Sonos Components: Best Configuration - Let's Talk


I’ve read a lot of comments/questions regarding the following:

1) Play 1 vs. Play 3 vs. Play 5
2) Best Stereo Pair: Play 1 or Play 3
3) Sub with Play 1 or Play 3 as Stereo Pair
4) Sound Bar vs. Play 1 or Play 3 for Music
5) Sound Bar and Sub with Play 1 or Play 3 as Surrounds


Here are my personal views on each. I welcome your opinion(s) on the same:
1) Play 1 vs. Play 3 vs. Play 5 as Stand-a-lone speaker
a. No contest…it ‘s the Play 5 regardless of room size – no surprise here
2) Best Stereo Pair: Play 1 or Play 3
a. Room size such as Width, Length, ceiling Height and Seating Position must be considered. Discounting bass output Play 1 x 2 separated by no more than 56 inches (just slightly wider than a 65” flat screen) in a 14’W x 20’L x 8’H room with a SP of 10’ from the speakers gives excellent stereo separation. In a larger room (discounting bass again) the Play 3 x 2 is a better choice (in horizontal position)
3) Sub with Play 1 or Play 3 as Stereo Pair
a. Here again the same rules apply as in two (2) above but to a lesser degree as bass is handled by the sub. The speakers now are only concerned with Mid and High end sound reproduction. Both only have one tweeter …the Play 3 may edge out the Play 1 in this setup with slightly better mid range reproduction which will probably be most noticeable on vocals in R&B and Jazz (but your ears will have to decide).
4) Sound Bar vs. Play 1 or Play 3 for Music
a. The Sound Bar is primarily designed to enhance sound output from a TV or create spaciousness in a Home Theater setup. The Sound Bar does such an excellent job in creating spaciousness that it colors music and vocals with a bit too much DSP. Downside for music is that the Sound Bar has a tendency to push everything to the center before it reaches the listener… which is what…a good center speaker should do...but not with music when there should be a clear Left and Right channel separation. Here either the Play 1 or Play 3 as a stereo pair is a better choice using the guidelines set forth in two (2) above. Adding a sub will enhance the listening experience.
5) Sound Bar and Sub with Play 1 or Play 3 as Surrounds
a. Play 1 x 2 make for better Surround speakers vs. the same setup using the Play 3’s. Primarily because the Play 3’s as surrounds should be placed in vertical position, which cancels any native stereo separation and makes them mono (due to the built in accelerometer). In this position the Play 3’s are for the most part are on an even playing field with the Play 1’s. Why spend the extra money for minuscule surround improvement. The only exception (to your ear) may be the use of Play 3’s in surround mode for games.

As I said in the beginning these are my opinions based upon my actual use and home testing. I eliminated the Play 5 from most of the discussion because it’s primarily a stand-a-lone speaker. Your opinions/conclusions may be different and I welcome your comments.

As a matter of full disclosure here are my groupings using one (1) Sonos Bridge:
1) Room Size: 14’W x 20’L x 8’to 10’H
a. Home Theater Listening: Sound Bar, Sub and Play 1 x 2 (surrounds)
b. Music Listening: Sub and Play 1 x 2
2) Bedroom
a. Play 1 x 2

The above groups have dedicated subs (excepting the bedroom) as one sub cannot be a part of two groups unless the sub is re-assigned each time you want to switch between Home Theater Listening and Music Listening.

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15 replies

Userlevel 5
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I have to say, after experimenting with both single and paired play:1's, 3's and 5's all at the house (returned them to bestbuy when testing finished and kept the ones I wanted), with and without the SUB...I really can't understand why anyone would waste thier time buying Play:3's for anything.
Userlevel 2
I asked the question on another thread but this might be a good place to ask it again: in your opinion, for classical music, does a sub add much to a pair of Play 5?
That’s an interesting question and deserves more than just a “yes” or “no” answer. I’ll give you my honest opinion.

Make no mistake Sonos speakers are not audiophile. They are great speakers for what they are designed to accomplish and that is (IMO) deliver a pleasing robust listening experience over a cross-section of musical genres. Not over-excelling in any one area but performing well overall. Which means… (as I make a SWAG - Scientific Wild A_ _ Guess) 90% of us fortunate enough to have been introduced to Sonos will be pleased with what we hear (refer to my original post to understand how and why).

To your question…recorded classical music is probably the purest of all as it is primarily acoustic with little or no amplification or DSP. It is designed to arouse the senses and allow one to bathe in its essence. Most recorded R&B, Jazz, Country, Hip-Hop, Rap, Rock, Acid Rock and whatever else is usually amplified and plays heavily in the 55 Hz - 35 Hz (low end) frequency range. Subs excel in those frequencies freeing up the main speakers to handle just the mids and highs making for an improved listening experience.

Classical music typically doesn’t live in the 55 Hz - 35 Hz (low end) frequency range with the exception of a few instruments that have the ability to touch upon - emphasis on touch - those frequencies (i.e. piano, 5 string bass and tuba). I would seriously doubt that a Play 5 goes below 60 Hz as Sonos (like Bose) conveniently doesn’t publish frequency response ranges.

So the answer to your question probably isn’t as definitive as you would like. However, I believe a sub will free up the drivers in a Play 5 to better the handle the mid and high frequencies thereby creating a brighter sound stage with a bit more openness. Adjusting the sub during setup to not overpower (boom bass) will be critical to achieving a proper balance with the Play 5’s for an enhanced listening experience. Additional adjustments can be made with the Sonos App after setup to fine tune the sub.

If you can…acquire a Sonos Sub from a retailer with a liberal return policy. Audition the setup over a few days and allow your ears to decide. It may even be worth it to sacrifice a re-stocking fee of 10% (about $70 versus the $699 retail price). I hope this helps you to make an informed decision 🆒

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Userlevel 2
Then can I test this simplistic logic on you?

I am not really after the multi-room/wireless experience, I intend to use everything wired and in a single room. But I do like controlling everything from a PC/iphone, and connecting to a NAS and online radios, etc.

Then does it make sense to go for a Sonos speakers suite, which makes me buy an expensive sub I will probably barely need, and all the wireless/electronics in each speaker that I will not use. Wouldn't I get a better results going for a Connect:Amp and with the same budget buying a cheaper subwoofer but some very good speakers?
I went back and read your other posts on this subject and have arrived at the conclusion that you do not presently own any Sonos equipment. That’s O.K.

I personally am not a fan of mixing speaker components. Manufacturers (who care about sound quality) typically design their L/R speakers and subs to match each other in sonic resonance. This is true even when the manufacturer has several levels (price ranges) of L/R speakers to choose from. Albeit the manufacturer may produce for example 5 levels of L/R speakers but only have 3 levels of subs meaning that more than one level of L/R speaker can be paired with the same sub. The end result is the same…matching the appropriate L/R speaker with the recommended sub to achieve the best sound reproduction.

Having said that…you could purchase a Sonos Connect Amp ($499) to achieve the results you want to connect a set of Brand X speakers ($200) and a Brand Y sub ($200). Total spend before tax (low end) $899. Would still recommend matched components. On the other hand you could go with one of the options below:

Option 1
$49 - Sonos Bridge (for network connection to maximize speaker placement)
$598 –Sonos Play 3 x 2 (set as stereo pair)
$699 - Sonos Sub
$1,346 - Total

Option 2
$49 - Sonos Bridge (for network connection to maximize speaker placement)
$398 - Sonos Play 1 x 2 (set as stereo pair)
$699 - Sonos Sub
$1,146 – Total

Option 3
$49 - Sonos Bridge (for network connection to maximize speaker placement)
$798 -Sonos Play 5 x 2 (set as stereo pair)
$847 – Total

IMO any matched system less than $1,400 (in a wireless configuration) trumps a non-matched setup at any price. I hope this has been beneficial. Good Luck!🆒

Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM)
Let's not forget, the whole sub thing is a repair job to give people with small(ish) speakers some decent bass and that is of course perfectly fine but not ideal. The more logical thing to do if quality is what you are after is to buy a set of speakers that do not require a sub. I therefore would not recommend a sub if it can be avoided. It is fiendishly difficult to set the right volume of a sub so that it doesn't give you too much bass with one track and not enough with another. No one these days would ever tinker with the volume of the left and right speakers, but once you have a sub there is either no end to the tinkering or you learn to live with a particular setting. Classical music would be served very well by a good set of speakers attached to for example a Sonos amp.
Userlevel 4
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Classical music would be served very well by a good set of speakers attached to for example a Sonos amp.
cm2187, This is very good advice, IMO. But I would add that you should also consider a Sonos CONNECT (not CONNECT:AMP) as your source, feeding into the amp and speakers of your choice. That way you will have total freedom to choose an amp and speaker combination that is best-matched to each other and to your musical tastes, while having access to the full range of Sonos features that you want and the convenience of smartphone control. The downside of course, compared to the Connect:Amp option, is having to pay for the extra box (unless you have an existing amp &/or speakers that you want to re-use...).
Userlevel 2
Thanks. I ended up doing that (except for the amp). I opted for a Connect:Amp, a pair of Kef R100, and a cheap subwoofer (Wharfedale Diamon Sw150, following a good review on whathifi). I am keen to keeping the installation simple.

I can always upgrade the subwoofer if needed but if the key elements are the speaks, I hope the Kef R100 will be good enough.
It's great that you made a decision you are comfortable with. The KEF R100 speakers are an excellent choice. I hope the sub blends in well. Let us know after you get everything dialed in. Good Luck 🆒

Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM)
I would seriously doubt that a Play 5 goes below 60 Hz as Sonos (like Bose) conveniently doesn’t publish frequency response ranges.

You know, I've always wondered about that. For all of the gnashing of teeth over Bose, how come no one has figured out their frequency response ranges? Is it that difficult?
You know, I've always wondered about that. For all of the gnashing of teeth over Bose, how come no one has figured out their frequency response ranges? Is it that difficult?

Before I begin let me say that back in the day the Bose 901's were great speakers (almost a benchmark). This is before DSP effects became mainstream for Bose.

Having said that...this is not criticism...just a fact. People who buy Bose are generally taken in by the DSP effects. Most don't realize that although it may sound great to the ear its kind of like listening to 10 speakers scattered around (in a retail store) all playing the same music in sync.

The actual studio recording mostly likely doesn't sound like what the Bose reproduces. The wide sound stage produced by Bose speakers is artificial. I've tried Bose speakers and found they color vocals too much and have a tendency to make music too bright.

To your question I don't have a definitive answer other than to say that with all the DSP effects in Bose speakers (consumer level) it may be difficult to measure the frequency responses.

Just my 2 cents. 🆒

Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM)
... how come no one has figured out their frequency response ranges? Is it that difficult?

Yes, it is very difficult to measure low frequency response because the room geometry is a major factor. And, even if you took the speaker outside (a very large "room") and measured the response, performance in a real room will be quite different. Placement in the room (of both the speaker and the listener) will change the bass characteristic perceived by the listener.
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Yes, it is very difficult to measure low frequency response because the room geometry is a major factor. And, even if you took the speaker outside (a very large "room") and measured the response, performance in a real room will be quite different. Placement in the room (of both the speaker and the listener) will change the bass characteristic perceived by the listener.

So how do the companies that do list their frequency response measure it? Is there some standard, or does it vary by company, thus making it essentially useless?
Rash,

There are academic debates about the validity of these frequency response claims. There will be demands for information about measuring technique and conditions, followed by a shouting match about why the method is invalid or not. Unless one knows the method used to derive the number and agrees with the method, the number is mostly useless.

In general, the cheaper, inferior speakers have better published specs than the high quality brands.

Bottom line: only you know what sounds best (to you).

With respect to BOSE speakers, I find that the world is polarized. One either loves or hates these speakers and I have learned to never criticize a friend's BOSE product.
But I would add that you should also consider a Sonos CONNECT (not CONNECT:AMP) as your source, feeding into the amp and speakers of your choice. That way you will have total freedom to choose an amp and speaker combination that is best-matched to each other and to your musical tastes, while having access to the full range of Sonos features that you want and the convenience of smartphone control.
This is exactly where I was up to ten days ago, when my first play 1 came home. I was so impressed with the sound quality and the potential I saw in it, that I am moving over to a play 1 pair + Sub set up in my main listening area, and selling my Connect based system of the kind you describe. Very small footprint once you can find place for the Sub, frees up an entire component rack, and messy wires are a lot easier to handle, since there are so few to start with.
I do have one play 5 unit too, and I find that other than bass strength, the play 1 unit sounds just as good - perhaps the play 5 will play louder if needed, but for me the play 1 goes as loud as I ever need to play music. That told me that from a sound level perspective, a play 1 pair + Sub would be more than enough for my listening.
I wonder if the Sonos Sub results in identical sound delivery from a pair of any of the play units - in which case for cost and footprint reasons, a play 1 pair is now the way to go for 2 channel music, if one also has a Sonos Sub.

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