Sonos Play:3 review: Sonos Play:3

Adding the Play:3 to an existing Sonos setup is dead simple. You just plug it in, go to your computer and click "Add zone" in the desktop software menu, then return to the Play:3 and press the mute and volume-up buttons simultaneously on the device. In 10 to 30 seconds, the Play:3 will be recognized and added to your existing zones (you name it for whatever room it's in). Once it's part of the system, it will show up on your Sonos remote or your iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, or Android smartphone with the Sonos app running.

One big advantage of Sonos systems is that they can be controlled via iOS, Android, Mac and Windows apps. A $349 dedicated touch-screen remote (lower right) is also available.

The experience of using your phone or tablet as a Sonos remote is as good as it is because the interface of the Sonos iPhone app is quite easy to use. You can easily sync zones so the same music plays in all rooms or have different music playing in different zones. For instance, you could have Pandora playing in one room and have an album stored on your computer playing in another room. You can also choose to turn certain zones on and off and raise the volume in one room while lowering it in another.

If you're new to Sonos and setting up the Play:3 for the first time as a single or multizone system the process is fairly straightforward, but things can get a bit trickier if you want to pull all your music from a networked drive. Also, when you're dealing with any sort of networking--wired or wireless--you can run into snags that might baffle the average person (and even plenty of tech-savvy people).

But all in all, Sonos does this type of DIY multiroom audio about as well as any company we've encountered. It's also worth noting that if you were to get a professional installer to equip a home with in-wall speakers and a special networked system (for instance, something from Crestron), you'd be looking at thousands of dollars per room instead of hundreds.

For a lot of folks who already own some Sonos components or are looking at building a Sonos system from scratch, the big question is whether to get a Play:5 or a Play:3, which cost $400 and $300 respectively.

Well, we'll start by saying that both the Play:5 and Play:3 fall into the category of "good for what they are." Single speakers of this ilk--most iPod dock speaker systems, for example--have distinct shortcomings, especially when it comes to the lack of stereo separation because the internal speakers are spaced so closely together.

We were impressed with the Play:5 because it measured up well against competing speakers in its size and price class. In our review, we described it as "a well-balanced speaker that offers good detail and a decent amount of bass without sounding thumpy. It's also able to play loudly without distorting and it did a decent job filling a fairly large room with sound."

We think the Play:3 also is good for a compact speaker. But while its bass is relatively full and well-defined and the speaker is capable of playing music quite loudly without distortion at high volumes, it's short on detail and clarity.

Competing products
Now, you can't expect the world from these compact single speakers, but we're calling it like it is: the Play:3 sounds good but not great. Does it measure up to the other $300 single-speaker systems? Sure--the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini comes to mind--but you'll get better clarity from the mono Tivoli Audio PAL ($219), although the Play:3 does offer more bass.

How about other streaming-audio products? There are plenty of AV receivers and sound bars that offer support for online-streaming services through Wi-Fi, AirPlay, or Bluetooth--even with app-based controls for Android or iOS. However, most of them require you to cobble together multiple boxes--say, a networked AV receiver (Denon, Onkyo, or Pioneer) plus a set of speakers; an Apple TV connected to a speaker system; still-pricey AirPlay-enabled speaker systems; or a Bluetooth-enabled sound bar like the . Nearly all of these options carry caveats--higher cost, more wires, fewer supported services, compromised sound quality, no multiroom support, or a combination of those.

In our book, the only current alternative to the Sonos remains the Logitech Squeezebox Radio, which can be found for around $150. The Logitech offers support for many (but not all) of the same Sonos services, such as Pandora, Spotify, and Rhapsody, and Logitech now offers decent iOS and Android control apps as well. Also, the Squeezebox Radio has a more traditional "clock radio" appearance, for those who want direct time, alarm, and snooze control. The Wi-Fi Logitech doesn't scale up to multiroom coverage as well and as smoothly as the Sonos, and critical listeners will find its sound quality to be even less refined than that of the Sonos Play:3. However, it trumps the Sonos in the value department--you could buy two Squeezebox Radios for the price of the Sonos Play:3.

In the end, while Sonos may have done the best it could within the parameters it set for itself, audiophiles will be quick to note that the Play:3 shows its limitations. Of course, those same audiophiles can instead opt for the $349 Sonos Connect or $499 Connect:Amp, both of which offer the same streaming functions. The 90 connects to an external amplifier such as an AV receiver or powered speaker system, while the 120 has a built-in amplifier and connects to the standard passive stereo speakers of your choice, perhaps something like the Audioengine P4s.

In our view, the Play:3 is mostly a very good addition to the Sonos line and strengthens the company's position as the premier DIY multiroom audio system provider.

At $300, the Play:3 is a little expensive; we were hoping it would come in at $249, but Sonos reps told us they would have had to cut corners too much to get to that price. Still, the company needed a more affordable speaker to lower the cost of its starter system and to entice existing customers to add sound to more rooms in their homes. For example, we can see someone setting up a Play:5 in a larger room such as living room and going with Play:3 speakers in the kitchen, bedroom, home office, or bathroom.

No, this speaker doesn't sound fantastic, but listeners who aren't audiophiles will probably think they sound quite good for their size. That said, if you can afford the extra $100, the Play:5 does offer better sound. Although it's a taller speaker, it's still compact and is actually slightly less deep than the Play:3 and only about 4 inches wider. But if you enjoy listening to digital music or online audio services, either the Play:3 or the Play:5 will provide you with an excellent overall experience.

Hot Products

More Best Products

All best products