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Should I replace my hifi separates with a Sonos system?

  • 2 September 2016
  • 82 replies
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My system comprises an all British set of separates, including a pre-amp and mono blocs. It still sounds great after twenty years, but things change and technology marches on. Whereas I used to listen to CD's, I now stream my music via AirPlay. A Cambridge Audio DAC is the interface between the hifi and Apple TV. I'm considering selling the whole system and replacing it with Sonos kit, principally for music but also to integrate and upgrade my TV sound. My question is, should I expect the Sonos units to be truly comparable to the high end hifi I've known for years?
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Best answer by Kumar 2 September 2016, 15:10

My system comprises an all British set of separates, including a pre-amp and mono blocs. It still sounds great after twenty years, but things change and technology marches on.
Another angle on this: I don't know what make these separates are, but I know of one make - Quad - that is brilliant in supporting their kit for decades. Their UK service set up in particular, is excellent and can run a check on all electronics ever made by Quad and bring it back to As New, with even a limited guarantee. I have used this service from as far as India, and I know people from EU that also have nothing but praise for Quad service.

The reason I say this is that from a sound quality perspective, there has been a lot less audible progress than one might think. Depending on what and how good the passive speakers are, of course. Where Sonos has added features is in making a lot more music easier to access and to play. There may therefore be a case to keep this set up, and add just a Sonos front end in the form of a Connect. You could also add the cheaper Chromecast Audio, but having used both I think the easier to use Connect - even just the few control buttons that the Connect has - easily justifies the higher price when use over a few years is taken into account.

As I said, just another point of view to take into account.
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82 replies

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If your thinking of tv, read all the posts on here about the playbar.
I would get a 7.1 av amp with dolby atmos inside, and google chromecasts to stream over superior wifi, just the same as sonos does.
If you want mutli-room with easy one make supplier, then sonos is what you want.
@Paul123's advice is perfectly reasonable. But as he implies, it depends where you want to get to.

If you want all-singing all-dancing cinema surround sound, and don't mind speakers and wires everywhere, then get a AV receiver. If you just want better TV sound and a convenient way of playing music in one unit then a Playbar is a neat solution. The music sounds great but probably won't rival your separates. You should consider a traditional soundbar or soundbase as well.

You could keep your separates and DAC and use a Sonos Connect. But viewed in isolation a Chromecast is a cheaper option to "convert" your hifi.

If you want a purely Sonos music experience that gives a true audiophile experience then you need a pair of Sonos gen2 Play:5 speakers, possibly with a Sub. I have some pretty good hifi gear (Cyrus DAC/pre-amp with two Cyrus power amps and PMC floorstanders), but a pair of P:5s with a Sub is not far off it, at a quarter of the new cost. (Thankfully I didn't buy the trad hifi gear new!)

And how much of the Sonos multiroom experience do you want? Can you see yourself like me, with Sonos speakers just about everywhere? The easy multiroom control is a big plus for Sonos if you see yourself going down that route. (Actually, even if you can't see yourself doing that, once you start......)

These are just my opinions, of course.

If you want a purely Sonos music experience that gives a true audiophile experience then you need a pair of Sonos... .

I agree; and I too have used traditional hifi separates for many years. In addition to the specific solution that follows the quoted bit, there are many others from the Sonos product line up that can deliver what is loosely called audiophile quality sound.

But adding TV to this assertion can get tricky, so if you want state of the art TV sound as well, you will want to look outside Sonos for a hybrid solution.

If you want a purely Sonos music experience that gives a true audiophile experience then you need a pair of Sonos gen2 Play:5 speakers, possibly with a Sub. I have some pretty good hifi gear (Cyrus DAC/pre-amp with two Cyrus power amps and PMC floorstanders, but a pair of P:5s with a Sub is not far off it, at a quarter of the new cost. (Thankfully I didn't buy the trad hifi gar new!)


Thanks John, that's really the advice I've been after. It addresses the two changes/limitations that prompt me to consider a change. One, I don't listen to stuff like I used to, sat facing the speakers and immersed in the experience. Two, having TV and music as separate entities is irritating me. A songs system seems to offer a reasonable trade off between the genuine audiophile experience and a more versatile AV/music platform. As 'furniture' too the Sonos stuff is far less intrusive and more adaptable in where it can be placed. RE multi-room, although it's an option it really doesn't feature as a key issue up front.

But adding TV to this assertion can get tricky, so if you want state of the art TV sound as well, you will want to look outside Sonos for a hybrid solution.


Thanks Kumar, With music, I'm hoping to be impressed by Sonos, with TV I just want an improvement on the OE kit. Music is a hands down priority over TV any day for me!
With music, I'm hoping to be impressed by Sonos, with TV I just want an improvement on the OE kit. Music is a hands down priority over TV any day for me!
You might check out Canton soundbases for the TV. They are neat and sound good. But there are plenty of good soundbars around as well.
Then Sonos for the music. You could get a couple of P:5s from the Sonos website and they come with a long return period. You could check them out in your own home before you commit to selling existing gear. I don't think you will return them.
In that case, Sonos can meet all your needs. You will be more than impressed by how much easier and neater - in terms of fewer boxes and associated cabling - the Sonos set up can be.

You do need to have a stable home WiFi environment though; Sonos needs that as a foundation. Multi room audio may well be the classic case of the unperceived need that Sonos meets in a way that is addictive; be warned:-).
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I moved house recently and didn't have room for my separates which used to be housed in my 'listening room'/office.

Although it pained me to get rid of the separates it was the right thing to do. I had boxed them up and were just sat there, so selling them released a bit of cash. In my living room I have 2 Play 1's (on Flexon stands) as well as a Sub. It's not quite up there with my separates system, but it is very good. My Connect and headphone amp (and headphones!) are in my new smaller office and I have a single Play 1 in the kitchen and a Play 3 in my bedroom.

I have a cheap Sony soundbar for use with my tv in lounge.

For a multi-room solution with a small footprint I've found it to be excellent. And I don't miss my separates.
Thanks! Experiences like your encourage me to make the break with conventional separates.
I'd agree with everything @silvergrey said. The P:1s are amazingly good for their size, and the Sub fills in much of what they can't do. It does give a great result and is an excellent option. But I still prefer 2 x P:5 and certainly 2 x P:5 + Sub. All subjective.
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I only have 1 new Play:5 so I haven't tried an A:B comparison to my separates in my living room (Mid-tier receiver with B&W 600 series speakers). I would guess though a pair of the new Play:5's would give them a run for their money and free up a lot of wires and space.
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I would just add that whatever Sonos speakers you opt for a Sub is a must. It's not just about the bass but as above have said it frees up the speakers so much that they sound amazing. You can also try the sub on a long return, but I would place good money on the fact that you will not return it 🙂
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I have heard the sub doesn't add a tremendous amount to a pair of Play:5s (but I have no first had experience).
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I have heard the sub doesn't add a tremendous amount to a pair of Play:5s (but I have no first had experience).

I don't have a new gen play 5 but it made a massive difference to my old gen unit. Especially at higher volumes.
My system comprises an all British set of separates, including a pre-amp and mono blocs. It still sounds great after twenty years, but things change and technology marches on.
Another angle on this: I don't know what make these separates are, but I know of one make - Quad - that is brilliant in supporting their kit for decades. Their UK service set up in particular, is excellent and can run a check on all electronics ever made by Quad and bring it back to As New, with even a limited guarantee. I have used this service from as far as India, and I know people from EU that also have nothing but praise for Quad service.

The reason I say this is that from a sound quality perspective, there has been a lot less audible progress than one might think. Depending on what and how good the passive speakers are, of course. Where Sonos has added features is in making a lot more music easier to access and to play. There may therefore be a case to keep this set up, and add just a Sonos front end in the form of a Connect. You could also add the cheaper Chromecast Audio, but having used both I think the easier to use Connect - even just the few control buttons that the Connect has - easily justifies the higher price when use over a few years is taken into account.

As I said, just another point of view to take into account.
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I have heard the sub doesn't add a tremendous amount to a pair of Play:5s (but I have no first had experience).

I have this setup ( 2 play:5 and sub ) Depending on the music you're listening to, yes the sub makes a huge difference.

Another angle on this: I don't know what make these separates are, but I know of one make - Quad - that is brilliant in supporting their kit for decades. Their UK service set up in particular, is excellent and can run a check on all electronics ever made by Quad and bring it back to As New, with even a limited guarantee. I have used this service from as far as India, and I know people from EU that also have nothing but praise for Quad service.

The reason I say this is that from a sound quality perspective, there has been a lot less audible progress than one might think. Depending on what and how good the passive speakers are, of course. Where Sonos has added features is in making a lot more music easier to access and to play. There may therefore be a case to keep this set up, and add just a Sonos front end in the form of a Connect. You could also add the cheaper Chromecast Audio, but having used both I think the easier to use Connect - even just the few control buttons that the Connect has - easily justifies the higher price when use over a few years is taken into account.

As I said, just another point of view to take into account.


And a very significant point at that. I'm keenly aware that the system I have was and remains the best I could afford. The manufacturer has all the facilities you describe, and I have over the years had it regularly serviced at the factory. I don't realistically expect a wireless system to compete toe to toe with the sound I've lived with for twenty years or so, but since I don't listen as I used to maybe Sonos or similar can get close enough for me not to worry about it. I've spent today trawling any reviews I can find to get the best perspective on user experience. Right now I'm thinking that rather than sell and replace my old system lock, stock and barrel, it may be more sensible to start with a soundbar and try it for size. As a toe in the water, it might give me a feel for the Sonos house sound and allow me to add more units if the experience is positive.
Starting small is always a good idea; the thing about house sound is that it is unique to an extent, which leads to personal and subjective preferences for one over another, without one having to be better/worse than the other.
I think the start small is a good idea too. But the Playbar is not the best test against what you are used to, and seems a strange choice for this purpose (if you'll forgive my saying so) given what you said about the importance of music over TV. I'm not convinced the Playbar will be optimal for you for TV or music. I'd get a pair of Play:5s instead. You can try them without commitment and before selling your other gear. But of course it's none of my business really!
I recently sold my old seperates , I wanted to purchase newer stuff when I eventually move but have decided to go down the sonos route.
I'm going to start with 2 play 5's and go from there, ease of use/expansion and less space has helped my decision.
I'm happy to accept they may not sound as good as a higher end seperates but won't be far away, a brief listen to one play 5 in a high street electrical outlet had me very impressed.
The only slight down side is the price, £900 would buy you a nice set of bookshelves and a streaming device of some description, but you then have the problem of cables etc and lack of simplicity for adding other speakers around the house.
I'm still on the sonos side though!
My hifi separates listed at £7,000 in total (although all bought second-hand, reprocessed etc so paid much less). Two Play:5s + Sub new are £1,500 and are not too far off. Yes it's still a lot of money but £ for £ it's great value. (They don't have the same power, but still lots more power than I can actually use in my apartment.)
I think the start small is a good idea too. But the Playbar is not the best test against what you are used to, and seems a strange choice for this purpose

On grounds of like for like replacement and comparison you're right. I've had an offer for my existing system that would cover the cost of the Sonos kit I'd choose. Practically though that represents a 'point of no return' choice. I also need to replace my TV too right now, so the availability of optical inputs allows me to hook up and Apple TV and with it access directly to Airplay. The ability to add on with Sonos means that I can bring Play 5 x 2 into the equation later. I wouldn't expect a Playbar to get close to my current system but from what I've read I expect it will sound good enough as a first step. And I can finance that without waving goodbye to my separates.
I may be missing something, but why can't you add a Connect, and use the line in sockets on it for audio for the TV?
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I did replace my Bose 35 5+1 with Sonos Playbar+Sub+2x play:1. Main reasons , reduce wires in the room, have multiroom and have lide simpler for my wife ( with Bose I had 2 remote , input sources to change etc. )
Before that , I made trials with the connect and the bose, but the connect is "old" and the sound quality was a bit dull. And I did not solve the remote issue.

With current solution everything is simple and straight (In fairness I also added an optical switch t connect to the playbar a cable box and one apple Tv , but when my wife needs , she does nothing and sound goes through the TV anyway !)

Soundwise, music quality is significantly better that what I had from Bose , while surround with movies is very good but bose was a bit "punchier" .

Of course if you compare a truly hi-fi system ( old , yes , but high quality I understood ) with sonos you risk the sound being a bit below your expectations. Sonos is terrific, but it is designed to improve dramatically everyday use , it is not an hi-end hi-fi device !

However soundbar+sub deliver a real pleasant experience
Userlevel 7
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I may be missing something, but why can't you add a Connect, and use the line in sockets on it for audio for the TV?
I think he wants to avoid fail 15 ;o))
http://www.sonos.com/en-gb/you-are-better-than-this