Sonos almost singlehandedly established the stand-alone wireless home speaker system category, primarily because the company believed in the future of streaming music long before Pandora or Spotify existed. The company also believed it was worth building quality powered speakers to spray that digital music around the house. Thank goodness, because its latest and least expensive speaker entry — the Sonos Play:1 — is a blast.
The smallest member of the Sonos speaker family, the Sonos Play:1 stands just a couple of inches taller than an iPhone but packs a solid sonic punch. It uses two drivers in a sealed cabinet, which means there's no port venting, so you can jam it against a wall or between the Cuisinart and the Krups blender on your kitchen counter without diminishing its sound. And its sound is impressive.
From Coltrane to Coldplay, the Play:1 delivers smooth yet crisp audio with plenty of rim-shot clarity. Yet it is rarely overbearing in the high end; something competitors are often guilty of. On the bass end, kick drums are solid without the flabby aspects that some speakers can have in an effort to sound richer and more full-bodied. (If you want neighbor-disturbing bottom-end vibrations, however, only a separate subwoofer will deliver that.)
When used in tandem with a second Play:1, the speakers automatically recognize each other and switch from mono to stereo. Internal digital signal processors even tweak the sonic profile of the speakers to deliver a different sound stage when switching from single to stereo speakers.
The Play:1's rounded corners aren't going to win any design innovation awards, but the overall look is inconspicuous, fitting comfortably into any type of decor. Controls on the top of the speaker allow you to pause a song; a double press will skip to the next track. Of course, like nearly everything these days, you can control the Sonos speakers through an iPhone or Android app, switching between music sources, changing the volume in different rooms, even adjusting the equalization.
The speaker will not stream music directly from a smartphone over Bluetooth or work with Apple's Airplay, but that may be a good thing. It means guests can't hijack your stereo to foist their favorite Adele tracks on you, and the music won't stop playing should you wander too far from the speaker with your phone. The Sonos system relies on its own Internet connection using your home Wi-Fi network to play music from your own digital collection or favorite streaming service.
Just as there are now dozens of streaming music services and sources, there are also countless wireless speakers on the market. What helps Sonos stand out from the crowd is its ability to work with numerous other Sonos speakers, including stereo and home theater setups. Moreover, the Play:1's $199 price is extremely competitive, coming in at the same level as less powerful, less feature-rich, and less acoustically accurate portable Bluetooth speakers like the $180 Beats Pil or $300 Jawbone Big Jambox.
Of course, the Sonos Play:1 isn't completely wireless; you have to plug it in to power it up. A Sonos Bridge connected to your router is also needed if you want to go wireless (the $49 Bridge is included at no additional charge with the Play:1 for a limited time this fall). So it's more comparable to the newly introduced $399 Samsung Shape M7 and $399 Bose SoundTouch 20. But the Samsung and Bose offerings, while more expensive, only work with a limited number of music services, while Sonos covers everything from Slacker to Songza to Spotify. It is, as they say, definitely a player. [$199; sonos.com]