Unwired for sound: the Sonos Play 5 wireless 'smart speaker'

By David Flynn, September 15 2016
Unwired for sound: the Sonos Play 5 wireless 'smart speaker'

Forget for a moment that the Sonos Play 5 – or PLAY:5, as the company prefers to style it – is a high-tech wireless speaker for playing your own MP3 library alongside streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Take five on the fact that it’s driven by a canny app on your smartphone, tablet, Windows or Mac, with the ability to digitally optimise the sound to suit the speaker’s location, from open bookshelves to tight corners.

What you’ll latch onto when you hear the Play 5 is that first and foremost, it’s an absolutely brilliant speaker capable of filling the room with lively, rich and fully-rounded sound.

In fact the Play 5 sounds much ‘bigger’ than you’d expect.

Despite its unassuming blockish looks, the Play 5 houses three tweeters and three midrange drivers backed by six dedicated Class-D digital amplifiers.

It’s a combination which packs plenty of acoustic horsepower to fill the largest of living spaces.

The left and right tweeters fire high frequencies out to the side to provide a wider soundstage with sparkling highs, while the trio of mid-woofers span the middle of the audio range down to bass with excellent demarcation between all instruments as well as keeping vocals to the fore.

Don’t expect wall-shaking neighbour-bothering bass, but what’s there is clean and packs more than enough distortion-free doof for most people.

There’s also some smart thinking in these ‘smart speakers’.

An accelerometer chip detects if the Play 5 is placed horizontally or vertically, adjusting each driver accordingly, although of course horizontal mode (with the side-firing tweeters) is best.

The Sonos app includes an automatic tuning system called Trueplay which can read the acoustic ‘shape’ of the room and fine-tune the speakers for optimum sound.

As good a stand-alone speaker as the Play 5 is, it shines as the centrepiece of a multi-room music system.

And that, in turn, is where Sonos shines.

Each Sonos speaker connects directly to your home WiFi network to play streaming services as well as your local iTunes library (which best if stored on an always-on home server).

You can have different speakers in different rooms playing different music, or group two or more speakers together to enjoy the same tune as you move around the house.

It’s all done through a clever smartphone, tablet or desktop app which connects to your streaming services, can search for content across all streaming services and keeps favourites and playlists just a tap away.

And setting it up is an absolute doddle.

At $749, the Play 5 tops out the Sonos speaker trio.

The punchy little Play 1 ($299) is ideal for small spaces, as well as being easily moved between kitchen, bathroom and bedroom as needed.

The Play 3 ($449) is a more serious speaker for larger rooms as well as being run in pairs to create a true stereo system.

The Play 5 crowns the range as a big speaker to fill big spaces such as a large ‘open living’ design in which the lounge, dining and kitchen areas flow together.

(If the music tapers off at the far end of that space, drop in a Play 3 and set them in sync for even sound distribution instead of a lopsided sound spot.)

In truth, the Play 5 will probably be too much speaker for a small apartment – you may find a Play 1 and Play 3 are all you need.

The Sonos line also includes a home theatre-friendly Playbar at $999, which can be matched to a subwoofer and a pair of Play 1 or Play 3 speakers for 5.1 channel surround sound.

That’s another advantage of the Sonos system: it’s expandable. You can start with one speaker and add more later, slowly building out your home audio system until it’s everywhere you want it to be.

At $749 the Sonos Play 5 is more a investment rather than a spur-of-the-moment splash, but it’ll change the way you enjoy your music.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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