If you're unfamiliar with Sonos, here's a bit of background. The company began in 2003 with an idea of providing whole house wireless systems for much less than custom install jobs. Sonos has been Mac-friendly from the start, a Sonos device connects to your iTunes library and then with several additional pieces you your music where you need it. Control can be through a dedicated hardware controller, or even better from a free iPad or iPhone app. Sonos makes what they call ZonePlayers that connect as a component to your HiFi, or models with amplifiers that can drive speakers. Last fall, my colleague Dave Caolo reviewed the Sonos S5, now renamed the Play:5, a standalone music player with built-in amps and speakers.
Now Sonos has an even lower priced entry, the US $299.00 Play:3. It's a one piece speaker system with digital amplifiers. The speaker enclosure is 5.2 x 10.5 x 6.3 inches and weighs a shade under 6 pounds. It can be plugged directly into your router with the supplied ethernet cable and it's ready to go. To use it wirelessly, you get a $50.00 Sonos Bridge unit and plug that into your router. Then put the Play:3 anywhere in the house, and your iTunes library is available, as well as thousands of internet radio stations. You can also access Pandora, and subscriptions music services like Last.fm, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, Stitcher and more.
The Play:3 is a stereo unit, but the drivers are quite close together. I heard a clear stereo effect, but it wasn't a very wide image. Sonos allows two Play:3 units to be placed in a stereo pair mode, so you can separate them as widely as you like. The speakers can be placed vertically or horizontally. Sensors in the enclosure make some adjustments to the sound depending on how the speakers are oriented. The Sonos architecture is very mix and match. You can add a lot of playback units, and they can play music in sync all over the house, or you can have each play different things in different locations. The flexibility is unlimited.
How did it all sound? Really well for such a small box. I listened to Jazz, some hard rock and some classical. Vocals, always a good test, were clear and defined. I listened to some Bach organ music and the stunning Saint-Saëns Symphony #3 for Orchestra, Organ and 2 Pianos the bass was excellent given the size of the drivers.
If you already have a Sonos system and are looking to extend it to a kitchen, night stand or guest bedroom the Play:3 is worthy of serious consideration. If you have been wanting to get a Sonos system started this is a great way to begin. There are lots of ways to get music around your home these days, but I find the Sonos system reliable, elegant and great sounding.
Note: Like a lot of companies, Sonos is struggling a bit with the significant network changes in Lion, and the Sonos software won't play your local iTunes share until a software update. Here is the latest statement from Sonos on the issue.