First look: Ikea Symfonisk parcels the best of Sonos into a budget package

Our initial impressions of the bookshelf and lamp speakers

First look at Ikea Symfonisk

Here at Milan Design Week, there have been plenty of intangible concepts exhibited: automakers delivering shiny models, tech's elite pondering the future and fashion houses, well, being fashion houses. In a welcome change of pace, though, Ikea and Sonos are instead using the platform to debut Symfonisk, their first launch since partnering back in 2017.

There's no flatpack in sight, thankfully, with the pair instead producing a bookshelf smart speaker and another disguised as a lamp. Perhaps most importantly, the price matches the Swedish furnishing giant's usual wares, while still offering Sonos audio smarts – the regular speaker is just $99.95, while the lamp hybrid will be $179.99. Both go on sale in August.

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There's plenty to be intrigued about, naturally – it's not every day two established smart home powers collaborate in such a way. But is this one Ikea collection worth skipping over in favour of the real thing from Sonos, or is there a genuine reason to make this a part of your smart setup? We've demoed the new pairing in order to find out.

Ikea Symfonisk: Design

First look: Ikea Symfonisk gets the best of Sonos and parcels it in a budget package

Since Ikea is no stranger to designing its own products, it's been particularly interesting waiting to see how it would enter the smart speaker space. And though the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker is very much among the budget clan, it's still decided to forego the plasticky look of comparable devices and plumped straight for the fabric mesh offered by the biggest players. Neither Symfonisk device has quite the same sleek, grilled finish as the HomePod, but it's fairly similar to that of the latest Echo range.

And, naturally, decluttering your room is a huge part of the design appeal here. The Symfonisk lamp, of course, rolls two applications into one, while the bookshelf speaker can also be used as, erm, a shelf, with Ikea saying that it'll hold around 6-7 pounds of weight.

It tucks perfectly into Ikea's existing shelf lines, too, and there's even scope for the bracket on the back to be hooked onto an Ikea kitchen rail. It's versatile, clean and clever design work that is all too often forgotten by the likes of Amazon and Google (although admittedly it's harder to achieve if you don't already have your own proprietary furniture range).

First look: Ikea Symfonisk gets the best of Sonos and parcels it in a budget package

(The Symfonisk shelf speaker can be clipped onto one of the company's kitchen rails)

We imagine the shelf speaker's look will win many fans, though the lamp is much more divisive. It's a neat innovation to merge a lamp and speaker, sure, but it does very much look like a sex toy, doesn't it? Maybe that's fine with you – maybe you think it looks more like Toad from the Mario series, or whatever – but there's no doubt that there are better looking lamps you can buy, if that's your priority here.

Music control on both is the same, with buttons to raise/lower the sound and pause, while the lamp features the switch shown below to turn light on/off.

Ikea Symfonisk: Smarts and sound performance

First look: Ikea Symfonisk gets the best of Sonos and parcels it in a budget package

We've reserved this section to talk about the meat of these speakers – the smarts – but, in reality, there's little to go off here. Ikea and Sonos have decided against the inclusion of Alexa (or Google Assistant, which Sonos is still hoping to bring to its devices in 2019) in their initial collaborative effort, though you will be able to control the Symfonisk duo through the Sonos app and speakers that do house voice control, such as the Sonos Beam and Sonos One.

The speakers are still smart, just not in the same way most rivals – or even some Sonos speakers – are. However, the big bonus here is their ability to link up to other Sonos speakers for the multi-room effect. It's now cheaper than ever to fill your home with Sonos sound, and a pair of these devices can even link up to create stereo sound. They're also AirPlay 2 compatible, meaning you can ping tunes from your Apple device.

First look: Ikea Symfonisk gets the best of Sonos and parcels it in a budget package

(The Ikea Symfonisk lamp can be turned off by twisting the dial 45-degrees)

But is this Sonos as you know and love it? Well, in our demo of the Symfonisk speakers, which put a song up against the Sonos One, there's not too much to split between the pair. There's undoubtedly crisper sound and bass on the One, but the bookshelf speaker is no slouch – particularly considering its price. And while we were very impressed by the stereo quality of two bookshelf speakers together on opposite sides of a room, the lamp's audio felt a little tinnier, with less bass. It's not terrible by any stretch, but we wouldn't recommend making it your main speaker. And really, that should be a given – it is a lamp, after all.

As you might expect, there's no built-in support for the company's own Tradfri smart lights either, meaning you'll still need the gateway if you want to screw in a E14 or E12 bulb – though we're told that an app will come in October that allows users to mix sound and light in routines.

Ikea Symfonisk: Initial verdict

First look: Ikea Symfonisk gets the best of Sonos and parcels it in a budget package

The first collaboration from Ikea and Sonos has produced some positives in both design and performance, with the pair both benefitting from each other's expertise. Sonos gets to plug its ecosystem into homes more easily, while Ikea is able to further its smart home ambitions with the backing of a trusted audio name.

We're encouraged by the initial demo – particularly the capabilities of the bookshelf speaker – but it is a little disappointing the smarts have been held back for a later iteration. We have no doubts they'll appear in future projects from the pair, but for now you'll have to be content with this becoming a smart home add-on, rather than the controller.

And, for the price, it feels like it's hard to go wrong here. When you consider the versatility in the designs, too, both can be great additions to the smart home. We'll be looking to test out the pair out in full ahead of their release this summer – check back for our extended review.


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