In the beginning was the Sonos S5, that became the Sonos Play:5. Then came the Play:5 Gen 2 – and now here’s the Sonos Five. Can you tell one from the other in a lineup? Almost certainly not.
The Five is certainly the largest and probably the most powerful speaker in the entire Sonos range (it’s hard to say for sure, as Sonos remains extremely cautious about publishing details like ‘power’). It has been updated on the inside, slightly smoother on the outside. It’s part of what’s widely recognized as the best multi-room ecosystem out there. But is it good?
The Sonos Five costs £499 in the UK. Or at least it does if you shop direct from Sonos – there are quite a few retailers out there that will charge you a little less. In the United States, it retails for around $549 (again, that’s in Sonos country), while Australian customers should expect to part with AU$799.
You hardly need us to tell you that there’s quite a bit of choice when it comes to wireless speakers for this kind of money. Heck, some of them even have Bluetooth connectivity. But as well-specified as the alternatives to the Five are, are any of them members of the world’s most stable, simplest, straightforward multi-room ecosystem? I do not think so.
Straight as a brick, the Sonos Five isn’t so much “designed” as it is “carved.” Broadly speaking, it is the same as the products that preceded it: a closed, somewhat trapezoidal case that is slightly larger on the (metal grille-covered) business side than on the back.
Available in matte black or matte white finishes, the Five – like every Sonos product – is built and finished to a high standard. It’s designed to be in a ‘landscape’ setup when used as a separate speaker, but it can be turned into ‘portrait’ if you fancy using a pair of Fives as a stereo pair.
Inside, the Five is the same as ever, or rather, as its predecessors. Six blocks of Class D amplification feed six individual speaker drivers: three mid/bass units (firing more or less forward), two moderately outward-firing tweeters, and a third tweeter pointing straight ahead. This is the arrangement that Sonos stumbled upon a long time ago because it offered an acceptably wide spread of sound.
The physical connectivity is located on the back of the case. In addition to mains power, there is an Ethernet connection and a 3.5mm analogue input. Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, runs to Apple AirPlay 2 – you weren’t expecting Bluetooth, were you? After all, this is Sonos we’re dealing with here…
There are a few physical controls on the top of the case – small capacitive symbols cover ‘play/pause’ and ‘volume up/down’. By swiping over instead of just touching, you can skip forward or backward through your audio selection.
Sonos Five tech specs
Inputs 3.5mm analog line-in, Ethernet, Apple AirPlay 2
Functions TruePlay room calibration (for iOS), stereo pairing
app Yes (iOS and Android)
Dimensions (hwd) 20.3 x 36.4 x 15.4 cm
Of course, it’s just as easy to control the Five through the exemplary Sonos app – after all, it’s this app’s stability, simplicity and friendliness that are a big part of Sonos’ burgeoning ubiquity. In addition to wide playback options, the app offers EQ adjustment, lets you trim the stereo balance (if you have a pair of Fives), integrate your speaker into your wider multi-channel and/or multi-room Sonos system, and – if you have an iOS user – run the TruePlay calibration function. Granted, it requires you to walk around your listening room waving your smartphone, but it only needs to be done once, and it’s pretty effective.
However, there are no integrated microphones here, meaning no voice control. Of course, if you have a Sonos speaker with microphone as part of a wider system, it’s possible to get the Five to do what you want just by raising your voice.
A key feature of the model that replaces the Five is the upgraded, higher performing processor. There are always rumors about Sonos, and the one about support for high-res audio is one of the most common – so why don’t we join in? Could this new, improved processor be in place to enable the Five to support High-Resolution Audio? We will all just have to wait and see.
The case for TruePlay is made pretty strong when you first unbox your Five and play some music. Before TruePlay has had a chance to do its thing, the sound of Moodymann’s Taken away is all too bass-forward and lacking in definition. Low frequencies dominate, at the expense of the rest of the frequency range, and bass sounds themselves are far from the most disciplined or well-defined. If you’re an Android user fancying a piece of the Sonos Five action, you can ask an iOS-equipped friend to come over and TruePlay your new speaker for you.
After TruePlay, the Five sounds more balanced and organized overall. It’s still very pleased with its low-frequency response, but it controls the attack and decay of bass sounds more effectively – and where there was a tendency to boom before, there’s a lot more detail, more texture and more insight at the bottom end. Bass is still overconfident, you see, but not fatally now.
Medium-sized information projects are making good progress. It’s not what you’d call “transparent,” but there’s more than enough information available to reveal a singer’s character and attitude. The soundstage the Five creates is spacious enough and sufficiently well-mapped to give vocalists plenty of room to express themselves without being overwhelmed by the activity around them – but at the same time they are presented as part of a cohesive whole rather than sounds removed or distant.
The top of the frequency range is slightly rounded, presumably both in the name of ‘good taste’ and also to prevent highs from becoming harsh or sharp at volume. Because make no mistake, the Sonos Five is capable of considerable volume. Of course, you’ll never be in any doubt as to where the sound is coming from, as the point source is always clear when using a single speaker. But unless you’re listening in a very large room, or a room with very high ceilings, this speaker is more than capable of room-filling volume. And it’s admirable that it doesn’t change its sound characteristics when you wind it up, it just gets louder.
It’s also a fairly dynamic device when it comes to the broad strokes of ‘quiet / LOUD / LOUDER STILL’ – it can go through the gears without getting stressed in any way. The subtler dynamics of the second stage of harmonic variation can escape it, especially when a recording is particularly dense or otherwise complex, but overall the Sonos is quite competitive in this regard.
If you’re already a Sonos believer, the Five is approaching “no-brainer” status – it’s quite succeeded in quite a few ways. However, if you’re just looking for the best way to spend this kind of money on a wireless speaker, then other products should be on your shortlist as well, especially if you fancy a stereo pair.
Read our review of the Audio Pro add-on C10 MkII
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