Play 5 pair or Play 1 pair + Sub


What's a better set up?

23 replies

Since this keeps coming up, and I don't know if this has been discussed in a dedicated thread, I thought it might be useful. While a 5 pair + Sub would clearly be even better, this thread is for just these two alternatives that are at about the same price point.

I have only played around for some hours with a single 2nd gen 5 unit, so with that caveat, my thoughts as to why the 1 pair + Sub - that I have extensively used and still do - would be the way to go.

First, the Sub adds a lot of depth/richness to music played at low volumes, more effectively than what the loudness toggle does for any play unit.

For music at very loud levels, I suspect the 5 pair will run out of low frequency steam a lot before the Sub will.

And between these two extremes of sound levels, there may not be a large difference between the two. That is definitely speculation on my part.

A possible advantage of the 5 pair is one box less to find a place to keep, if the large 5 units can be conveniently accomodated.

I am open to correction on any of these statements; conversation on the topic is the point of this thread, assuming that people will find a way to it in future via a better search function that what we have here at this point! Which also might mean that this thread is redundant even now.
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I have 3 play 1s, and have been wondering the same question (add a sub or get 5s). I travel to NYC often so I recently tested it at the store in manhattan. Here is what I learned.

Sub + 1s
- is better on the low end. The sub gives that really room rattling low.
- clearly better than two 5s mounted horizontally in stero, IMO.

5s mounted vertically in stero
- great bass (really all you need), rattles the room but just a little bit less than the sub does.
- was astonished at the difference mounting them verically adds.

i asked all the workers in the store their preference and it was split between the 1s/sub and 2/5s. So that shows you how close in sound they are.

What I took alway from this experience is it depends on how you want to use your setup. The verically mounted 5s are more of a standard/traditional HiFi setup, whereas the 1s can be placed out of sight and the sub tucked away too.

What I took alway from this experience is it depends on how you want to use your setup. The verically mounted 5s are more of a standard/traditional HiFi setup, whereas the 1s can be placed out of sight and the sub tucked away too.

I agree that it depends on how you want to use the set up, and as I wrote, the 1 pair + Sub may work better at both the extreme ends of the volume control slider.

I still value the looks of traditional kit, so I would be more inclined towards a 5 pair if it was dressed to look like a classy pair of legacy HiFi speakers. Looks are a subjective thing, but they play a role in the listening experience given how the brain is wired. I can now live without the dancing needles of backlit VU meters on my kit, but I doubt I can live with ugly speakers, no matter how good they sound - which isn't to imply that any kit that Sonos has is ugly by present standards/tastes.
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Yes. I will add a sub to my play 1s in due time, as the out of sight ability of the 1s + cheapness of multiple units is perfect.

That being said I just ordered a 5!
The one clear advantage of the 5 units is their line in jacks, if that feature is needed. Play I units need an expensive Connect to be added to them to obtain this.
The other thing to remember is that even with Trueplay available, there is much to be said for first placing the speakers in as close to ideal places as possible in the room. For the Sub, this means placement between the two 1 units, somewhere close to the centre if the latter isn't possible.

A 5 pair doesn't have a third box to be placed, but the two that do are larger in size than the 1 units which are easier to place well.

This then is another factor that may have a role to play in the decision.
Userlevel 3
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From an optics perspective, I think the 1s look better than the 5s. More classy and have that expensive feel because of the wrapped metal mesh body to the plastic body of the play 5. Sadly the Sonos range is not style coordinated. Here functionality trumps form.
The sub is amazing, can definitely vouch for it!
I can't seem to find a way to pair (or create a new room) with just my Play:1s and the Sub though.

My setup is as follows;
- Room 1: Playbar, Sub, Play:1 (L+R)
- Room 2: Play:1 (L+R)

Would it be because I have the Sub linked to the Playbar and the Play:1's in Room 1? Ideally would like to have the option of Room 2 having the sub added to it as well. Is that possible?
Userlevel 7
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I still hold the belief that every Sonos system should start with the Play:5
I believe that a play 1 is the ideal starting point; I also think that it is still the best product Sonos has ever made, even after the launch of the One. That it is much more value for money now is merely icing on the cake.
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A couple of months ago, I mounted a pair of play:1s in my home workout/gym (12 x 14). Really got me motivated to work out on a daily basis (yes, I'm a fairly new Sonos addict!). A couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd see how it would sound by adding the sub. OMG! The difference in sound quality is amazing - especially now that all low-frequency audio is sent to the sub, making the play:1s more efficient and louder (I have to turn the volume down about 20% of where I used to have it). Not to mention the rich bass that didn't exist without the sub. Occasionally, I'll go into the Sonos app to turn off the sub, just to compare the audio without it. Again, it's night and day.

So if anyone is on the fence with this setup - go for it! I realize it turns it into a $1000 setup, but I didn't want to wait (and hope) that someday Sonos would announce a more cost-effective sub for this setup. Also, I bought this as an open-box unit on bestbuy.com for $595 (categorized as "excellent" condition"). When it arrived, the corner was cracked. I then took it back to our local BB and they exchanged it for a brand new one, at no additional cost!
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The Sub really is an excellent addition!.
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I still hold the belief that every Sonos system should start with the Play:5

I agree. Own the 5 for over a year now. Its so versatile. Loud enough to fill the room and low enough to hit bass notes. Transportable outside/inside/on-trips, just plug and go. And it doubles as a speaker for your TV with line in! All for $399 if you get one on sale.

Best speaker ever made IMO.
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Thanks Chris, I was wondering whether to get another play 5 for stereo , or use two ones with the Play 5 I have , or add a sub... It's kinda confusing...
Anyway, how do I line in my TV to my play 5? I thought I needed a playbar for TV?
Thanks
I'm finally with a really excellent Play 5 and two Sonos ones on their way for my living room
I've been leaning toward getting a sub for use with the ones in stereo and leaving the 5 as a central speaker
Austin
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Hope no one minds my resurrecting this thread to add my thoughts: Though I was already familiar with stereo pairs of both the Play 1s and 5s (and have compared them here), until earlier today I had never heard a Play 1 stereo pair backed up by the Sonos Sub.

Today I was able to compare the Play 1 pair plus Sub to a Play 5 pair at some length at a HiFi dealer. Whilst this was in no way a scientific comparison (not level matched, different locations in the room, Trueplay not applied), I was quite surprised by how different the two setups were and thought it worth sharing my notes here:

  • Firstly, and most importantly, both setups sound great. I would regard both as competitive with traditional HiFi at around the thousand euro mark.
  • The Play 5 set has a big advantage in terms of convenience and flexibility: 2 (albeit big-ish) boxes vs 3, 2 external inputs vs none, plus airplay support (though replacing the pair of Play 1s with a pair of Sonos Ones would obviate that).
  • Interestingly, both the staff members present in the dealers expressed a personal preference for the Play 5 pair above the 1s plus Sub.
The two sets are more different in terms of sound character than I would have expected:

  • The Play 1s plus Sub have a much more powerful bass, remarkably so given that the Play 5 pair is hardly bass-shy. I had not expected such a degree of difference.
  • The difference the addition of the Sub makes to the Play 1s is dramatic (and I say that as someone who thinks a stereo pair of 1s sound amazingly good for their size and price); it doesn’t just add more low-end but makes the whole sound much more open and ‘bigger’. Despite this, the operation of the Sub is generally subtle.
  • I started out listening to some commercially produced pop music and this made me think initially that I preferred the Play 5 pair as they sounded more balanced. The same music played on the Play1s/Sub sounded too bass-heavy. I’m aware that this is probably more of a recording/production than reproduction issue but if your music tastes primarily went in that direction, it could be a valid reason to prefer the 5s.
  • The tables were turned when I moved onto classical music: Bach’s cello suites (that I thought sounded equally fine on the play 1 or play 5 pairs without a sub) sounded magnificent on the Play1s/Sub, with significantly more body and depth to the sound. A similar feat was achieved with choral and orchestral work. Smaller scale vocal music sounded great on both setups.
In the end, I found I had a clear preference for the Play 1s with the Sub, purely in terms of sound quality, given my taste in music. However: We are, happily, talking degrees of excellence here.
My musical tastes - jazz and blues - are a little different, but with the same end result that continues to place the 1 pair + Sub in audiophile category in my assessment of it.

Audiophile is a very fuzzy word capable of much abuse, so I will be more specific: that set up replaced a pair of Harbeth C7 speakers + Quad amplification that cost about five times as much, with no audible downsides. There is a caveat of sorts - in my home it was possible to place the 1 pair + Sub in ideal locations for sound quality, while I could not give the large Harbeths the space around them needed for them to deliver their very best. But since few of us live in studios or have dedicated listening rooms, practical considerations cannot be ignored as factor for assessment, and this problem of large speaker placement is precisely what the Sub+small satellite concept is meant to address.

The only gripe I have with the play 1 is the lack of line in jacks which would have taken them from good to great.

Of course a 5 pair+ Sub would shade this option, but that is at a significantly higher price point. The 5 units also will not be as easy to properly place as the 1 units, given their larger footprint. On the other hand, they are blessed with line in jacks.
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The only gripe I have with the play 1 is the lack of line in jacks which would have taken them from good to great.

Absolutely, this is something I really like about the 5 pair: You can just plug in a CD player (or other source) and have a system with the best of both worlds (Sonos streaming plus physical media).

It’s such a shame Sonos didn’t add this feature to the Sonos One. Then again, it seems clear that they regard physical media as very much a legacy option that will get less and less important over time (although, perhaps the vinyl revival might change their minds?).
The Sonos One is just a modified play 1 on the hardware side, and the addition of a line in would have entailed more than that, is my guess.
For more on why the line in would have been a big feature for much more than adding a CD player - see my topic linked:

https://en.community.sonos.com/wireless-speakers-228992/the-case-for-making-line-in-a-standard-feature-6800582
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The statement from Sonos quoted in the last post in that thread seems pretty definitive, sadly, though your question as to why the Play 5 then still has a line in is of course valid.
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One thing to consider in terms of flexibility is that a setup of play:1s + sub can more easily be converted to a home theatre setup than a pair of play:5s.

For my main living space, I have a playbar + sub + play:3s. I've considered delgating this for TV only and then adding a pair of play:5s to this for music. The problem, besides cost, is that I don't know that it would be much of an improvement sound wise. Then the there is the fact that I would really need to wall mount the 5s and pay an electrician to do the wiring. Lastly, I'd want to ensure that the system switches between TV and music without me having to turn one off before turning the other on.

In my perfect world, Sonos develops a 5.1 setup wiithout a sound bar, that way I can remove the playbar, add 5s .
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One thing to consider in terms of flexibility is that a setup of play:1s + sub can more easily be converted to a home theatre setup than a pair of play:5s.

A good point.

Actually, off topic but I’m curious (and know nothing about this sort of use): In your current system, is it possible to switch back and forth between a stereo 2-channel ‘music configuration’ in which only the Play 3s (as a stereo pair) and Sub are active and the home theatre configuration in which the Playbar is the front and the Play3s are the rear surrounds (as I presume it’s configured)? I suspect (given your ideas about adding Play 5s) that the answer is no, but am wondering...
The answer is no, on two counts. First, the physical - stereo music requires speakers in front, aimed towards the listening position or straight ahead, so they would have to be physically moved each time from the surround position at the rear.
Second - the reconfigurations would need some time tapping away at the controller app, a tiresome thing to do each time.
I agree with Danny; the best solution would be a HT that has just a centre speaker that does all the transcoding for HT, sending sound to a separated front pair, a Sub and a rear surround pair. The front pair could then be disconnected from all else, for use as a stereo 2.0 system, although with some amount of controller tapping. Of course that tapping could be replaced by a software powered toggle like the one for Sub ON/OFF.
The Sonos HT compromise as it stands today prevents the centre box that has L/R/Centre in one box to do full justice for movie sound that pans across and often even beyond the width of the screen. And it also cannot provide the speaker separation needed for a good stereo image for music. Although there is Full mode for music play with music coming from the rear surrounds as well; I don't know how that stacks up against the traditional stereo sound via 2 channel with 2 separated front speakers. It may well be a matter of preferences based upon what one has become used to.
PS: Removing the compromise for those willing to pay the extra may even be as "simple" as a configuration that converts the existing Bar/Beam/Base to play just the centre channel, and stream L/R signals for use by a front pair - be it 1/3/5. That would reduce the need for another physical box to be designed and made.
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The answer is no, on two counts. First, the physical - stereo music requires speakers in front, aimed towards the listening position or straight ahead, so they would have to be physically moved each time from the surround position at the rear.

My thought was actually that one might sit facing one wall (with the TV and soundbar) for home cinema and sit facing the opposite wall/direction for stereo HiFi. I do realise most living rooms don’t have back-to-back sofas though. 😉

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