Sonos took its time designing an all-new successor to the company's flagship Play:5 wireless speaker, and it's nearly here. The new Play:5 will be released in the United States on November 20th, with preorders kicking off today. Elsewhere in the world, it'll be available on November 25th. Priced $100 higher than the model it's replacing, the real question is whether it's worth stepping up to the Play:5 compared to Sonos' less expensive speakers like the Play:1 ($199) and Play:3 ($299). After spending more time with the new, second-generation model, my verdict is yes — if you've got the disposable cash and want the absolute best sound Sonos offers.
The Play:5 has seen a total revamp both inside and out. Sonos says the end goal was to put "massively better sound and wireless performance in a really iconic package." The company wants these products to last as long as 10 years in a customer's home, and the Play:5 fits that part pretty well with a simplistic but stylish design that's available in either white or black. Both of those are matte finishes; the Play:5 lacks any sort of glossy material, which is a choice that I'm a big fan of. Particularly with the white model, you can set it in a corner of your living room (any room, really) and never worry about it picking up dust or fingerprints. Aside from a button used for setup on the back, the other controls — play/pause, volume, and track controls — are all capacitive touch buttons that automatically adjust for the Play:5's orientation. Around back is also a 3.5mm input jack, giving you the flexibility to play pretty much anything through this speaker if Sonos' app can't do what you need it to.
The front speaker grill is black, with over 60,000 individual holes drilled into the polycarbonate. Sadly it can't be removed to showcase all that's new inside: Sonos has designed six drivers (three tweeters and three mid-woofers) in-house, and the company takes great pride in the fact that it builds each component from the ground up. Aside from its own engineers, Sonos has audio experts like Giles Martin provide input on a speaker's tuning and overall sound. All of this results in a product that Sonos claims is "several generations ahead of where we’ve been in the past." And to my ears, it sounds pretty fantastic.
Over the course of several days, I had the speaker playing music for hours, constantly hopping between genres so I could better gauge its versatility. And this thing's got some serious range. Hopping between Drake and the remastered Beatles catalog or Bob Dylan's mono collection has a way of underlining that. The Play:5 adjusts for all manners of music without any trouble spots. One thing that's immediately noticeable is that the Play:5 sounds rich and full at any volume; the Play:3 can sound a bit weak if you're not cranking it. If you want loud, Sonos' latest speaker can outperform everything else in the company's stable. (I tend to disregard the Playbar here, since it's really meant to be a home theater piece.
The key to making everything sound balanced and smooth is a new feature called Trueplay, which employs the microphone in your iPhone (sorry, Android users) to tune the Play:5 based on the acoustics of the exact spot it's in. Moving a speaker even a few feet can have a pretty major impact on what you hear, and with Trueplay, Sonos is promising that its products will sound superb in almost any placement. Generally, I found that it indeed improves things.
Sonos still dominates the multi-room audio market, even as other companies like Samsung and LG try to provide the company with something resembling competition. The company has managed to eliminate old annoyances and complaints by making its entire system wireless, ditching the need for any ethernet connections or extra hardware. And its smartphone app remains an impressive central hub where you can tap into your music libraries with Spotify, Soundcloud, Google Play Music, Rdio, Tidal, and other services. Personal files are easily accessible, too; my Apple Lossless iTunes library made for a good testing scenario, if I do say so myself.
That's not to say all's perfect. Some aspects of the software can feel very clunky or unintuitive at times, likely because Sonos tries to make so many music apps work nicely within the same controller app. Unfortunately, search is one of the top areas that still needs work; it remains frustratingly basic and often unhelpful. But it's not like anyone else is doing this jack-of-all-music-services thing better. Google's Chromecast Audio isn't yet in a position to take on Sonos, and popular Bluetooth speaker makers like Ultimate Ears aren't bothering to try.
The Play:1 remains a perfectly good choice if you want music in every room
But the truth is there are many good speakers at this $500 price point. Tons of them. For that sort of money, you should expect a phenomenal listening experience rather than plop down your cash in hopes of getting one. If you're buying Sonos, it's probably to keep tunes synchronized everywhere around you during parties or a weekend afternoon at home. If that's your main objective, the Play:1 and Play:3 remain fine (and cheaper) options, especially when you pair two of them together for a fuller soundscape.
Maybe you'll end up with one or a few of those anyway. Putting a Play:5 in every room sounds prohibitively expensive, even if it's the most impressive audio product that Sonos has built yet. Thankfully, you won't have to make a blind buy and can test it for yourself in stores come the 20th. Maybe you'll decide to put it wherever you listen to music most, and leave the smaller speakers for other rooms.