Sonos makes remarkable stuff. Its speakers – completely wireless apart from the power cable – are designed to make streaming music of all kinds around your home effortlessly simple. And to make the music sound fantastic, too.
Now there’s a new speaker and a remarkable piece of software alongside it. The company have announced a replacement for its top-of-the-range speaker, the Play:5. The predecessor, also called the Play:5, was the most powerful and biggest of the Play speakers, capable of strong, wide stereo that sounded good in even a big room.
The new model has a slicker, more stylish look to it and new drivers for even better sound. What’s more, you can now set up two Play:5 speakers as a stereo pair, a trick the old Play:5 couldn’t manage. This means that even bigger rooms can have room-filling sound.
Most rooms, however, won’t need this. The Play:5 is not just loud – it has a remarkably wide soundstage so that if you couldn’t see it you would probably imagine you were listening to two speakers set some distance apart.
And that sound is rich, detailed and intense, whether you’re listening to Brahms or The Beatles. The speakers are designed with minimal distractions from the music. The grille includes the Sonos logo but rather than risk the sound being reduced where the name sits, the brand tag is acoustically neutral thanks to 800 tiny holes precision-drilled in it.
There are no buttons to control the Play:5. Instead there’s a capacitive touch surface on top that’s subtle and responsive. Tap on one side to raise the volume, the other to lower it. When the speaker is tipped on its side, as part of a stereo pair, perhaps, sensors know whether it’s sat on its right or left end and the up volume control is automatically adjusted to the upper sensor area. The capacitive controls are also to pause, play and skip tracks.
Of course, speakers can sound great in the right situations, but those are rarely replicated in the average living room or kitchen. The new Sonos software aims to solve this problem.
Trueplay is a system that works after setup through an app for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Once you’ve placed your speakers where you want them, you launch the app and follow the video instructions. A series of sounds play and you walk slowly round the room, waving your iDevice up and down, with it listening as you go.
After a minute or less, the software has decided how the Sonos speaker drivers should be adjusted to make the most of the music. I saw this demonstrated in the Sonos Santa Barbara offices in a dramatic way. In a kitchen, the engineers had set up two Play:1 speakers. One was on a countertop, wedged in between a toaster oven and a wooden wall. The other, I kid you not, was placed inside a cupboard and the door was closed over it. The sound, I need hardly tell you, was atrocious. Then, they turned Trueplay on and it was as pristine and enjoyable as sitting in an audiophile’s listening room.
If you don't want speakers dominating your living room, kitchen or bathroom, this is a very cool way to hide them from sight and still have tremendous sound.
At first, the app will only be available for the iPhone etc because the software’s success is dependent on the quality of the microphone. The hundreds of different Android smartphones have microphones that are all different so it’s not possible to make it Android-compatible yet. The Trueplay set-up is a one-off procedure, unless you move your speakers. So Android users could borrow a friend’s iPhone for a few minutes to get the magic flowing.
It will initially only work on the Sonos all-in-one speakers – Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5. The new speaker will go on sale later in the year for £429 when Trueplay will also be available. I’ll be testing both in due course but these are two exciting developments from a company which remains among the most cutting-edge in wireless music streaming.