The Sonos Play:3 is a network speaker that can accept audio inputs from a wide range of sources. The setup is modular, meaning you can buy one Play:3 at first and add to your Sonos range later via a ‘bridge’ unit that links additional speakers. Although it carries only audio signals rather than the photo and video options seen in most of the other devices we review here, music streaming is both more established and, thanks to the more manageable bandwidth requirements, more reliable too. Even so, getting the seemingly straightforward Sonos speaker set up was not without its issues.
Sonos has made devices of this type for the past six years, but until now its focus has been on the noticeably affluent end of the market. With a controller unit costing £499, with subsequent ZonePlayers another £399, it was hardly a budget option.
Sonos’ brand-new Play:3 speaker costs a more manageable £259. This unit contains three separate speakers and takes up a fair amount of room – too much for us to comfortably use as a desktop speaker in our home office, for example. However, it can be turned on end (there’s an accelerometer inside so the speaker reorientates itself accordingly).
Taking a single Play:3 as our test module, we quickly ran through the software setup. Both Mac and Windows software is provided. Next, with the Play:3 connected by Ethernet to your home router, you need to press down a combination of keys on the speaker’s minimalist exterior so it can be detected on the network. If you’re a Virgin Cable broadband customer (or have a particularly sophisticated modem-router), you may find this problematic. Tech support get ours set up by switching off the UPnP feature and resetting the speaker unit.
Installing the iPad app took a matter of moments and resembles an oversized universal remote control, with clear demarcation of what content is from what source and the services currently available. It was a lot of fun to sit on the sofa, select a playlist and play it to the Sonos speaker in the neighbouring room, cranking up the volume as we did so. The music is quite bass-heavy and produces a lot of sound for a single stereo speaker.
You can tell the Sonos to import music from almost anywhere – a shared network library, your PC hard drive or the music libraries of any other available laptop or PC on the network, regardless of whether they are Mac, Android or Windows-based. You must import these as Shares to the main interface on your PC, after which they will be accessible to any device with which you access your Sonos library. Anything you have stored on a Time Capsule drive can be accessed even if your Mac is switched off, as can the internet radio stations and online services the Play:3 recognises.
Napster, Last.fm, Spotify and concert archive Wolfgang’s Vault are all accessible to UK users, though new users for the latter get only a 30-day trial for free and Spotify works only if you have a Premium account. Even so, there’s a vast amount of music for you to enjoy. Sonos touts as many as 11 million tracks (based on the streaming services just mentioned). Internet radio stations for the London area were surprisingly thin on the ground – only 35 were offered, most of which were familiar commercial and BBC stations. We couldn’t immediately see how to store them as favourites via the iPad console either.
The output can be much improved by adding a second Play:3 speaker and pairing the two. That, of course, makes for a £500+ price tag, even before you consider the £39 Bridge unit that plugs in to the router (so the speaker doesn’t need to) and allows you to listen to your music without being in arms’ length of your PC.
The Sonos Play:3 is a really impressive network music player that is ideal for music fans with smaller homes to fill with sound. Though the need for a separate Bridge unit bumps up the price a smidgen, for £300 you have an incredibly flexible music system that lets you choose from among millions of tracks as well as the contents of your locally-stored music and iTunes library.