Sonos has carved out a niche for itself in streaming music. For years it's produced audio systems that take the tunes stored on your computer or network hard drive and pipe them around your house. There are plenty of other companies that do this, but Sonos products have earned a reputation for good audio quality and ease of use.
The trouble is that quality costs. Sonos' latest product, the Play 3, is an attempt to attract more people to its products. At around £260, it's roughly £100 cheaper than its bigger brother, the Play 5, formerly called the S5.
Easy to set up
For anyone familiar with the Play 5, the Play 3 is basically the same, but slightly smaller. For everyone else, here's how it works. If you have your music stored on a PC or Mac, you install the Sonos software on your computer, connect the Play 3 to your home network, click through a few on-screen prompts and that's it. The software scans your computer for music, and, if you use iTunes to keep everything in one place, it imports things like playlists.
The only small niggle is that, if you're planning to connect the Play 3 to your network wirelessly, you'll need to buy something called a Sonos Bridge for £40, as the Play 3 doesn't support Wi-Fi. The Sonos Bridge plugs into your router.
None of Sonos' equipment uses a standard Wi-Fi connection, relying instead on a different technology, mesh networking. The advantage of this is that the wireless connection should be less prone to interference, something which plagues most streaming systems that use Wi-Fi. So, even if your Wi-Fi connection drops out, your music should keep playing -- in theory at least.
We installed our Play 3 upstairs, connecting it, via the Ethernet port at the rear and a powerline network adapter, to our router downstairs. This worked perfectly and meant we didn't need the Sonos Bridge.
iPhone and Android apps
There's absolutely no reason to buy the dedicated remote, as the apps are all excellent. Using them, you can search your library, add individual tracks to a queue of music, play Internet radio stations and more. Volume and mute buttons sit atop the Play 3, but, to control everything else, you need to use an app or the Sonos remote.
Despite being titchy, the Play 3 produces a big sound. There's no stereo effect whatsoever, but, bearing in mind that the whole box isn't much bigger than a digital radio, the audio is surprisingly clear, with none of the tinniness you'd typically associate with systems of this size. The audio isn't hi-fi quality, of course, but we reckon most people would be perfectly happy with the sound the Play 3 produces when stashed away in the corner of their bedroom or office.
It's possible to buy another Play 3, lay both on their sides, and set them up so that one acts as the left speaker, and the other as the right. But that would be expensive and slightly miss the point of this sleek, clutter-free system.
Sonos and Spotify
One of the cool things about the Sonos system is that it works with Spotify without the need for a computer. Providing you're a Spotify Premium subscriber, you just enter your log-in credentials and you can search for music and listen to any playlists you've created or shared on the service. This system works very well indeed, providing you have a working Internet connection. The Play 3 also supports plenty of other music services, such as Napster and our parent company's very own Last.fm.
Another cool thing about the Sonos system is that you can play different music in different rooms of the house, or the same song in every room. You allocate each player to a zone, and then you can control what's playing and the volume it's playing at via the Sonos app or remote control.
Sonos vs Apple
When you can pay £80 for an Apple AirPort Express, which gives you the ability to stream music from a computer to a hi-fi, plus the ability to control it via an iPhone or iPad, the £250 that Sonos is asking for the Play 3 seems expensive. But it depends on what you need. AirPort Express doesn't currently let you play different songs in different rooms, and it relies on a normal Wi-Fi connection, which is more prone to drop-outs.
If you're serious about multi-room music, Sonos equipment remains the way to go. The Play 3 doesn't sound as good as its bigger brother, the Play 5, so, if you have an extra £100 lying around, we'd recommend going for that instead. Otherwise, the Play 3 is a great, straightforward way of piping music around the house. It comes highly recommended.
Edited by Charles Kloet