Wireless speaker leader Sonos has replaced its flagship PLAY:5 with a new speaker called ... the PLAY:5. This new model replaces its six-year-and-two-day-old predecessor in the line-up, though the new PLAY:5 has been designed and engineered from the ground up to truly stand on its own. For one, this unit has six independent speakers instead of five, but Sonos said instead of calling it the PLAY:6 they decided their flagship speaker should retain its name. Fair enough.
In addition to one more speaker, the new PLAY:5 sports a completely new design, the ability to rotate and be operated while placed on three of its front-facing sides, a multitouch control pad and some additional magic that allows it to create a stellar stereo field.
How Does It Sound?
When setting out to write a speaker review – heck, when simply listening to music – the most important thing is sound, so let's start there. Sonos really outdid themselves with the new PLAY:5. Sound quality is clear, extremely full and quite loud. In addition, when placed in horizontal position, the two side-aimed tweeters do an amazing job of spreading the sound out far and wide. (Don't worry, there's now a third, front-aimed tweeter to ensure full coverage.)
Placing a single PLAY:5 in the middle of a room, the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Money” has you hearing a very wide stereo field, with sounds appearing to emanate from feet away from this thing. Close your eyes and you likely wouldn't be able to pinpoint exactly where the speaker is located. Sonos first did this with the Playbar, and it’s clear the lessons they learned in creating that are not relegated to just one product. It's quite something.
Sonos's new PLAY:5's six uniquely-aimed speakers teamed with a custom DSP make
the PLAY:5 capable of providing an amazingly-wide stereo field
Sonos’s new PLAY:5 also benefits from its new Trueplay, which automatically tunes a speaker to its particular environment using an audio test that's heard by the microphone in your iPhone. Trueplay, however, isn’t limited to the new PLAY:5. When it launches later this year, Trueplay will be available for all PLAY:5 models (new and old), as well as the PLAY:1 and PLAY:3.
Redefining The Stereo Field
As with most of Sonos’s other speakers, two of the new PLAY:5’s can be paired in stereo mode, allowing specific placement and attention to the stereo field. The sound is exactly as you’d expect, clear, warm and full with distinct separation. It’s not surprising, of course; it’s simply great. Still, it almost seems a waste to pair two of these together because you lose the magic that happens when one PLAY:5 is able to replicate an entire stereo field on its own.
Twisting and Turning?
The new PLAY:5 takes a cue from its little brother, the PLAY:3, allowing the speaker to be placed in one of three orientations: horizontal mode on its bottom (controls are on the top!) or vertical mode on either side, allowing the Sonos logo – and control surface – to be placed on the right or left side of the speaker (the benefits of naming one's company with a palindrome!). The new multi-touch interface is orientation-sensitive, meaning that volume up is always the button towards the top of the speaker, regardless of which way it’s placed. Clever.
Sound is quite a bit different in each mode. Horizontal orientation provides the very wide stereo field mentioned above, but also does quite well filling a room top-to-bottom. I found no weak spots when testing the speaker. In horizontal mode it really does fill a room with sound.
Sonos's new PLAY:5 sports an all-enclosed design that can both be a centerpiece or blend into your room
Vertical mode is where the sound becomes focused and directional. This can be very beneficial with stereo pairing, or if your setup or tastes are such that you want a single speaker to be extremely focused in one direction. Vertical orientation results in the truest sound I've heard out of a speaker in quite some time, albeit at the sacrifice of the spread that horizontal orientation provides.
It's worth noting that there's a digital signal processor inside the PLAY:5 that controls its six-speaker array, changing things significantly when it detects an orientation shift. It's not just sending the same sound out in both modes, it changes things significantly. Also clever, and smart.
Multitouch … On a speaker?
A first for Sonos, the new PLAY:5 eschews its predecessors' physical volume and play/pause buttons for a multitouch panel. Right now the panel supports volume, play, pause and song next/previous. The first three are handled with taps while next and previous happen by sliding ones finger forward or backward across the panel (or, if in vertical orientation, up or down).
Audible feedback is what you get any time you interact with the multitouch panel and, yes, the volume of the feedback tracks the volume of your music. It’s not the same, but it’s … related. In a perfect way. It’s obvious Sonos engineered and iterated the heck out of this aspect, too. No surprise there.
How Does it Compare?
Users and fans of the original PLAY:5 will want to know how the two stack up. The new PLAY:5 certainly replaces the old one in the product line, but according to Sonos is not meant to replace it in your home. In fact, it's fair to say that software keeps the old PLAY:5 young, especially with Trueplay coming out for it soon.
Still, a comparison is valid, if only to help explain what the new speaker does. Sound is quite a bit louder out of the new PLAY:5. Perhaps not quite double, but significantly louder. The stereo field when used solo blows away anything the old PLAY:5 could do, and that's understandable given the differences in the design of each. Paired up in horizontal mode, there's less of a difference between the two speakers for most listening environments. Putting the new PLAY:5s in vertical orientation, however, yields a very defined, true stereo experience that previously was only available to folks willing to shell out money for much pricier speakers.
The new PLAY:5 is a great addition to your home system, for sure, but you don't need to replace your existing PLAY:5 with it. Unless you really want to, then go right ahead! I certainly have my eye on one or two spots in my home where the new PLAY:5 would be the perfect choice.
Sonos’s new PLAY:5 shares a name with the speaker it replaces in Sonos’s lineup but, make no mistake, this is a brand new device. With its amazing sound dispersion, its multitouch interface, its ability to rotate and simply its looks, this is a ground-up design of what today’s flagship speaker from Sonos should look — and sound — like.
The new PLAY:5 is available for pre-order now and it will be available in stores November 20 in the US and November 25 globally. The Sonos PLAY:5 will be available in a custom matte black and matte white finish and will retail for US$499. That's $100 more than the previous PLAY:5, but given the enhancements – especially the stereo field – it's a fair increase.