A simple, effective, good-quality music player for the home
Previous Sonos devices have used a dedicated handheld wireless controller that had its own screen and an iPod-style scroll wheel, both of which made searching for and playing music much more pleasant than on most streaming devices, which tend to have poor interfaces (read our review of 2008's Sonos BU150, which cost £749).
The controller is still available, but Sonos devices can now be controlled using mobile phone apps. Buy a Sonos Play: 3, and if you have an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android device, you can be up and running straight away, making the new Play: 3 a much more affordable way to use Sonos than was previously possible.
The Play: 3 is a small box about the size of a large toaster that has a built-in speaker. There are power and network sockets on the back, along with a mounting socket (it can be wall-mounted or stood flat or on its side) and the only controls are for volume and muting.
Everything else is done either through the app, using a handheld controller or by controlling it from a PC (the software is a free download and the apps are free too). Setup was mostly trouble-free – the software refused to install on one particular PC but worked fine on all the others we tried, and the apps worked first time. The box must be wired into your network – it doesn't support a wireless connection, and it didn't like being connected through a Homeplug adapter so we ended up plugging it straight into a router.
The big advantage of the Sonos system is that it's essentially wireless. You can add more than a hundred devices, should you have the money, and only one must be wired into the network – after that they all talk to each other wirelessly. If you buy two Play: 3 units they can even be linked as a ‘stereo pair' for better sound, but in our tests we found the single unit impressive as it was. Songs and spoken words came out crisply and clearly. With several units in the home you can set them up in zones and either have different songs playing in each, or link them to play the same music.
The music can come from your computer. It will play songs from any networked computer or stored on a network hard disk – or, more usefully, from online services such as Spotify and Last.FM (you need a paid-for Spotify Unlimited account to use this feature). Those services worked well, though the Sonos app wasn't as good for searching Spotify as the Spotify app. We found it easier to use Spotify on a computer to add songs to a playlist, then play that playlist through Spotify on the Play: 3.
One other problem is that if you only have one smartphone or similar device in the home, if someone takes it away, the Play: 3 can't be used other than through the computer, which is a hassle.
The Sonos Play: 3 is great value. Quality was not quite up to that of the Onkyo TX-NR509 (click here to read our review) but at nearly half the Onkyo's price it's very impressive.
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