The first thing I did when I opened the latest wireless speaker from Sonos was play MuteMath’s brand new album, ‘Vitals’ and feel the bright keys and solid bass wash over my living room.
After quickly unwrapping the speaker, plugging it to the wall, connecting my phone through its app available on the app stores, and logging into my premium Spotify account (Apple Music is now available in an open beta), I was ready just a few minutes later to stream my most anticipated album from one of my long-time favorite bands.
I’ve had a lot of different speakers come in and out of my house, but none has been as influential as the ones from Sonos. Bluetooth speakers that litter the shelves of all retailers everywhere from electronics stores to grocery stores are great for their portability. But they just don’t illicit the kind of affection that having a truly sound-impressive speaker like a Sonos speaker — which isn’t tethered to a single phone — does.
In a lot of ways, this new Play:5 is the first wireless speaker everyone should get. It’s powerful enough to sustain a full-fledge house party, but still portable and humble enough to sit on a dresser in a bedroom. The only hindrance to this speaker being welcomed into every home, however, is its price. $500 for a speaker is steep, even for music-lovers, but on my first listen it brought chills with its deep bass and delicate tones. I guess the only question is whether your bank account has enough cash on-hand.
You’ll just have to trust that this Play:5 is a premium speaker with sound that has been vetted by Rick Rubin and other high-profile names. I wish I could take a video and let you hear the quality, but obviously sound is something hard to share if it’s not in-person. The Play:5 radiates low-end like it’s a heater whose job it is to make sure everyone in the house feels toasty. The speaker just sounds awesome, no way around it.
With that baseline, I think the more important thing worth talking about is what living with a truly wireless speaker can do for both the musically inclined, and those indifferent towards buying any speaker.
These are some of the ways I used the new Play:5 (as well as past Sonos speakers.)
Day in the life with a wireless speaker
Work music: Example 1
Working from home for the last few years, it has been wonderful to be able to listen out loud to background music, rather than needing to put on headphones or earbuds.
Being mobile and using the Internet for work makes connecting a Bluetooth speaker a little hard and quite flustering at times. Scrolling through different feeds and coming across videos, vines, or other audio, meant that the audio streaming from my phone to a speaker would be interrupted. It’s the type of thing that gets old quick.
Whether I’m on my Mac, iPhone, or Nexus 5X, it’s easy to hop over to the Sonos app (which admittedly leaves something to be desired) and add more music or adjust the volume.
That’s one of the things about Sonos’ connected experience which is really great. I can be working on my laptop and almost not even have to take my fingers off the keyboard to change music direction.
A kids life: Example 2
While I didn’t put the new Play:5 speaker in either of my kids’ room, they do have Sonos speakers in there. This has probably been one of my greatest parental hacks in my five years on the job.
During naps and bed time, each of them has a short queue of lullabies which usually helps calm them down and signal that it’s time to go to sleep.
Here’s a tip: Whatever is in your queue, music you’ve added will stay until you clear it out. So you can just hit the play button and the speaker will start from the top without you having to open the app. You can also skip a track by double clicking the play/pause button on the previous generation speakers.
On the new Play:5, skipping tracks — forward or backward — is just a touch-sensitive swipe from one volume button to the other.
When my son first moved to a toddler bed, we had the problem of him getting up way too early — like most parents’ experience. He was too young to tell time so I used the Sonos alarm feature to let him know when he could get out of his bed.
He got to pick a song (Cold War Kids – “First”) and then he knew he needed to stay in his bed in the morning until he heard that song start playing. The alarm function will work with any audio source available on Sonos, meaning Pandora, TuneIn, or the host of others. It’s these types of functions — having the speaker independent of any device, connected to the Internet — that keeps selling me on the idea of whole-home audio.
Summer time: Example 3
I love baseball, but hate MLB’s blackout restrictions. I would pay the fee it costs to watch baseball games all summer through MLB TV if that meant I could watch the San Diego Padres. Sadly, all home games are blacked out and unavailable.
In this case, I pay for MLB’s radio pass and can listen to all the games — even home games — with no blackouts. Sure, listening and watching aren’t the same, but it doesn’t really feel like summer time without baseball on somewhere.
Instead of streaming the audio from my phone and keeping it tied up and draining battery for 2-3 hours, Sonos has MLB integration which keeps me logged in and is easy to navigate.
I can even hit the play/pause button on the speaker to stop the audio when I need to take a call or do something else and then hit it again to resume the game.
Late night: Example 4
Like my kids, I like listening to music while falling asleep. The Play:5 is great for this kind of listening, if not a little overkill. For quieter situations, you can manually adjust the EQ, turn off “Loud,” and get it even softer.
In my room, I also have my record player connected through a pre-amp to the Play:5’s aux input and it’s great.
The Play:5 is a great speaker for vinyl, but the kicker is distributed analog sound. Sonos works with different zones, so every speaker you add to your home can play independently or be grouped together with other speakers.
Here’s an example: I put on a vinyl record in my upstairs bedroom, open the Sonos app, click on “Group” button next to the Play:5 speaker, click whichever other speakers I’d like to play the same sounds as this one and boom, it happens.
When I leave the room, walk downstairs and grab something to eat, I’m still hearing the analog sounds of my record player.
This also works for TV. If you have a Playbar connected to your TV, you can group it with another speaker and have the audio of what you’re watching still audible in another room.
The truth of the matter is that once you’re in the habit of having any song or album a few taps away, having music on becomes a lot more common. It’s almost like having a b-movie super power — instantly turn on the music to rescue any awkward situation.
There’s no longer any worry about background music if people randomly show up, if you need some music to fall asleep to, or if you need some mood music.
Internet connected speakers are also a conduit for streaming music services. If you never understood why someone would pay $10/month to listen to music, especially from a phone playing through small earbuds, the idea of a connected speaker may change your perspective.
Subscribing to Netflix and not having any way to watch it other than a 4.7-inch screen would mean you weren’t getting the full experience. Connecting Netflix through a Roku or Apple TV and watching on a 50-inch TV unlocks a new experience for that service. Having a Sonos speaker is similar for audio and subscribing to Spotify or Apple Music.
The Internet connected speaker revolution has been slower than expected, but peek inside a Best Buy with a Magnolia show room and all the speakers will be connected ones. Samsung, LG, Denon, Bose, and a bunch of other manufactures all have similar types of speakers.
Sonos still wins for its ease of use, design, and wide variety of services. I’d love to see Sonos expand its software platform and make its controller app better. But right now, it’s hard not to see this new Play:5 speaker as anything but sunshine and unicorns. It’s expensive and a bit hefty for its compact size, but show me a truly premium speaker which isn’t.