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Should I replace my hifi separates with a Sonos system?

  • 2 September 2016
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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?

My TV is old and not positioned in a way that I can enjoy AV sound via hifi. I will replace the TV and get one with optical connections, which offers more versatility when used with Sonos (I think). Presently I stream my iTunes library via Airplay on Apple TV, optical link to a Cambridge Audio DAC and from there into the pre-amp of my current system. It sounds great. But... the monolithic old system robs me of space, dictates where I sit to enjoy it and doesn't hook up to my AV system. Multi-room isn't a priority at all for me (although I accept I might be persuaded if I get into the Sonos ethic) so Connect doesn't offer me anything much I don't have already.
. the monolithic old system robs me of space, dictates where I sit to enjoy it and doesn't hook up to my AV system. Multi-room isn't a priority at all for me (although I accept I might be persuaded if I get into the Sonos ethic) so Connect doesn't offer me anything much I don't have already.
Those are very similar to the reasons I ended up finally selling a SACD player+Quad amplification+Harbeth speaker set up even though the AV thing never had any appeal - my movies are in a dedicated room with a 2 channel amp and speaker pair that is very adequate for the task. But I found that I no longer wanted to be dictated to where to sit, and not listening to music for that reason did not seem to be the sensible thing to be doing! I dabbled around with Airplay before discovering Sonos in 2011 - I sold the last of my in storage legacy hifi kit in 2013/14 - and I am now listening to a lot more music, of much more variety, than ever before with no significant sound quality compromise. On the contrary: I haven't heard music sound as good as it does from a pair of play 1 units on my desktop that flank the computer, probably because the near field listening does't give room acoustics a chance to mess up things.
My learnings, apart from not having to do the tricky thing of mixing up AV and audio solutions:
1. Using a NAS for acquired music.
2. The value of subwoofer once I saw how well the Sonos Sub integrates with even the "cheap" play 1 units.
3. The contribution of "always on" to obtaining more music in the home.
4. The value of play units over even Sonos Connect/Connect Amp. The former are the logical conclusion of a move to Sonos, and one need not progress through the intermediate stages that the latter are. I have a couple of zones with Connect/Connect Amp, but if the electronics fail beyond repair at any time in the future, an appropriate play unit/s will replace it. Hopefully, someone will still want to buy the passive speakers at that time:-).
5. The usefulness of music delivery that is at a similar volume level across the space instead of too loud close to the speakers to be well heard away from them in anything bigger than a small space. Which is also a problem in a stereo set up that is limited by physics and psychoacoustics to yield the stereo image in a relatively very small part of the room. And that too from recordings where all that is needed to deliver this effect has been properly incorporated.

Others will have more to say on these lines, but I think this may be more useful than making recommendations for specific Sonos kit other than the advice to buy the kit on a returnable basis till you are sure you know what part of the range works best for you.
And some more learnings along the way:
1. Speaker placement remains important to obtain the best results - the heard sound is a result of the speaker+room interaction which is very dependent on this. While play units are easy to place anywhere, getting their full potential requires similar care that is taken over "hifi" speakers. However since for the most part play units are smaller in size than the latter, this is much more easily done.
2. All the talk about hi definition music, and even about lossless ripped CDs is smoke and mirrors. It is all down to the mastering quality where audible differences are concerned. I obtain perfectly good results from well mastered/produced music that has been bought on iTunes - in 256 kbps lossy format - as an example.
3. The brain is great servant but a lousy master. If let loose to actively look for defects in the music being heard, that is all it will do.
4. Finally, the best audio quality tweak I have found till now is having the lights down low, and a glass or two of wine. Or any other spirit that floats your boat.
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I'm in the same position! I've made the leap of faith though, and started dismantling and selling my extremely capable but expensive and massively compromised separates system. The amp is already sold, the monster ATC floorstanders lounging on ebay. In my case, a major standing wave problem that amount of room tweaking and adding a monster JB Audio sub could fix, so on a large suspended 2nd floor room I could feel sub 50Hz but couldn't hear it sat in my listening position. Like you, I have spent less and less time "critical listening", and find myself using Spotify more and more, and if I'm honest most of the time couldn't easily distinguish between high quality lossy Spotify and lossless FLAC streaming bit perfect. If the sonos system is similar to my old NAD and B&W 602 sound then I'll be more than happy, especially as I can move the speakers virtually anywhere in the house if I feel like a bit of that critical listening thing!
Stever750,

Although you can set up a fine audiophile level system with a Connect and your choice of amp/speakers (though self-proclaimed snake oil believing "audiophiles" will disagree), Sonos is the perfect system for recovering audiophiles. It gives you access to more music than ever before at the tip of your fingers (or very soon, the sound of your voice) and it eliminates all the room dominating speakers, the $4000 wires, the $10,000 separates, the cocobolo wood feet, the speaker lead risers, and other blah-blah-blah of audiophilia, and leaves you with nothing but the music. A theme you will see in here when the occasional "audiophile" wanders in to tweak us about the latest hires codec or "jitter free" CD transport is "Audiophiles listen to gear, we listen to music".

Welcome to the fold.
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Ha. I never spent more than £50 on cables because I couldn't detect any changes when auditioning them. I'm only too well aware of the great cable debate, but once magazines start making claims that USB cables sound different it's time to lie down in a dark room. It's hard enough to distinguish between a £200 Cambridge audio dac and a £3k one from chord! It's like hi res, the only HD tracks that were superior were the ones remastered in 24 bit!
Ha. I never spent more than £50 on cables because I couldn't detect any changes when auditioning them. I'm only too well aware of the great cable debate, but once magazines start making claims that USB cables sound different it's time to lie down in a dark room. It's hard enough to distinguish between a £200 Cambridge audio dac and a £3k one from chord! It's like hi res, the only HD tracks that were superior were the ones remastered in 24 bit!

You are going to get along just fine here! 😃
and if I'm honest most of the time couldn't easily distinguish between high quality lossy Spotify and lossless FLAC streaming bit perfect.

That's certainly my experience these days!
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I've only just been able to set everything up, and to answer the OP, yes, and twice yes. Sell your separates, unless you actually like gadgets, the play 5 is that good. I don't regret doing it .
Thanks Steve and everyone who has been good enough to respond to my question. I've been amazed at the response quite honestly, and I really don't think I need any more recommendation to go the Sonos route. Just need to get my act together and get the separates on Ebay!
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Let me give you my story.

I have been using Sonos for 5 years now. But like you, I had big 2 channel stereo setups. Sonos was the connect. But I was getting sick of seeing these speakers in the room, having to lay out the room based around the need for best placement of the speakers.

The sound from them was great. But I didn't want to play the game anymore. Seriously, X distance from rear wall, X distance from side walls (but those two can't be the same amount!) X distance from each other and that also has to be the X from you! Oh and then don't have your listening chair against the back wall!

F*#$ that S@*%. I'm done.

BUT - I still wanted great sound. I looked at the play 5 2nd gen. It sounded good in the store and also looked great. This was the first time I was looking for aesthetics as well as great sound. So I bought the white Play 5 2nd gen.

After a few hours listening (following Trueplay setup) I put my 2 channel system online for sale. That's how good the Play 5 2nd gen is. In some areas it was better than my setup. I know it's only one speaker but the array design does spread the sound nicely in the room.

I don't think I will do the stereo pair because I realised after I started going to see live classical music that was unamplified that stereo is not real. You don't hear a live unamplified orchestra (or whatever) split down the middle with defined left and right channels LOL it's just a wall of sound with a forward placement. The play 5 on its own in array mode doesn't put out monaural sound so it's still big open and wide.

I am one happy camper. I'm not doing the big setup anymore. I've since bought 2 play 1s, one for the kitchen and one for the bedroom. Music all over the house is a wonderful price to pay for ditching the separates in one room.

As a slight bonus - the power consumption of the play 5 is so low it's really quite amazing. With mine at 3/4 volume (about 85db) it draws an avg of 15 watts. My old Rotel stereo amp drew 45 watts just on with no music playing.

At the end of the day it's about the music. I spent so much money and time trying to prefect the 2 channel setup that I forgot to listen to the music. Audiophiles end up listening to the speakers, not the music. Now it's all about the music for me. 🙂

I don't think I will do the stereo pair because I realised after I started going to see live classical music that was unamplified that stereo is not real. You don't hear a live unamplified orchestra (or whatever) split down the middle with defined left and right channels LOL it's just a wall of sound with a forward placement.)

Welcome to the real world!

On the quoted, I have a well placed play 1 speaker pair, in stereo mode, on my desktop flanking the computer and - here is the critical bit - where recordings permit, I hear the exact thing you mention one ought to hear - a wall of sound behind the computer, with some instruments or voices forwardly placed, and nothing seeming to come from either the left or the right speaker. But if the recording does not permit this - and this applies to many from the initial days of stereo - I still get the defined right and left channel effects that end up sounding gimmicky after a while, and lead to the mono version being preferred. In good modern recordings things in stereo are better recorded for the most part, leading to this excellent stereo imaging if one is sitting close to the sweet spot. Or so I find for the genre I prefer, jazz. But the constraint of sitting in the sweet spot to get this effect, remains. There has been some progress that has expanded the size of this spot, but not a lot and it still remains a small part of the listening space.

For general listening other than at the desktop, I too can no longer be bothered to sit in just that sweet spot and now have multiple grouped but independent speakers in zones because that allows me to solve the problem of music otherwise being too loud close to the speakers to be well heard far away from them, in the same space. Obviously this becomes less of a problem in a smaller space, but in a larger space, even with well recorded stereo, the problem of either channel obviously present and dominating depending on which speaker one is closer to, remains.

And of course, once the obsession with perfect sound disappears, enjoyment of music reappears!
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So after a couple of days thought I'd share my thoughts. Getting two 5s and setting up as a stereo pair was the right thing, I need a bit of ambience that it brings, plus the added volume is welcome but they go loud. Very loud though it all gets a bit compressed but I'm comparing them to several ££s worth of studio monitor floorstanders and a 500w active sub so hardly fair. In reality, for everyday use, they are fine, very punchy refined sound that's very engaging, mostly because of the sweet detailed midrange that's really good. The 5 are a significant improvement over the 1 which we use in the kitchen and one in a converted lift space second living room. I'm going to add another to that room as it's quite large and I like the stereo paired effect. I'll think about a sub at a later date, maybe though a bit pointless in a room with a great big floppy suspended floor.
I think you'll enjoy the addition of a sub. I wasn't sure that it was a worthwhile purchase before hand, but once I had one, then I needed to buy another to fill out the sound in one of the other rooms. 🙂
I agree about the Sub. It does two other things, suspended floors notwithstanding. One, it adds presence much more effectively than the loudness toggle in the Eq to low level music listening. And two, it cleans up the midrange for sure in a play 1 pair, which is where I use one.

Also, given that nothing kept on the Sub shows any vibration at all, I doubt that a suspended floor has adverse consequences, but try before buying.
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I'll try one for sure. I'm amazed if it doesn't put some vibration into the floor. The JL Audio box that I was using would actually shake the glasses in our dining room cabinet on some tracks when it was cranked up. The floor just added a lot of resonant coloration that unfortunately didn't cancel out the node at my listening position.
The Sub may well shake those glasses without causing the floor to move! Worth a try.
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A week in... OK I have decided that unless I need (I don't) a single speaker in say my bathroom, then I am done with play 1 purchases. The 5 continues to massively impress. Midrange is exceptional, bass nice and taught and a good thump. I'm guessing this is the benefit of an active system, I'm beginning to understand what some of the fuss is about. However, I heard a devialet phantom during the week, and it's on another planet if you're an audiophool. Seriously though, it's mighty impressive but relatively the same value delta over a passive system. Can it really be down to just that..?

In other news, I ventured into the what hi fi forums after about a year away, and the vitriol and intellectual arrogance was so depressing. Don't bother unless you have a wicked sense of humour....
I heard a devialet phantom during the week, and it's on another planet if you're an audiophool. Seriously though, it's mighty impressive but relatively the same value delta over a passive system. Can it really be down to just that..?

I have given up listening to new kit that is aimed at creating dissatisfaction with what one has at present but I wonder what these differences could be, and in what way they will show up on a frequency response graph of enough granularity.

One possibility is that something like the Devialet goes a lot louder, but I doubt that is all there is to it. If that was so, at identical levels, it would sound the same, and I doubt that to be the case. The other possibility is that it adds its own coloration to the sound, and in doing so has frequency responses that depart from the source signal. In which case, is it less hifi than Sonos/others that have a flatter response? I suspect the latter to be the case, but can't be sure. Of course, the different sound may be a preference for some, no denying that either. And the differentiated looks and the brand associated bragging rights.

As to active systems, they have a lot of new digital and signal processing tech in them that allows for matching/exceeding the best that passive systems can deliver, but at lower price points and in smaller boxes, that are also less in number. Not much has changed where passive systems are concerned in the last couple of decades. There is a reason why there are almost no passive tech based pro studio monitors.
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Mostly agree, but you can't deny the benefit of voltage and current. The opposing firing bass driver is simple physics that conventional manufacturers have been trying to mitigate with £££s for decades. A phantom goes as loud as you'd need, with considerable slam. Just like real life then, the real question is why bother. I didn't, but the play 5 is definitely less real, good a it is.
So how do you think this more real thing would show up in a frequency response graph? Or in any other instrument that is not subject to pyschoacoustics in the way that nature designed the human brain to be susceptible to?

Voltage/Current = power delivery = higher sound levels. Not higher fidelity, unless by fidelity you mean the ability to go as loud as an orchestra. But then I have heard of no kit that can come even close to equalling the palpable experience of an orchestra, heard live. Or even a small jazz combo, live in an intimately small club. All home audio is a pale copy of that.
And don't get me wrong, the Devialet may be more real than the 5, beyond just louder, while still remaining a watered down version of real.

What I am trying to understand is how would even this "more real" be visible in a frequency response graph.
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You're right (in only my opinion of course) on one point, that is power is louder, and nothing comes close to the real thing, which is why I gave up chasing that ghost. However, trying to make a simple FR graph correlate to what you hear in your room on a Tuesday evening is an impossible and pointless task, and pointless. The only measurements worth making are a frequency response map of your room. SPL meter, test tones, a tape measure and a pen; or a bit of hardware and software to measure it for you. Frequency response graphs are as relevant as £5k / metre cables.
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The devialet probably has less distortion, that's what you're paying for. It's evident when comparing for example a B&W 602 S2 with the ATCs. The louder (more realistic) you play, the bigger the gap.
The devialet probably has less distortion, that's what you're paying for. It's evident when comparing for example a B&W 602 S2 with the ATCs. The louder (more realistic) you play, the bigger the gap.
I am not so sure that louder = realistic is all that it is about. Going by what you say, if one was to sit with a good dB meter in a concert hall or a jazz club, and use that reading to set the same sound levels at home in the listening position, the listening experience should be replicated. Particularly where a jazz club is concerned, obtaining the same sound levels will not be a huge challenge for home audio kit with enough power. But there is no kit I have heard that comes even close to the real thing. What then is the gap coming from?

And my question remains: if a frequency response graph is a worthless gauge of speaker sound quality in a room, what is a good one? All I know for sure is that a human and his/her subjective opinion is just that, subjective and therefore far from good enough.