Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sonos Play:3-Smaller, Less Expensive, Still Awesome

A smaller, lighter Sonos arrived on the doorstep of the GeekTonic abode today.  Those paying attention know this home is the happy owners of two Sono’s S5’s along with a Sonos BR100.  As I mentioned yesterday when the new Play:3’s were announced, I had much lower expectations for these smaller guys since they lacked a subwoofer.  Given those lesser expectations, read on to hear how well this little guy performed.


Play 3 – New Family Member to the Sonos Lineup


Above you see the entire Sonos Player lineup.  Those who have followed Sonos will notice the naming has changed from S5 to Play:5:

  • Play 5 – $399 All-in-one player.  5-driver speaker system with 5 digital amps, 2 tweeters, 2 mid-range drivers and 1 bass driver
  • Play 3 – $299 All-in-one player.  3-driver speaker system with 3 digital amps, 1 tweeter, 2 mid-range drivers and 1 bass radiator
  • ZP 120 – $499 55 Watt per channel amplifier – Just attach speakers and go
  • ZP 90 – $349 Non-amplified – Attach to an amplified device like an AV receiver

All of these devices must be plugged in for power, but connect wirelessly to your home WiFi system (requires the Sonos ZB100).  You can then control these devices with a Sonos controller, your computer, an Android device, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.  Then stream your home music or one of the many online streaming choices like Sirius, Pandora, Rhapsody, RDIO and even the new Spotify among others.

Sonos Play:3


The Play:3 sells the Sonos system to a slightly more-accessible position in the market.  $299 (plus the required $49 Bridge if you want it to work wirelessly) still isn’t in the impulse-buy arena, but it’s at least a bit more accessible.  So the question here is this:  Is are you giving up too much with the smaller, $100-cheaper Play:3 or should you save your pennies for the more expensive Play:5 to get the bigger sound?

Form Factor – Smaller and More Flexible

Before we get into the sound of this guy, lets discuss an advantage the Play:3 has over it’s Play:5 big-brother – size.  The Play:3 weighs in at 5.7 pounds and is about the size of your typical bookshelf speaker system.

The Play:3 is small enough to fit on your nightstand, on a bookshelf, kitchen, bathroom counter or practically anywhere really.  You can even sit it flat length-wise or upright as displayed below to fit it in the perfect place in your home:


Sonos has included what they are calling an “EQ (audio equalization)” that detects which way you place it (upright or lengthwise) and purportedly adjusts the output to take that orientation into provide the best possible sound when the orientation is changed.  I tried it both ways and didn’t notice much difference – sideways may have been slightly less optimal, but not by  much.

Dimensions (HxWxD)  5.2x10.6x6.3 in. (132x268x160 mm)

Something worth noting is that they included threaded mounting holes on the rear of the device if you plan to mount the Play:3 in a more permanent location this makes that much easier.

Smaller But Packs Surprisingly Big Sound

When I first heard the Sonos Play:3 announcement, I was expecting a pretty serious drop in sound quality compared to the awesome Play:5.  I expected a souped-up Hi-Fi radio kind of sound and I was wrong.  The Play:3 is very impressive in my opinion even given its smaller size.  It loses 2 drivers and has a smaller bass driver than it’s Play:5 big brother and yes, that means it won’t fill a larger room quite as well.  But it was very impressive for my families ears.  I compared it to my decent home office speaker system (with subwoofer) and to the Play:5.  In my office it performed admirably.  When I moved it to the much-larger living room (open to the kitchen and two stories high ceiling it still did very well, but I noticed a less “strong” sound.  This is very likely due to the smaller bass driver – in other words there isn’t a “true” subwoofer inside like there is on the Play:5.  That’s a shortcut worth taking for size, but know it has it’s limitations especially in a very large room with some music.

What Does the Play:3 give up Compared to the Play:5?

So now we know what the Play:3 can do, what do you really give up compared to a Sonos Play:5?

The Play:3 is obviously cheaper and smaller – great when you are buying two for a stereo pair or for a kitchen, bedroom or small apartment setting.  But you also give up a line-in jack.  This takes away some flexibility you have with the Play:5.  I use that line-in jack on my Play:5 when I have something on my iPhone I want to just play on the Play:5 conveniently – like an already downloaded podcast or audio recording.  Not a deal-breaker, but certainly something to consider.  You can still stream to it from your computer, a $120 Sonos iPhone/iPod dock or AirPlay.

You also do give up some of the deep bass of the Play:5.  I also felt the sound wasn’t quite as rich as with the larger Play:5.  It’s just very difficult to go this much smaller on an all-in-one speaker without giving up some sound quality.  Even taking that into account, I felt the sound on this thing was very, very good – especially given its smaller size.  Just know you can’t give up 2 drivers and the larger bass driver without sacrificing some.



Choosing between the Play:3 and the Play:5 is easier than it sounds.  It’s about the money, size and large-sound tradeoffs.  The Play:3 would fit right in my home on a bookshelf, in the bedroom or office for example.  And it would make a great way to start your Sonos system.  I’m completely sold on Sonos for a very easy-to-setup & use all-home, connected music system.  Starting off with the Play:3 is a great option – or using it to round out your Sonos system for the right apartment or room is a great choice as well.  Sonos has surprised me with the Play:3  a smaller, all-in-one wireless music player that has bigger-than-expected sound.

Compare the Sonos system to your own stereo setup, Logitech Squeezebox and a few other competitors and the clear winner is Sonos.  Your only decision is can you afford the super-easy, very-convenient music system that has become a centerpiece of the GeekTonic home.  Even with the cheaper Play:3 it’s not the cheapest solution, but it’s a luxury worth saving your money for in our opinion!

Sonos Play:3 Promo Demo Video

Read more at  Sonos sells directly on their website, at Amazon (sometimes slightly cheaper) and at select Best Buy stores.

The GeekTonic Review of the Sonos S5 (now Sonos Play:5) goes into additional detail on how music streaming services work, streaming of home music and controlling the system.

Sonos S5 – Brilliant Whole Home Music Server/Player
Sonos Setup – Brilliantly Simple