Sonos PLAY:5 review: old vs new
A side-by-side comparison of the original and the redesigned PLAY:5 wireless speaker
Sonos doesn’t often introduce new hardware into their successful lineup of multi-room speakers. So when they do, it’s a big deal — especially considering how much our customers (and LOTS of our employees) love their wireless powered speakers and components.
The new PLAY:5 was designed to replace the original flagship speaker in the Sonos lineup. Naturally, we wondered about the differences between the two. So I volunteered to take them both home for a side-by-side comparison.
The redesigned PLAY:5 has a more modern look that’s streamlined and curved. I’m no design expert, but the new one definitely looks more elegant. Like the original, it’s available in black and white, though the grille is black in both versions.
The functionality of the redesigned PLAY:5 is the same as the original — using the free Sonos app, you can play music wirelessly through the speaker using your smartphone, tablet, or computer from a variety of music services as well as locally stored music files. But the onboard controls of the new PLAY:5 are slightly different.
The original PLAY:5's control buttons (left) have been replaced by a smart touch interface.
While the original had control buttons on the top panel, the new version features touch sensors. Tap on the play/pause strip at the top to start or stop the music. Swipe your finger left-to-right across the top to skip tracks, or right-to-left to skip back. Volume controls are as simple as tapping on the sensors on the right or left side. The big benefit is that once you use them a few times, you never have to look at them again. You just tap and swipe rather than having to make sure you’re pressing the right button.
More drivers, more amplification
The new PLAY:5 adds a sixth driver and amplifier to the five found in the original. That should mean better sound and more power. It’s also worth noting that the new version weighs almost five pounds more than the original.
The redesigned PLAY:5 has six built-in drivers powered by discrete amplifiers.
Listening to both speakers side by side, there’s no doubt: the redesigned PLAY:5 is a significant step up from the original.
The first thing I noticed was bass that went much deeper with more punch. I demoed Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” to see just how much lower the new version goes. I was shocked — this speaker has the power to be an instant party machine. If you think a single-box speaker system can’t deliver the low-frequency goods, you need to hear the new PLAY:5.
Compared to the original, the redesigned version creates a soundstage with more width and depth. The old PLAY:5 sounds more like it’s projecting a flat plane of sound, while the new one is much more spacious. It offers better instrument separation so you can hear more detail in the music. It’s definitely closer to the experience of stereo speakers.
The ability to make vocals stand out in the mix was a consistent strength of the redesigned speaker. I sampled “Hope She’ll Be Happier” by Bill Withers from his Live at Carnegie Hall album. When his vocals kicked in, they startled me with how immediate and up-front they were.
Tonally, the new PLAY:5 is smoother than the original. High frequencies were never grating like they can sometimes be at loud volumes with wireless speakers. I also noticed how the redesigned version seems to have a lower noise floor. When I sampled quieter tracks, like some acoustic blues, the new version did a better job of placing the sparse instrumentation on a quiet background. Think of it as the audio equivalent of a TV that offers deep blacks for more picture contrast.
The new version will play a little louder than the original. But it’s really more about how much better it sounds as you push the volume higher and higher. The new PLAY:5 maintains its smoothness, while the original starts to get a bit harsh as you approach the upper limit of its output.
The new version of the PLAY:5 offers extended bass response and a deeper, wider soundstage.
Stereo pairing makes a killer one-two punch
In a demo here at Crutchfield HQ, we got to hear two of the new PLAY:5 speakers paired for stereo playback. More than a few jaws dropped at just how much clear, dynamic sound they produced. This setup rivaled some truly fine stereo-speaker-and-amp combinations we’ve heard in the same room.
When you're setting up a stereo pair, you can rest the new PLAY:5 speakers on their end for vertical orientation. The speaker will automatically detect this setup and adjust the sound accordingly. That allows you to get the best stereo image while also fitting these speakers into narrow spaces on a shelf or stand.
The bottom line
With the redesigned PLAY:5, Sonos has taken a big leap forward with their flagship speaker. Its looks are cleaner and more modern, the onboard controls are easier to use, and the sound quality is as good as I’ve heard from any single-box wireless speaker. When you combine that with the excellent app experience and simple setup that Sonos offers, you’ve got as strong a foundation for a multi-room music system as you can find.