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IKEA SYMFONISK review: Sonos speakers at IKEA prices

Where quality meets affordability.
Nicole Lee
N. Lee|07.25.19

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Nicole Lee
July 25th, 2019

Although IKEA is mostly known as a purveyor of flatpack furniture and Swedish meatballs, it has dabbled in electronics as well. In years past, it's launched its own line of smart bulbs, Bluetooth speakers and a lamp with a built-in wireless charger. This year, it's upping the pedigree of its electronics offerings thanks to a partnership with Sonos. The new line of Sonos-powered speakers is called SYMFONISK -- apparently Swedish for "symphonics" -- and will feature two debut models: a bookshelf speaker and a 2-in-1 lamp-speaker combo. At just $99 and $179 respectively, the idea here is that they're able to offer Sonos-level quality without the Sonos-level price.

Gallery: IKEA SYMFONISK review | 10 Photos

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Sonos SYMFONISK Bookshelf

Pros

  • Can be used as a floating shelf or bookstand
  • Cheapest Sonos speaker
  • Versatile design that can be placed horizontally or vertically

Cons

  • Audio is not great compared to other Sonos speakers

Design-wise, you would never confuse a SYMFONISK with a regular Sonos product. While Sonos speakers generally have a sophisticated sleek look, the IKEA models appear a little homier. The lamp is clad in a fabric shell that reminds me of Nike Flyknit material while the bookshelf speakers are decidedly blocky with squared-off edges.

Yet, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think the lamp has a soft and cozy appeal with a bit of a midcentury modern vibe. Its rounded, curved shape helps mask the fact that it's a speaker as well as a lamp. The bookshelf version's shape, on the other hand, allows it to fit both vertically and horizontally on most shelves, whether or not they're from IKEA. That said, a spokesperson did tell me that they were specifically built to fit most IKEA shelves and come in "IKEA white" and "IKEA black" in order to blend in seamlessly with your decor. The lamp comes in white or black as well.

In quintessential IKEA fashion, these SYMFONISK speakers have more than one function. The lamp, of course, lights up the room in addition to playing music. The bookshelf speaker can double as a wall-mounted shelf itself (the bracketing and hooks are sold separately). In this mode, you can use it as a bedside table, a floating shelf or a bookstand, and it can hold up to 3kg in weight.

IKEA SYMFONISK

One complaint I have, though, is that the lamp lacks a dimmer. It feels like a bit of a tease, since the only way to control the lamp is via a rotating dial that can only switch it on and off. One way to get around this is to use a smart bulb instead of a normal one, which you might want to do anyway, because the lights can't be controlled via the Sonos app. IKEA obviously recommends you use its own, but you can use any smart bulb that will fit in the lamp's E12 (E14 in the UK) base.

As far as features go, both SYMFONISK speakers have the same functionality as most other speakers in the Sonos lineup. The setup is the same -- you use the app to do so via WiFi -- and both also have TruePlay tuning (only available with the iOS app). They're compatible with all the other speakers in the Sonos catalog, so you can group them together in the same network if you want. As with other Sonos speakers, you can pair similar speakers together for stereo separation; so two bookshelf SYMFONISK speakers can work as a stereo set, for example. And, of course, you can play tunes from audio sources such as Spotify, iHeartMusic, Apple Music and more.

The most important question, however, is how do they sound? Sonos told us that the lamp SYMFONISK has more or less the same internals as its own existing Play:1 speaker. Unsurprisingly, therefore, in our side-by-side comparison, they both sounded similar. The Play:1 has a slight edge in the ultra low ranges while the lamp sounds much better in the low to mid levels -- but they're otherwise comparable. I do think the Sonos One (which is very similar to the Play:1 except it has voice assistant smarts and a bigger magnet) has deeper bass, but not significantly so. Considering the lamp SYMFONISK is only $30 more than the $149 Play:1 and does double duty as, well, a lamp, it makes for a very compelling proposition.

IKEA SYMFONISK

The bookshelf speaker, on the other hand, is rather lacking sound-wise, at least compared to other Sonos speakers. The bass is weak, the highs are stifled, and it overall doesn't have the balanced audio of either the lamp or the Play:1. It's still a very good speaker though, with a lovely mid-range that's airy and light. It definitely sounds a lot better than, say, a Google Home. But, I wouldn't recommend getting the bookshelf SYMFONISK on its own.

That doesn't mean it doesn't have value, however. Pairing two bookshelf SYMFONISK speakers in a stereo setup helps balance out the issues I had with just a single unit. Because of that, I think adding one of these to an existing multi-room audio setup isn't a bad idea. Sonos is suggesting that it can be used in a kitchen as an additional speaker, or a pair could be used as surrounds in a home theater setup (in conjunction with a Playbar or a Playbase for example), and in those scenarios where it's just one speaker out of many, the bookshelf SYMFONISK makes a lot of sense. After all, if you're going to buy multiple speakers, $99 a pop is a lot more palatable than forking out $149 (the price of the Play:1) for each one.

IKEA SYMFONISK

It bears mentioning that the IKEA Sonos speakers do not have built-in microphones and therefore do not come with a smart voice assistant. You can still control them with either Alexa or Google Assistant if you have an existing voice-control smart speaker in your home -- like an Echo Dot, Google Home or, of course, the Sonos One -- but you'll have to do that through that device, not the IKEA speakers themselves.

I still think the Sonos One is the best entry-level Sonos speaker because it bundles in great audio quality along with that aforementioned smart assistant. But it is more expensive at $199, and if you're trying to save a few bucks, the SYMFONISK speakers aren't bad at all. Both IKEA speakers have dual purposes as either a lamp or a shelf, and though I prefer the audio quality of the lamp, they both still sound very good. They work especially well if you're adding them to an existing Sonos setup. No, they're not any better than the "real" Sonos speakers, but at these prices, they're a more than acceptable alternative.

Aaron Souppouris contributed to this review.

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