Sonos Play:5 (2015) review: The best-sounding Sonos speaker yet

You calibrate your speaker -- or speakers -- using a free app and the microphone on your iPhone or iPad. I tried it out with a badly placed Play:1 speaker and it definitely sounded better after the calibration. Initially, at least, Trueplay is iOS only and supports Play:1, Play:3 , and Play:5 speakers. (The orginal Play:5 has been discontinued but can be calibrated using Trueplay.)

The speaker itself has new touch controls that enable you to play, pause, adjust volume and change the track. And what's cool is that smart sensors in the speaker make the touch controls responsive to all orientations, so the volume-up is always facing up.

The back of the speaker.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

As I said in the intro, the new Play:5 (gen 2) sounds significantly better than the old Play:5. The first thing you notice is the amount of bass it outputs. It also plays louder, has better clarity, and doesn't sound stressed at higher volumes like the original Play:5 did.

We put a wide variety of music through it and while it sounded decent with most material, it stood out for its performance with bass-heavy material. I could feel the bass with hip-hop and EDM (electronic dance music). By that I mean it has some visceral impact and didn't make me think I needed a sub.

I had a listen with with home audio editor Ty Pendelbury and Steve Guttenberg, who writes CNET's Audiophiliac blog. Steve wasn't blown away by the speaker, particularly for the price (he said it delivered a lot of bass but otherwise sounded a little "boxy" and had some sibilance in the treble). But Ty and I were more enthusiastic about it because we've listened to a lot of these tabletop wireless speakers and don't have such high expectations.

Sure, the price is somewhat lofty for a single speaker (or a pair) and you're probably going to get better sound for the money from a good set of affordable wired bookshelf speakers hooked up to a budget amplifier. We also know a single speaker just isn't going to produce a monster sound stage and have good stereo separation. But this is a different breed of speaker, one that's sought out for wirelessly integrating into a whole-home system through a user friendly set up. And the fact is it's hard to make wireless speakers sync perfectly from room to room or join them together in a stereo pair.

What you get in the box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We compared the Play:5 to the less expensive Polk Omni S6 , which also sounds good for a Wi-Fi speaker (it's a Play-Fi speaker) and comes across as a little more balanced than the Sonos. It did really well with jazz and acoustic material but didn't output as much bass and didn't have the kick the Sonos did with bass-heavy tracks.

Although performance for both speakers varied from track to track, I thought the Sonos sounded like the bigger speaker. It was also the clear winner in terms of design -- it really is a great looking speaker.

We haven't had a chance to compare this yet to the Bose SoundTouch 30 Series III, which costs the same as the Play:5 and may be its most direct competitor as mainstream consumers consider Bose's multiroom audio options . But we will soon and update our review.

Conclusion

While the new Play:5 is more expensive at $500 -- and perhaps a little out of reach for price-conscious consumers -- it's a big step forward in terms of design and performance. It may not fully impress audiophiles, but it is the best-sounding Sonos speaker yet.

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