Sonos in depth: Everything you need to know about the multi-room audio system

Your complete guide to the connected speaker range

Sonos ultimate guide
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Launched way back in 2005, Sonos is still the biggest name in multi-room speakers. With an array of speakers to choose from, smart home connectivity and a reputation for fantastic sound, Sonos has been pretty much unchallenged in the last decade or so when it comes to everyday folk's (i.e. non-audiophiles') streaming music systems.

The likes of Apple's HomePod, Amazon's Echo range, as well as audio specialists such as Bose, JBL, Naim and Denon, all have dedicated Sonos alternatives, but it's the Santa Barbara company that still just about wins out for us, for a number of reasons - although the recent update outrage has shifted the landscape somewhat... but more of that in a bit.

Sonos is so simple to set up, whether you want one speaker, a stereo-pair or in-sync speakers in various rooms, and the array of playback options is staggering – think local storage, streaming services, internet radio, TV audio and more. Cost-wise, there are better priced options, but you're certainly getting what you pay for in terms of performance with Sonos.

It does lack somewhat on the smart home front, compared to its dedicated smart speaker rivals, but that's an area where it's continuously improving – not only with its own Alexa-packing speakers, but now with Google Assistant support too, along with other platforms like AirPlay.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about Sonos.

Sonos: How does it work?

Sonos started life way back in 2005, as a remote control (with a display) and an amplifying box – the ZP100 – that effectively made dumb speakers connected. The ZP100 had Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity and, using the controller, you could stream your locally stored digital music, as well as tapping into some internet radio services.

Sonos missing manual: Everything you need to know about the multi-room audio system

Nowadays, Sonos is effectively a collection of connected speakers that team up with an app – mobile or desktop – to let you stream your music from a huge array of sources. You can have just one Sonos speaker in your setup but the fun starts when you begin to team them up.

Setting up and Sonos Trueplay

Sonos missing manual: Everything you need to know about the multi-room audio system

Whether you're setting up a solo Sonos speaker, or connecting up a bunch of them (you can have a maximum of 32, by the way), you'll start by creating a Sonos account. On a PC or mobile device, operating on your home's Wi-Fi – the same Wi-Fi that your Sonos system will use (to begin with, at least) – get the Sonos app and create an account. You're then walked through the process of adding speakers to the mix.

The best way to do this is using an iOS device so you can make use of Sonos' Trueplay tech – essentially a calibration tool that uses your iPhone or iPad's microphone to measure sound reflections off your room's walls to decipher room size, layout, furniture, speaker placement and any other acoustic factors that impact on sound quality.

It takes a few minutes of you waving your iOS device around the room and then the app adjusts the speaker's woofer and tweeter for the best sound. Sure, the HomePod can do all this without you walking around a room with a phone in your hand, but it does mean the best possible sound from each speaker.

That said, Sonos' latest speaker, the Move, actually has a new version of Trueplay, Automatic Trueplay. Like it sounds, this gives you all the benefits of tuning but doesn't need you to actually do anything. We're hoping it will spread to Sonos' other speakers, because it's a fantastic bit of efficiency compared to waving your phone around, and means you're not sunk if you have an Android phone.

Multi-room audio

Once you've gone through the process of adding all of your Sonos speakers, naming them and assigning rooms (and creating dedicated pairs of stereo-speakers, if you wish), you'll have a multi-room audio setup at your fingertips.

You can choose to play back different music sources in different rooms, or you can group speakers so they play back the same source, at the exact same time, perfectly in sync. Once you create groupings, your Sonos system will remember these until you ungroup them – it really is as simple as checking or unchecking a box in the app. You can have as many groups set up as you like, but a speaker can only be in one group at a time.

These groups also stay intact when driving Sonos from another source. For example, you can associate Amazon Echo devices with Sonos speakers, creating groups where the Sonos speakers are the default music playback for a command heard by your Echo devices. Same with Google Assistant now too.

Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Boost setup and more

Sonos speakers are not Bluetooth speakers – they operate on the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. That means a larger range, uncompressed audio and better control around your whole house. It also means that the speakers themselves are streaming the audio, rather than simply relaying what your phone sends over to them. The one exception to this rule is the Sonos Move, which can double up as a Bluetooth speaker when you take it off its charging cradle

When you first set up a Sonos speaker, though, by default it just runs on your home Wi-Fi network – and the speakers need to have a good signal to your router to operate without lag or drops.

But you can improve things by creating a Boost setup (sometimes referred to as 'Sonosnet'). What this means is a separate 2.4GHz mesh network that operates away from your home Wi-Fi, while at the same time still using your router's connection to the web for its internet-based sources.

The easiest way to do this, if possible, is to connect one of your Sonos speakers – any one will do – to your router using Ethernet. This will make your Sonos speaker a hub for the Boost network. However, the best setup – albeit at an extra cost – is to add a Sonos Boost ($99) to the mix; a dedicated wireless booster that broadcasts 360 degree signals around your house.

What you can play on Sonos

When Sonos started life it was essentially a streamer for your locally stored digital music – think MP3s stored on a NAS drive or within your iTunes library. And while the system is still capable of that, it now offers a whole lot more.

All of the major streaming services are on offer through Sonos speakers (you simply need to sync up your accounts in the app). The list includes: Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Soundcloud, Google Play Music, Qobuz and Tidal.

In terms of radio playback, you can tap into the millions of digital stations from around the world through TuneIn or SiriusXM.

Finally, you can also use a Sonos device with a line-in option, or a Sonos TV speaker with digital optical audio, to stream pretty much anything you like around your house – whether that be sound from your ancient hi-fi's cassette deck, the audio from a TV broadcast or even your record player's vinyl… but more on that in a bit.

One piece of advice – if you are planning on streaming anything other than compressed digital music (i.e internet radio, stored MP3s, Spotify and the like), then you'll want a Boost setup to avoid choppy playback.

The Sonos app

The Sonos app, on desktop, iOS or Android is a strange beast. It used to be awful. It's now less awful but still not great. Sure, it does have everything in one place and the main ingredients – grouping speakers, searching for songs and so on – are all straightforward enough… it's just much more clunky than it should be.

Sonos missing manual: Everything you need to know about the multi-room audio system

Sonos is getting more open – you can choose Sonos speakers from within the Spotify app, for example – but we do wish everything was a bit more polished.

Another nice feature of the app is the ability to create playlists with a mix of songs that aren't dependent on their origins being in tandem. You can mix up songs from your NAS drive, Spotify, Apple Music… and throw them all in together.

The app is also the place where you'll add favourites (radio stations, playlists etc), set timers or alarms and tweak your Sonos settings.

Sonos speakers: What to buy and where to buy them…

There's an ever-expanding range of different Sonos speakers available, all of which have Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity as standard. Below you'll find a selection of the ones you need to know about, with some key details about each.

But first, you need to know out the new update policy, which was announced in January 2020. From May, Sonos will stop updating its 'legacy products'. That's the original Zone Players, Connect, and Connect:Amp, the first-generation Play:5, the CR200 and the Sonos Bridge.

You will have the option of carrying on using your Sonos setup, as is; you just won't receive software updates and new features as they launch.

However, f your Sonos system comprises even just one of those legacy devices and a bunch of the newer speakers, you'll have to ditch your old one, or condemn your new speakers to the same no-more-updates fate.

You can split your system apart - which is completely a non-runner for most Sonos setups - or simply let your old Sonos speakers die. You can also upgrade your old Sonos kit using a 30% credit trade-in program, but that still won't stop your old speaker from life in a landfill.

It's all a bit of a PR nightmare for Sonos, to be honest. However, if you are still thinking of building, or adding to, a Sonos system then there are some great speakers to choose from:

Sonos missing manual: What you need to know about the multi-room audio system

Sonos Move

Buy now: Amazon | $399

Sonos has got a brand new speaker that's hit the market in September, the brilliant Sonos Move - and it's breaking new ground for the sound experts.

The Move is Sonos' first portable speaker, and is also Bluetooth-compatible. It lives on a charging cradle in your home, and when it's there is effectively a more powerful Sonos One, with all the smart assistant compatibility that entails and booming sound.

Read more: Sonos Move v Sonos One

But, when you pick it up by its nook-like handle, it can switch to Bluetooth mode and become a seriously powerful weatherproofed outdoor speaker, with Automatic Trueplay adapting its sound to your surroundings.

Sonos Play:1

Buy now: Amazon | $149

The baby of the bunch, the Sonos Play:1 is ideal for bedrooms, kitchens and the like, working solo – or works brilliantly in a bigger room as part of a pair of stereo speakers.

Weighing less than 1.85kg, and measuring a mere 16cm tall, the Play:1 packs plenty of audio bang for its buck with two Class-D digital amplifiers, a tweeter for clear high-frequency response and a mid-woofer for mid-range vocal frequencies.

Sonos Play:5

Buy now: Amazon | $499

The flagship Play:5, which features six Class-D digital amplifiers, six dedicated speaker drivers, three tweeters and three mid-woofers, is the 2nd-gen Play:5. It's the original first-gen Play:5 that won't be getting the updates going forward.

The Play:5 has a line-in on the back for your analogue system and also offers up a pair of Ethernet ports so it can act as a handy switch or extender for your wired devices. Like the Play:3 it can sit in either portrait or landscape.

Sonos missing manual: What you need to know about the multi-room audio system

Sonos One

Buy now: Amazon | $199

The Sonos One is effectively the Play:1 with an added ingredient: a digital assistant (your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant).

Sure, you can control your non-smart Sonos speakers through your Echo devices (we'll get to the details on that in a bit) but the One is your only dedicated tabletop Sonos smart speaker, i.e. you can use it to control your lights, locks and the like, as well as asking for Alexa or GA's help with various digital tasks. AirPlay 2 arrived on the smart speaker last year as well.

Sonos has also refreshed the One with the Gen 2 model, but the differences are very minor. The Gen 2 has some updated internal organs – a faster processor and more memory – and the addition of Bluetooth Low Energy, which makes it easier to get the speaker going. Otherwise though, it's the same, and probably not worth an upgrade if you have a Gen 1 model.

Sonos One SL

Buy now: Amazon | $179

If you like the look of the Sonos One, but aren't sure you've got any need for built in smart assistant compatibility, Sonos has a solution for you. It's brought out the Sonos One SL, effectively the exact same speaker as the Sonos One, minus the microphones and assistants.

This means if you already have a Sonos One and are looking to pair it, or if you're simply averse to microphones in your home, you can get the exact same sound quality, in the exact same package and body, without that component. The One SL is a tad cheaper than the standard Sonos One, at $179.

Sonos Play:3

Buy now: Amazon | $199

The stereo mid-ranger, the Play:3 has three Class-D amplifiers and three custom-built drivers for an impressive sound stage and there's also a bass radiator for those low notes.

Like the Play:1, it comes in black or white and you can also pair two Play:3s together as left and right speakers in a stereo setup.

Sonos Architectural by Sonance

Buy now: Amazon | From $599

Sonos also offers non-bookshelf speakers, in the form of the Sonos Architectural by Sonance lineup, which includes in-wall, in-ceiling and outdoor speakers.

They will need to be hooked up to the Sonos Amp to work, which means that embracing this new range of Architectural Sonos isn’t cheap. On top of the Sonos Amp, the Sonance line-up consists of the Sonos In-Wall ($799), the Sonos In-Ceiling ($599) and the Sonos Outdoor ($799).

The Sonos Amp auto-recognise and connect to the Sonance wall speakers, and you’ll be able to tune them via TruePlay..

Sonos missing manual: What you need to know about the multi-room audio system

Sonos Symfonisk

Back in 2016 Sonos and Ikea teamed up for a new line of speakers called Symfonisk, which put Sonos' sound tech inside Ikea's designs. Now, years later, we have the fruits of those labors, a bookshelf speaker and a table lamp. That lamp especially tries to disguise its speaker, but both of these are card-carrying Sonos members and can slip into your existing Sonos system with ease.

And Sonos' acoustic know-how is clearly at work, although neither speaker sounds quite as good as anything you'll get in the 'core' Sonos family. But it's still great, and at just $99 for that bookshelf speaker, there's little else out there that's comparable. Check out our full Ikea Symfonisk review.

For your TV

Sonos missing manual: What you need to know about the multi-room audio system

As well as the music-focused speakers listed above, Sonos also has a few options to soundtrack your TV.

Both the Playbar and the Playbase connect up to your TV through a digital optical cable – the Beam uses HDMI and, as well as playing back your TV's audio in stereo or Dolby Digital, they can also play music from the same sources as a regular Sonos speaker, as well as forming part of a multi-room speaker setup.

Sonos Beam

Buy now: Amazon | $399

The newest and most compact member of the smart soundbar clan, the Beam brings a single tweeter in the middle and three passive radiators, as well as four full-range woofers. There’s also a five-mic array for voice control, which makes it easy for Alexa or Google Assistant to hear you from a distance and over whatever is being played through the speakers. AirPlay 2 is also on board for syncing up with your HomePods.

Sonos Playbar

Buy now: Amazon | $662

The Playbar can be wall mounted, or sit below the TV on a unit. It's easy enough to set your TV remote to control the volume and the sound stage created from a solitary speaker for movies and TV shows is awesome.

Sonos Playbase

Buy now: Amazon | $699

Technically, the Playbase ups the Playbar with an extra digital amplifier – ten, as opposed to nine – but Sonos has tuned them to sound as similar to each other as possible, so your choice comes down to practicality, really.

The extras

Sonos missing manual: What you need to know about the multi-room audio system

That's your lot when it comes to audio output, but there are some additional accessories to make your Sonos system harder, better, faster, stronger.

Sonos Port

Buy now: Amazon | $449

Sonos' new Port is an update to the older Connect systems, and will allow you to hook up your old speakers to your Sonos system, rendering what was once dumb very much smart.

Brilliantly, it also includes a 12V trigger, meaning it can turn those devices on and off without you needing to get up and do it yourself.

Sonos Sub

Buy now: Amazon | $699

Sonos' subwoofer isn't just for a TV surround sound setup, although that's obviously where it excels. It is also great for adding bass to your music and, again, you can just throw it into a group as per a regular speaker.

Sonos Amp

Buy now: Amazon | $599

A replacement for the Connect:Amp, the $599 Amp is twice as powerful as its predecessor, coming with support for up to four speakers with 125 watts per channel. It also supports AirPlay 2.

Sonos 5.1 surround sound system

Sonos missing manual: Everything you need to know about the multi-room audio system

As well as being able to pair up your Sonos speakers for stereo sound, and the multi-room synced music, you can also create a dedicated 5.1 TV surround system from within the Sonos app.

For this you'll need two key ingredients to get started – the Sonos Sub and one of the three Sonos TV speakers: the Playbase, Beam or the Playbar. That's a 3.1 system right there and Sonos actually sells 3.1 bundles with these setups from $1,098 – that price is for a Beam-based system, you'll pay a bit more to get a Playbar or Playbase involved.

To get to 5.1 you obviously need to add a couple of rear speakers and you can do this with either a pair of Play:1s or Ones from $1,398. Technically, you could throw some Play:3s or Play:5s at the back, but that would be some level of overkill.

Looking for a Sonos 7.1 system? You're out of luck, there's no official way of doing this at present.

Sonos in the smart home – Alexa, Google Assistant and more

Sonos missing manual: Everything you need to know about the multi-room audio system

As we said in the intro, Sonos is getting better on the smart home front – its Works with Sonos program has partners like Wink, Lutron, Logitech and Yonomi on board, making things like automation recipes possible.

Alexa is also friendly with Sonos – Amazon's assistant lives on the Sonos One and Beam (alongside the Google Assistant), but also via the Sonos Skill, so any Echo can control your existing Sonos speakers. In essence, that means you can add voice control for as little as $30 using an Echo Dot, and totally transform your setup.

Check out our guide to Sonos and Alexa to find out exactly what you can and can't do – but remember, you'll need a Sonos One with Alexa on board to actually control things in your smart home.

You can also now associate Amazon Echo devices with Sonos speakers using the Alexa app; creating groups where the Sonos speakers are the default playback for a command heard. Sonos has also fixed the problem of its speakers lowering the volume every time you talk to Alexa on your Echo, but it's a little tricky – check out our guide on how to fix it.

Google Assistant integration has also now arrived (check out how to enable it right here) and works much the same as the above, which includes using any Google Assistant speaker to control older Sonos models.

However, while Google Assistant and Alexa are both available inside the Sonos One and Beam, they can't cohabit – so you'll have to choose which one you want. Don't worry, you can swap them at any time, and you can even have different assistants running on different Sonos speakers in the house.

Sonos and AirPlay 2

Great news – Apple's AirPlay 2 plays nicely with your Sonos system. Sort of. Some of it at least. The Sonos One, One SL, Sonos Move, the second-gen Play:5, the Playbase and the newest soundbar, the Beam, are all AirPlay 2 enabled speakers and can sync up with the HomePod and other AirPlay 2 speakers.

The rest of the bunch are not – but you can include them by pre-grouping them with one of the speakers listed above in advance. That's because the new Sonos speakers will act as "hubs" while the old ones will just stream the music or audio they need to.

Sonos streaming vinyl from your record player

Sonos missing manual: Everything you need to know about the multi-room audio system

We've spoken about adding a Port, Amp, Connect or Connect:AMP to the mix in order to bring your non-connected audio equipment into your Sonos groups, and one of the most common requests is for people to stream their vinyl record collections over their Sonos speakers.

The good news is that it's not only possible but also easy to set up. You can either use a Connect or Connect:AMP as stated – using the line-in port – or just go straight into a Play:5's line-in port.

Simply group up speakers to whatever Sonos device your record player is connected to, click play on the Line-in source and you're away.

Sonos and IFTTT

IFTTT compatibility lets Sonos users integrate their speakers into the wider smart home in a number of interesting ways. For example, you could add a recipe that starts Sonos playing your favourite song when your smart lock registers you arriving home, or a recipe that stops all music playing when your Nest Protect alarm detects smoke.

IFTTT has control over the basic playback functions: pause/resume/next/previous, and the volume controls. The integration is in beta right now, and Sonos says it will be adding more functionality as the beta develops.

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