the boxes playing on the same team. You’re then taken to the main menu in the remote control interface, although at this point you can only stream radio stations. This setup process is the same if you use the PC software rather than the iPhone/Android app.

To get the good stuff – like Spotify, Deezer and so on – you need to have signed up for a Sonos account. These extra services are available from within a “More Music” submenu, but can only be added to the main menu once you’re signed in with your Sonos user name. Getting an account is free though, and only takes a minute.

There are over 30 additional services you can plug into the Play:3 in the UK, including – Spotify, Apple Music, Last.fm, Deezer, Aupeo!, Napster, Wolfgang’s Vault, Stitcher SmartRadio and Grooveshark. This should be more than enough to satisfy most buyers..

If your music service of choice isn’t yet supported, you may need some serious patience to play the waiting game here. Sonos isn’t a new system, and now that the biggest-hitters are on-board we don’t expect to see many new services flood in all that soon. Spotify is the killer app here for our money, giving you access to over 15 million tracks – alternatives Naptser and Deezer both lag behind here. Even though you may use an iPhone to control the Play:3, you’re not effectively streaming over a mobile, meaning you’ll only need the £4.99 a month sub to get unlimited ad-free music.

The triumph of Sonos’s software is how well it integrates these online services. Each has its own discrete section within the Android/iPhone app, but you’re never more than a few clicks away from the services’ wares. The user interface is entirely bespoke – you’re not transported to a separate menu system when you leap from Spotify to Naspter.

This makes the Sonos Play:3 https://technovolume.com/product/sonos-play3/ very accessible. In some ways, the Android app is the best way to control this speaker. It lets you use the physical volume rocker of your phone to alter the sound level (not possible on iPhone/iPod Touch) and doesn’t cost you an extra penny. This is gadgety convergence at its best.

The Play:3 does demand a certain acceptance of the Sonos way. There’s no management of your music library from within the Sonos app, just streaming. While Spotify as a service lets you buy music outright, you can’t do so here. And, in a similar vein, although you can listen to podcasts all day long you can’t download them. While a Play:3 may become the heart of your music setup, you’ll still have to head back to your computer if you want to expand your MP3 collection or download some podcasts to keep.

Adding a NAS or computer-based library is simple enough, but does need a little patience. We couldn’t get the Play:3 to hook into our iTunes library directly so instead had to share a specific music directory on the hard drive – which was followed by a bout of indexing that took a good 45 minutes to process (we are talking about a 15,000-track library though).

Sonos claims its software is more than happy to take on large libraries of around 65,000 tracks, and we found browsing through albums and artists wonderfully easy using the iOS app. Scrolling through the list is very quick, and you can skip to a letter of the alphabet rather than just endlessly flicking through a book’s worth of pages.

The potential downside of relying on a “real” music library rather than a cloud collection like Spotify is that the device you’re streaming from needs to be powered-up all the time. If you use a NAS box, this is hardly a problem, but we’d be less keen on keeping a computer on all day long.

The Sonos Play:3 is ready to become more than just a lounge music player though. There’s a built-in alarm function, further boosting the box’s skills as a bedside unit. The standard alarm tone is a basic chime sound, but you can also pick a radio station or playlist. A pet hate of ours is alarm clock units that you can’t dim properly. The Sonos Play:3 doesn’t have a clock display of course, but there is a power indicator light on the top control panel. Thankfully, you can turn this off within the app.

Pricing

This is one of the best-sounding speakers in our lineup, although you have to go through the time-consuming Sonos Trueplay process to properly tune the speaker to your room's environment. The full setup process requires far more steps than any other Wi-Fi speaker we reviewed. Using the Sonos mobile app (which is required for the speaker setup) the PLAY:3 accesses your smartphone's microphone while the speaker plays a pulsating low frequency.

This process helps evaluate the room environment and tunes the speaker accordingly. It seems a bit like audio science voodoo, but there is no denying how well it worked. We were blown away by the clarity and power of the speaker.

We listened to Lettuce, Metallica, Pretty Lights and other bands through the speakers, and they all sounded great on the PLAY:3. Many of our reviewers described the tonal quality as crisp, clear and distinct. The speaker balanced the tones evenly even when we increased the volume to full blast. It never blurred or distorted, nor did certain frequencies start to overpower at high volumes.

The bass doesn't thump harder than our three best wireless speakers, but it's focused, loud and punchy. The sound dispersion is incredible, especially considering the size of the speaker. We were able to stand anywhere in the room and the sound never diminished. The clarity of the speaker cannot be overstated. Overall, it's simply one of the best-sounding speakers we reviewed.

Connectivity

The mobile application is equally as enjoyable as the sound of the wireless speaker. The Sonos app gathers all of your internet music streaming applications into one place. The app is incredibly easy to navigate because of its simple layout.

The side menu slides out from the left and guides you to your favorites, playlists you've created and the settings menu where you can add other speakers, change the room settings and manage your music library. If you have more than one Sonos wireless speaker, you can group them together to stream music to both simultaneously. The application becomes the remote control for the PLAY:3 and is a fitting sidekick for such a good-sounding speaker.

Sound

The best news about the Play:3, though, is that it sounds much better than its price and size might suggest. Feed it lossless or uncompressed rips from a computer or network-attached storage device and it really shines.

Band of Horses’ delightful No One’s Gonna Love You, for example, sounds beautifully smooth and solid, but with lots of detail and punch.

The Play:3 also has an impressively consistent tonal range, so nothing sticks out more than it should, although it is worth experimenting with the ‘Loudness’ option – close to a wall it will create some boominess, but in free space it’s a great way to get extra weight.

And talking of positioning, the fact that the Play:3 can be oriented vertically or horizontally means it will fit in almost any space.

It even senses which way it’s orientated and automatically adjusts the EQ for maximum dispersion – and this thing will fill a room far better than you might expect.

The sound signature is definitely on the warm, bassy side, but you are given some minor control over it within the iPhone app. A Music Equilization submenu lets you tweak the bass, treble and balance, and turn the Loudness mode on and off. The two frequency sliders only have a subtle effect on the sound – Sonos doesn’t give you the opportunity to ruin the sound quality here, but the Loudness option makes quite an impact.

Primarily, it increases bass output to help the Play:3 maintain a decent sense of scale at higher volumes in spite of its fairly small-sized drivers. It can make the box sound a little bass-heavy, but this can then be tamed a little with the bass slider.

We reviewed quite a few £200-350 docks released around the same time as the Sonos Play:3, including the Teac SR-100i and JBL On Air. Although the Sonos Play:3 isn’t a dock as such, these are the kind of devices it has to compete with. And compete it does. With no distortion to be heard, plenty of power to draw on and superb software at its core, this is a brilliant box – as long as you can live without a physical dock to slap your aging iPod Classic into. The Play:5 makes a very attractive alternative at $250 more, but if you need something smaller and more affordable you can’t go wrong here.

We didn't like

We're still not massive fans of the price; for a system that is intended to be built up and added to, you're still looking at over £500 to kit out two rooms; and that's not even counting the premium Spotify account (£10/month) or any additional extras like the remote.

While the Play:3 is brilliant for incidental rooms, like the kitchen or the bedroom, you're not going to want to replace your high-end living room hi-fi system with the dinky little speaker, and audiophiles will no doubt notice the grating trebles and slightly hollow bass more than most.

We'd really like to see Sonos rethink its desktop software, which isn't very beautiful to look at and could be clearer to use.

We liked

The easy set up, the wealth of music options (digital radio, MP3s, Spotify, Last.fm etc.) and the size of the Play:3 are all major positives.

Being able to slot the unit into a nook or cranny where, previously, we'd have had to make do with a low-quality wired speaker is brilliant, and we're absolutely in favour of the lower price point.

And despite that, you don't lose out much on sound quality with a full, filling sound that offers the depth and breadth of a larger system.

The free control apps for Android and iOS devices offer a brilliant remote control experience at no extra cost.

Verdict

Sonos’s brilliant streaming solutions available at an affordable price. The Play:3 sounds great, gives you access to a dazzling array of content and can be controlled completely with an Android smartphone or iPhone. Even if you have no intention of buying more than one box, that this effortlessly beats most small iPod docks in the sound department makes the Play:3 a champ.

 

 

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