Pretty much every review I've read or written of a Sonos product has the same conclusion: love the product, hate the high price. But competition for music streamers is heating up: Spotify is letting speaker manufactures integrate its streaming service right into their products, Apple's AirPlay is becoming more popular and Bluetooth speakers are cheaper than ever.
But Sonos has been the undisputed king of streaming music speakers for years, so it's not taking this fight lying down. The Play 1 offers all the same services its Play 3 and Play 5 speakers do, but at £169, it's a good £80 cheaper than the cheapest model until now. It will be available on 29th October.
Lots of music services
There are a few reasons Sonos speakers are generally so great. One is that they are basically mini-computers that stream music directly from loads of different online services without the need for a phone, computer or NAS box to be turned on. Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player, 7Digital, Deezer, Napster and more: the list goes on. About the only major services I can think of that we get in the UK so far unsupported are Google Music and iTunes Match.
Another area Sonos scores highly is in the way its wireless works. The speakers don't use Wi-Fi to communicate with each other, instead creating a special network just for music that tends to be a lot less prone to dropouts and interference.
One downside of this is that you either need to plug a Sonos directly into your router to get the whole thing running, or buy a Sonos Bridge. The good news is that the company is giving away a free Bridge with every Play 1 until the end of the year.
Easy to set up
The Play 1 is as easy to set up as all the other Sonos products I've tried -- just download the control software to your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad or Android mobile and follow the on-screen instructions. Once you have linked your controller to the speaker, you add the music sources, including a NAS drive, computer and the music stored on your phone.
Sonos designed the Play 1 with small rooms in mind and says it put it through stringent tests to ensure it's resistant to moisture. So it should be fine to place it in a steamy kitchen.
It's important to note that the company isn't saying the speaker is waterproof, so you'll need to make sure you don't spill anything on it. But Sonos told me it's so confident of its design it will repair any damage caused to the speaker by humidity, providing it's within warranty.
The speaker is pretty small -- about the same height as a pint glass and about 1.5 times as wide. I like the design a lot: there's a black version that I personally think looks nicer with the silver speaker grille than the white model, but perhaps that's just me.
For something so small, it produces an impressive noise. For a room you only use occasionally, or where sound quality doesn't matter as much, like a kitchen, it's perfect. But to get a decent sound, you need to buy a second Play 1 and wirelessly join the two together to get proper stereo.
For those that have long wanted Sonos but couldn't stomach the price, or are still playing music through computer speakers, this is a great way to get into the whole scene. Just be warned that you'll quickly become addicted, adding more Sonos products to fill each room in your house.
The Play 1 can also be used as a surround sound speaker when paired with Sonos' Playbar. The Playbar is a single, horizontal speaker that sits under your TV producing virtual surround sound. It also has all the music functions of the rest of the Sonos range
While the surround sound effect that produces is good, it's nothing compared to having proper speakers positioned behind you. That's where the Play 1 comes in: two of these wirelessly pair with the Playbar to provide rear channel sound.
You've been able to do this with Sonos' Play 3 speakers for a while, but the Play 1s are a neater, cheaper solution. Unfortunately, they expose a weakness of the Playbar. Because that only has an optical in port, to get the best result you need a TV that outputs Dolby Digital audio over an optical cable, which can be hard to find. If, like me, your TV is just outputting a PCM signal, the surround effect isn't particularly effective.
But for music, it's easy to love the Play 1 and even easier to love two. If you've been saving the pennies for a new Sonos speaker, you'll want to listen to this first to see if the sound it produces is big enough for your room. Plus, if you're listening to your music collection on computer speakers or headphones, Sonos is now just cheap enough to give it a whirl.