Should I replace my hifi separates with a Sonos system?

  • 2 September 2016
  • 82 replies

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82 replies

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 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.
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
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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))
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.
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!

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.
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.