Enter the Sonos Play:3, a speaker set offering the same great functionality in a smaller, cheaper package.
Speaking of cheap – a single Sonos Play:3 will set you back $369 which may sound like a fair lump of cash, but it’s fairly reasonable compared to the Play:5 units, which sell for around $100 more.
The beauty of the Sonos system is that you can start with one speaker, and later add more to the system in different rooms – as many speakers as you like up to 32 (in case you happen to live in a palace).
Once you have speakers all over you house, you can control them all from the free controller app on iOS or Android.
The Sonos Play:3 comes with three speakers inside its plastic and mesh housing, where the Play:5 has five; this means you’re looking at slightly less rich music playback than the bigger model while still getting a bit more sonic mileage than the Sonos Play:1 or Sonos One smart speaker – but we’ll come back to that later.
It does all come in a smaller housing, though – about half the size of the Play:5, meaning its small enough to slot onto a bookshelf or into a kitchen nook, with feet on both sides so you can stand it either on its side or on its end.
There’s also the wall mounting option, as the Play:3 comes with the necessary holes for a standard wall bracket (sold separately).
Low-End (Bass) and Volume
Fortunately, the minimal impact of the Trueplay process doesn’t diminish the overall sound of the speaker, which is terrific. The bass is huge for the speaker’s size, clear and rounded, distortion free even at high volumes. In the guts of the system, there are three Class D amplifiers, a type known for its raw power.
They do their work through three speaker drivers and a bass radiator, and the system supports just about any sound file you can throw at it, from compressed MP3s to full lossless audio. The sound isn’t delicate or elegant, more appropriate to thumping tunes than picked folk, but it’s hard not to love a system that can deliver great sound at any volume, and the PLAY:3 easily beats out bigger.
Lack of Alexa Functionality
At the time of writing, Sonos have their newest speaker out, the Sonos 1. It’s cheaper (by about $50) and smaller than the Sonos Play:3, and crucially, includes the Amazon Alexa assistant built in. This means you can control music with your voice, as well as getting it to do mildly useful things like read you a recipe for chicken stock.
The Play:3 currently on the market does not have this functionality, and right now, we don’t know when a new version will be released that includes it. We will review it when one comes along, but if you want smart speaker functionality, then you should look at getting the smaller Sonos. It should fulfil your needs for now.
High-End (Treble) and Mids
There’s a kicking level of stereo spread, and some excellent, nuanced detail in the mids and highs. That’s not always a given with wireless speakers, many of which don’t even offer stereo sound. And while the Sonos Play:3 isn’t going to set the world on fire, in terms of crisp detail, it more than matches up to other speakers in its price range.
Compare it, for example, to the Bose SoundLink Mini II. That speaker, while around $60 cheaper than the Play:3, doesn’t look half as good, and in our opinion, has sound that doesn’t quite match the audio that the Sonos speaker puts out. We really appreciated how the instrumentation was separated within the music we listen to on the speaker, and how easy it was to pick out different elements of the mix.
You definitely aren’t talking high-end audio here, but the Sonos Play:3 doesn’t take anything off the table – and as we are about to see, even if you did have a problem with sound, you have to give it up to the design. It’s simply phenomenal.
We’ll talk about the design of the Sonos Play:3 and the way you set it up further down. But you can’t talk about the sound of the speaker without talking about Trueplay. This is Sonos’s proprietary technology for tuning the speaker to the space you put it in, meaning that you get the ideal sound for your room.
The idea is that the speaker analyses a test tone being played back while you move your phone around in a weird sort of ritual dance, in order to adjust the sound so it’s perfect for the room. We tried the speaker out in multiple rooms, including a bathroom, tiny apartment kitchen, living room and home office, and despite recalibrating for each location, we’d be hard pressed to say there was an appreciable difference.
It’s entirely possible that TruePlay becomes more useful with multiple speakers – connecting multiple Sonos units to each other is dead easy, using the app – but it struck us as more of a gimmick than anything else. It’s also, for the time being, only available on iOS, not Android. That’s an oversight that should have been corrected by now.
Wireless multi-room music streaming may sound fairly daunting to a technophobe, but the Play:3 is very simple to set up. If you already have a Sonos system set up, it’s a case of plug, pair and play, if not there are just a couple of extra steps to follow. Sonos really has made it incredibly easy.
For such a small speaker, the Play:3 manages to fill a good-sized room with sound, although it’s worth thinking carefully about placement as the drop off as you move to the side or back of the unit is quite significant.
Music playback from both a Spotify account and your existing MP3s is very satisfying; the Play:3 handles bass better than we’d expected with just a hint of fuzziness, but its trebles are occasionally a bit tinny, especially at higher volumes.
Inside the Play:3, there are three dedicated amps that work with the three interior speakers; one tweeter, two mid-range drivers and a bass radiator. This means it’s lacking one tweeter and one subwoofer driver compared to the Play:5.
So yes, there’s a drop in sound quality – compared to the Play:5 you lose a that rich creamy quality to playback.
It’s not the speaker for audiophiles who’ll notice and hate that slight fuzz, who’ll pick up on when distortion is that little bit too distorted and a bit jarring on the ear.
But there is the option to install two Sonos Play:3 units in one room for stereo playback, which should round the sound out. We haven’t tried it yet, though; we’re waiting on a second Play:3 unit to arrive, and will bring you our verdict on this next week.
Because you’ve got the option to turn the Play:3 on its side and slot it on to a shelf in portrait mode, you might think you’re going to get unbalanced playback because the speakers are formatted for landscape – but you’d be wrong; there’s an accelerometer inside the casing that detects when its turned on its side and adjusts the playback accordingly. It works really well; you’ll notice the music shifting and the sound changing as you turn the speaker, and once its in place, there’s minimal difference between the two.
On the software side of things, we’re not in love with Sonos’ proprietary player; although it has no trouble finding music folders and syncing existing playlists from iTunes and Spotify, the queuing system is a bit clunky and, at times, slow to respond.
However, the free Sonos iPhone app is excellent. Changes made to the volume and playlists are immediately reflected by the speaker and switching between playlists was straightforward.
The only problem we had with the app was with navigation; at times it’s easy to get bogged down in a mire of now playing and the existing queue, and a little too difficult to get back to the main home screen.
Sonos Play:3 – Design
Housing and Build Quality
If there’s one real failing to the Play:3, it’s that it doesn’t really do enough to distinguish itself, design-wise. It rests on the idea of a wireless speaker as a small grey box, with only minor flourishes. The most obvious of these is the asymmetrical design, with the speaker grille on the front a different size to the rear end.
This makes for an eye-catching design when viewed from the side, but it doesn’t really do enough to distinguish itself when seen from the front. The one thing we do like about the design, however, is the lack of controls – it sounds counterintuitive, but bear with us. The aforementioned app is so well-designed that you almost never need to rely on the physical buttons on the unit, which are limited to a play pause button and two controls for volume. These work very well.
They are also distinct from Sonos’s bigger speaker, the Play:5, which uses touch controls. Those are nice to have, given the brilliance of the app, a little superfluous. If we had to pick, we’d say choose the Play:3 over its bigger brother, which is more expensive. There’s not a huge difference in sound, just volume, and the only thing the bigger model has going for it is the inclusion of an auxiliary input, which the Play:3 does not have.
This means that you need to buy the big one if you want to make any physical connections between it and, say, a separate player. This definitely isn’t a deal breaker, by any means – just something worth bearing in mind. The only connection on the back of the Play:3, other than the power jack, is an ethernet connection for when your Wi-Fi goes screwy. There’s also a wall-mount bracket, which is nice to have, positioned in the center among the dotted bass ports.
Setup and App
Trueplay might only be available on iOS, but Sonos’s main app works just as well on Android too. This app is almost ridiculously simple to use. You connect the speaker to the wall, turn it on (and then jump backwards when the thing emits a pleasantly booming musical tone at you) and connect it your Wi-Fi using the app. You do the wavy-wavy-handy-dancey thing with your phone, and then you start playing music. That’s it.
In its entirety. Never has playing music through a sound system been this easy, or this pleasurable. You can not only play music stored on your phone, but also connect to dozens of streaming services, including Spotify and Soundcloud. TuneIn Radio allows access to thousands of stations from across the world. The app is beautifully designed and impeccably laid out.
Once it’s plugged in, the system is always on – there’s no wait time, no hunting for the on switch, just instant music. Compare that to something like the Paradigm Shift PW-600 (full review here) which is about the most finicky wireless speaker we can imagine.
Essentially: with this system, you can have almost any musical track ever recorded playing in seconds, with almost no effort. There’s something to be said for that. (One word of warning: if you have wireless speakers from another brand, the Play:3 won’t play nice with them. This is a closed ecosystem – one of the bigger problems we have with this speaker.)
The usual Sonos qualities also continue to shine through, from excellent build, streaming from Spotify, Napster and internet radio, and brilliant format support – although we would like to see high-res studio masters included in a future update.
Packaging & Accessories
You really don’t get a lot of accessories with the Sonos Play:3. Outside of a standard power cable, the only other accessory is a simple ethernet cable, which most people probably won’t even use. It’s the kind of thing that will almost certainly land up in the tool draw in your house – you know the one, where you keep spare batteries and screws and weird zip ties and drill bits.
Every house has one, and we guarantee that you’ll rediscover this cable in 20 years, and be completely unable to remember what it came from. Beyond that, you get a simple, well-designed manual…and that’s it. Nothing we didn’t expect to see, and no significant absences, either.
Sonos have always been good with their packaging. Not just in the sense that it’s attractive, but in the sense that it’s really been built for human beings. Most amplifiers – and indeed, most wireless speakers – come in basic cardboard boxes that you’ll forget the moment you turn away from them. The Sonos Play:3 is a little bit different.
The black box not only looks good, but has an intelligent set of instructions on the outside, which mean that you almost don’t need to refer to the included manual. The company is really good at not only designing good packaging, but also to keep returning to it. The box for the recent Sonos Playbase was brilliant, and something we’d like to see more of.