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Sonos Sub review: Sonos Sub

Sonos Sub

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Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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4 min read

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When I say the word subwoofer, what comes to mind? Is it a giant box in the corner of the room that rumbles when the dinosaur pads along the ground onscreen? Or the thing that shakes the door panels of cars at traffic lights? Arguably, neither of those have very much to do with "music."

Sonos SUB
7.0

Sonos Sub

The Good

The <b>Sonos Sub</b> has a unique, eye-catching design and its wireless function works from anywhere in a room (though it does have to be plugged in). It really augments the sound of your Play speakers and the setup is a breeze.

The Bad

Its finish doesn't match any other Sonos components and the Sub doesn't work as well with the Connect: Amp. It's expensive and won't work outside of a Sonos system.

The Bottom Line

The Sonos Sub provides an instant upgrade to your Sonos Play speaker system, but it's quite pricey.

The category of music subwoofers, used for boosting the low-end performance of smaller bookshelf speakers, is still fairly unknown, though I can think of notable models from both Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen. While Sonos doesn't technically make bookshelf speakers -- the Play:3 and Play:5 are more akin to speaker docks -- its products' bass response is still limited by the relatively small size of the cabinets. Sonos' solution: the wireless Sub.

Design and features
The Sub is designed to integrate into an existing Sonos setup, which is one of the most popular types of multiroom music system on the market. The Sub is a large subwoofer equivalent in size to a PC tower, with a distinctive O shape. At the center of the unit sit two oval, 6-inch drivers in a push-pull arrangement which setup Sonos says eliminates cabinet rattling. The cabinet is quite heavy at 36.3 lbs and is finished in a gloss black lacquer; it's quite a magnificent looking piece. The company is apparently planning a non-glossy version for later in the year (at $100 less), and I welcome this, as the black finish doesn't really match any of the other Sonos components. The Sub comes with rubber feet and can be placed upright or mounted on its side. Sonos even suggests putting it under the couch, a waste of that beautiful finish, though!

The Sonos Sub features 6-inch oval drivers. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sub has only one control, a button that connects it to the rest of your system, and as a result there are no crossovers, phase switches, or other fiddly knobs to worry about; the software takes care of all that. Connections are similarly sparse, just an Ethernet port and Sonos' proprietary wireless system; there's no LFE input, so the Sub is only usable with a Sonos system.

Press the button to connect to the Sonos system Sarah Tew/CNET

Connecting the Sub to the system was easy. I simply called up the Sonos software, pressed the button, and was greeted by a couple of test tones so I could select when the sound was suitably loud for the room. That's it. You can connect the sub to any Sonos system (any but the Connect) with a built-in amp. The Sub is particularly handy for users of the Play systems since they don't offer a dedicated subwoofer out as the Connect: Amp does.

If you have multiple Sonos systems in your house, the software then gives you the option of which one you'd like to connect it to. It's a little fiddly to then assign it to another system with the software, but it can be done.

Performance
A music subwoofer is a different beast from a home-theater model, as you want punch and speed above pure bowel-shaking depth. Some (very expensive) subs can manage both tasks but most tend to be able to do only one well. Not surprisingly, the Sub is unable to make your trousers flap but does produce its share of punchiness.

Adding the subwoofer to a pair of Play:3 speakers did something unusual: it actually boosted the overall loudness of vocals, rather than simply the bass. Either there's a deliberate presence boost when the subwoofer is connected to give more of a "wow" effect or the speakers are freed to concentrate on the midrange instead. Regardless, if you have a stereo pair of Play 3s, they do sound better with the subwoofer connected than not.

The setup routine is straightforward, but we'd prefer its advised setting it to be barely noticeable rather than not overwhelming. Sarah Tew/CNET

I subjected the Sub to my favorite bass torture test, "Life" by The Beta Band, which consists of a descending synth bass riff that can highlight any irregularities in the bass response. Without the Sub connected, when the bass hit at the 2.33 mark it was all sorts of spiky with dropped notes at the very lowest end but exaggerated at the very top. I connected the Sub and the bassline cleaned up, all of the notes were of the same loudness, and the vocals were much clearer.

Even if you don't listen to dance or bass-heavy music, it has a similar effect on rock and even acoustic music: the bottom end becomes smoother and overall clarity improves.

However, if you have a system based on the Connect: Amp the effect may not be as profound. Connected to a pair of Intimus 4T towers there was more of a "suggestion" of bass, and turning the Sub off and on didn't have the same effect on the midrange as before. In addition, it didn't offer any volume control beyond the initial adjustment, which means that if you want to tweak it you have to go through setup again. While the $275-a-speaker system connected to the $499 Connect:Amp sounded much clearer than the pair of $299 Play:3s as a system, adding the subwoofer here isn't an upgrade I'd recommend. For the same $699 price, for example, you can get the amazing REL T-5, an exquisite-looking and sounding subwoofer from England.

Conclusion
If you're a die-hard Sonos fan and you feel like your Play:3 or Play:5 speakers aren't giving you the bass weight you want, then the Sub will have a tangible effect on your system. It will make the entire sound spectrum clearer and give your system the bass control you never had before. But one issue is that the Sub is almost too good to be partnered with the existing speakers. Could Sonos be planning a compatible stereo system to complement it?

The other problem is the price of the subwoofer itself: you could build a whole system with a pair of Audioengine A5+ speakers and the excellent Logitech Squeezebox Touch for the same amount of money. Additionally, if you have a Connect: Amp system, don't bother -- get one of the many other wonderful subs from different manufacturers instead.

Sonos SUB
7.0

Sonos Sub

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7