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Lifewire / Bill Loguidice
Great, room-filling sound
Understated, classy design
Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity
Threaded mounting hole for wall mounting options
No battery, not a portable solution
No 5GHz wireless support
No 3.5mm or other physical audio inputs
Free Sonos app is required for setup
The Sonos Play:1 is a small, yet powerful streaming speaker that can be placed just about anywhere. If you don’t mind being tethered to an AC outlet and the lack of Bluetooth connectivity, this expandable speaker makes for a classy, great-sounding addition to just about any home.
For a compact wireless speaker, there’s usually some type of trade-off in audio performance for portability and battery life. After all, there’s only so much even modern technology can do given limited space and power, right? For the Play:1, Sonos attempts to defy at least some of those expectations by creating a surprisingly small speaker with room-filling sound, with the only major concessions being an inability to stray from a power outlet and lack of Bluetooth connectivity.
We tested the Sonos Play:1 to see if it really can deliver quality, big-speaker sound in a compact package, and whether its performance trumps its limited portability and lack of Bluetooth.
At about 6.5 inches tall and roughly 4.5 inches wide and deep, the 4 lbs Sonos Play:1 is a truly compact speaker. Its sleek design allows it to blend into just about any modern decor, and it has an understated quality that demonstrates considerable restraint in comparison to some of its competition.
While you can set up the Play:1 just about anywhere in your home there’s a power outlet, you’ll probably want to avoid the bathroom or certain parts of your kitchen. While the speaker is humidity resistant, it’s neither waterproof nor water-resistant.
Since there’s such little overall complexity to the actual speaker, setup is pretty straightforward. To initiate setup, the Quickstart Guide asks you to download and install the free Sonos app.
After some quick account setup and pairing, we downloaded a firmware update.That done, the Play:1 asked to tune the speaker using Trueplay, which used the microphone on our iPhone Xs Max and required us to keep the room as quiet as possible as we moved about it. After moving about the room waving the phone and trying to be as quiet as possible per the instructions for about 45 seconds while loud pinging sounds, similar to how home theater surround sound systems calibrate themselves, played from the speaker, the tuning was complete.
It’s fortunate that the app is so effective and Wi-Fi and Ethernet setup are so easy to set up, because there’s no Bluetooth connectivity whatsoever. This is strictly an app-based speaker, one of the more disappointing shortcomings of the Play:1. While you’re able to play what was last played on the Play:1 with the Play/Pause button if you don’t have the device with the app handy, this is hardly an alternative to Bluetooth connectivity.
Since there’s such little overall complexity to the actual speaker, setup is pretty straightforward.
Speaking of easily connecting from devices without the Sonos app, the Play:1 is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant-based devices. While these voice assistant integrations are a neat and welcome feature, they also accentuate the lack of Bluetooth to more fully round out the Play:1’s feature-set.
Although we only had the single speaker for testing, a nice bonus with the Play:1 and Sonos speakers in general is that you can easily add additional units into the mix at any time. In fact, you can add up to 32 speakers, although if you plan to add more than four speakers, you’ll likely want to use Ethernet connectivity instead of Wi-Fi to ease up on the amount of bandwidth such a wireless setup would require. In any case, adding even just a second Play:1 will allow you to create an excellent stereo speaker pair.
While we’re on the subject of connectivity, one issue to note is that the Play:1 only supports wireless networks that have 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g/n connectivity. If your wireless network only supports 5 GHz and cannot switch to 2.4 GHz you’ll either need to use the Ethernet connection or purchase a Sonos Bridge or Boost. The Bridge, or more powerful Boost, can help extend and amplify the performance of your Wi-Fi in a way that’s compatible with speakers like the Play:1 by creating a dedicated Sonos wireless network.
As mentioned, most compact speakers seem to sacrifice sound quality for portability. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. Somehow, Sonos has found a way to pack rich, deep-throated sound with excellent bass into this squat cylinder. It’s an impressive feat of engineering on its own to be able to fill a large room with sound from such a small speaker, but to also produce this level of clarity is remarkable.
It’s an impressive feat of engineering on its own to be able to fill a large room with sound from such a small speaker, but to also produce this level of clarity is remarkable.
Using a sound level meter at about 10 feet away from the speaker and playing Very high Streaming quality music from Spotify, we registered consistent dBA peaks in the mid-80s at 100% volume. This is the equivalent of a snowblower at close range and not something you’d want to expose yourself to for any sustained amount of time, but it’s telling that such tremendous power can be generated by the compact Play:1, particularly with this level of fidelity. At a more reasonable 50% volume, still loud enough for a large room, we registered far more manageable and comfortable dBA peaks in the mid-60s with superior fidelity.
When testing with content that favored speaking voices, like audiobooks on Audible, we were similarly impressed with the quality. While the Play:1 really shines with music, it’s good to know that its sound profile is not too heavily biased towards that type of audio experience, making it an excellent overall speaker regardless of what content you play on it.
At $149, the Play:1 is competitively priced for a premium compact speaker. While there are more portable, battery-powered speakers available for much less, that low price tag comes with a huge reduction in sound quality. At the same time, while the Play:1 has unquestionably superior sound quality, you do miss out on Bluetooth connectivity. The Play:1 is definitely a device for a consumer who knows exactly what features they need, including those who may already have or want other Sonos devices to build up an ecosystem, making some of its limitations far less relevant.
Sonos One (Gen 2): For $100 more than the Play:1, you get the same excellent sound quality but with Alexa or Google Assistant integration built-in.
Bose Home Speaker 300: With a retail price of $259, the Bose Home Speaker 300 seems like a great value with its Alexa and Google Assistant options built-in and Bluetooth support, but it disappoints with its lower quality sound output.
To read about even more options and other great ideas, check out our list of the 13 best gifts for teenagers in 2019, the 11 best gifts for the whole family in 2019, the 9 best engagement gifts of 2019, the 7 best tech gifts for seniors in 2019, and the 7 best tech gifts for non-techies in 2019.
Remarkable sound output in a surprisingly small package, but some missing features might be a deal-breaker.
There’s no question that Sonos nailed the sound quality with the incredibly compact Play:1. If the lack of battery power or Bluetooth connectivity is not a concern, then the Play:1 should prove a great investment thanks to its superior sound quality and expandable ecosystem.