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Ikea is known for functional, affordable furniture. Sonos is known for easy-to-use, but not necessarily affordable, wireless multiroom speakers. In the Symfonisk Bookshelf the twain shall meet, and the result is the lowest price on a Sonos-compatible Wi-Fi speaker yet. And it also sounds good as anybody can expect for a $99 (£99) speaker.
No, it's not nearly as cool as the $179 (£150) Ikea Symfonisk Table Lamp, which combines a speaker with an attractive, functional light fixture. The Bookshelf is simply a versatile multiroom Wi-Fi speaker that offers similar levels of Sonos-based utility, while cutting the price in half.
The Bookshelf sounds very similar to the Lamp, though with less bass, and its price makes it a great option for a kid's system or paired as set of rears for the Sonos Beam, Playbar or Playbase. It takes the Sonos ecosystem to a place it's never been before: multiroom music for less than $100.
The Symfonisk Bookshelf is not shaped like your typical powered speaker. It's tall and thin instead of squat, measuring a foot tall, 4 inches wide and 6 inches deep. It includes a removable woolen grille that hides a single mid-bass driver and a soft-dome tweeter. The front hosts physical Play and Volume buttons while the rear only offers a backup Ethernet port, in case you don't want to use Wi-Fi.
The Symfonisk is designed to be mounted on the wall, that's where the "shelf" part comes in -- the speaker itself is able to hold up to 6.6 pounds. Its rubber grommets on the outside help reduce vibration and stop things you put on it from sliding off. The wall-mount bracket allowing it to function as a shelf isn't included in the box, instead it's available as a $20 extra.
The Symfonisk Bookshelf is fully compatible with the Sonos multiroom system, and like other Sonos products it doesn't have Bluetooth streaming. It can be controlled either with the Sonos app, a third-party streaming service such as Spotify Connect, or with a voice assistant such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple's Siri. Apple AirPlay 2 compatibility means that the Bookshelf could also make an affordable multiroom partner with the Apple HomePod. Like other Sonos speakers, two Bookshelves can be paired in stereo or used as rears for the Sonos Beam.
The Ikea Symfonisk is compatible with the Sonos Trueplay calibration system, but depending on your room the results may vary. Thankfully if you don't like the resulting sound the Sonos app offers the ability to toggle Trueplay calibration on and off so you can compare them.
I used the Bookshelf in a variety of ways including as a single unit, in stereo and as rears for three different sound bars. While the rear speaker option was the best, the other configurations offered their own charms. Each required its own setup, and each time I had to hold the controls on the front down quite hard, while steadying it with my other hand, to get the speakers to register.
I used the Bookshelves as a pair of rears for the Sonos Playbar and Sub combo first, and chose to use a manual setup followed by a Trueplay touch-up. It took a little bit of tweaking in the Advanced Audio menu to get the blend between the sub, the bar and the rears right. But once I did the Shelves blended right in.
The Symfonisk range offers its own sound that's similar to the excellent $200 Sonos One smart speaker, with a few differences. The One has a slightly recessed midrange while the Symfonisk Bookshelf and Lamp are a little more open sounding, though less refined.
As a single speaker I found that the Bookshelf is brighter than the One, and comparatively lacking in bass. The midrange is expressive though a little ragged with brighter recordings, but it sounds better than a wireless speaker at this price should. As a background speaker it works great, and I could imagine bookshops or coffee shops gravitating toward the Shelf as a way to play music for their customers.
As a stereo pair the Symfonisk wasn't as convincing as a single Sonos One, and the channels could occasionally drop out or go out of sync just enough to create a confused stereo image. When it snapped into focus, however, it offered an enjoyable musical experience.
In comparison the Sonos One as a stereo pair was simply superb (as I'd expect at $400 total for both speakers). It was rock solid, and refined. The stereo Ones made Sleater Kinney's glitchy The Center Won't Hold more listenable than either the Symfonisk Bookshelf pair or even the Sonos Playbar. The Ones ensured the song had plenty of drive, especially during the last minute when the full band kicked in. Corin Tucker's voice was planted dead center while it was a little too wishy-washy with the Shelfs.
But it was when used as a pair of surrounds that the Bookshelf truly shone. Paired with the Sonos Playbar the speakers disappeared and the jungles of Avatar's Pandora filled the CNET listening room to the brim. Here the slightly out-of-phase nature didn't matter as I was focused on the screen at all times. Surround steering was some of the best I'd heard from a Sonos setup. For Sonos sound bar users seeking rear surround speakers, $200 for a pair of Bookshelfs makes much more sense than a pair of Ones for twice the price.
The Symfonisk Bookshelf may not be the best Sonos speaker, but it is the cheapest and the one with the most utility. It can be a standalone speaker, it can form the basis of a stereo system or it can be a pair of rears -- all for less than the cheapest Sonos-branded speaker.
If you have a Sonos sound bar then you should speed, not perambulate, to your nearest Ikea store for a pair of these. They will add a level of immersion to your movies that you've never had before -- they are perfectly suited to being second-fiddle to a sound bar.
Otherwise the Bookshelf is great for a cheap way to get sound into smaller rooms, and the option to add another speaker later only enhances its appeal.