STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ natural, quite spatial sound
+ precise, deep, contoured bass
+ Can be coupled to form a stereo pair
- Room calibration for Apple devices only
- Limited bass SPL when uses as a single speaker
Sound: Tonal Balance / Transparency9
Sound: Bass / Dynamics8.5
Ease-of-use / Connectivity9
The no. 5 in Sonos´ lineup has always been reserved for a virtual stereo onebox system. In earlier variants it used to be calles ´Play 5´, the latest generation just relies on the number. In order to get a virtual imaging out of a rather compact speaker, the market leader relies on an unusual driver arrangement: Three tweeters are located in the upper area of the slightly curved speaker and the circuitry is quite similar to the one you would expect in a surround sound bar taking advantage of a center channel for voice reproduction and a clear focus. The two others are angled somehow and in combination with designated waveguides and a rather strong virtual stereo circuit provide the listener with ambience and a broad stereo image.
The same is true to the three bass-mid units placed beneath the aforementioned, which are also all active with a designated signal. In the lower frequencies, however, they form a mono source as bass efficiency is more important than stereo separation. What might sound surprising to loudspeaker experts is that Sonos is relying on a closed box design in a rather small enclosure. You would expect such primarily in large speakers to improve bass precision withou sacrificing too much of efficiency which is the inevitable downside of such concept.
App Version 2 and playback options
In an evolution from old Sonos models, the Five now has an analogue input to accept signals from non-digital or non-compatible sources. So the system is open to devices with analoge-out only, record players (with preamp) or old-school hifi-systems. A Bluetooth connection is still not integrated although such possibility one would find in die mobile Sonos models such as the Roam. While Google Chromecast is not an option, Airplay 2 on the other hand works without any problems.
Other than that, though, the Five plays everything the in-house app is capable of serving. The proprietary protocol developed by Sonos is very stable and even enabling several Sonos devices to form a ´mesh´ style network on their own. The audio bandwith on the other hand is limited PCM 48/24 in order to support this stability. All popular streaming services from Spotify to Amazon to Apple Music can be used. Streaming from an in-house NAS server is also one of the core features of any Sonos installation.
In the App Store, you can find two different versions of the Sonos app. While the S1 version is only mandatory for historical speakers, the Five absolutely requires the new S2 app (there are a few models being compatible with both). In addition to iOs and Android, there is also a version each for Windows and FireOS.
Two specimen of ´No. Five´ can be linked to form a stereo pair. This may not be the best idea acoustically due to the aforementioned three tweeter driver arrangement. In this case, however, you can simply turn the box by 90 degrees and use it as kind of bookshelf speaker. This should be enough to overcome the problem of inaccurate focus.
How to set up a Sonos Five
The Sonos multiroom software is the most sophisticated and mature on the market, and the Five is quickly connected via Ethernet cable and controlled by the app. As a newbie in the Sonos world, you shouldn’t be surprised that the app asks for a Bluetooth connection as a part of the setup process, even though the speaker doesn’t support Bluetooth music playback. And that it wants location services of the smartphone enabled or that a full creation of a Sonos user account is mandatory.
One of the most debated features among fans is the acoustic room calibration called Trueplay. However, this is still (as of November 2021) only available to Apple devices, as the acoustic characteristics of the built-in microphones is standardized here (unlike with Android phones).
Using a Sonos to control one of the popular voice recognition assistants is not possible. There is no microphone provided for this. However, the cooperation with a voice assistant app on the smartphone is possible without any problems and provided in the Sonos app at least for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
Listening test: How the Sonos Five sounds in the living room
In the listening test, even a ´Five´ alone created a satisfyingly large, complete and astonishingly audiophile sound image that did not show any seriuos weaknesses. Even without the Trueplay calibration the sound was naturally balanced, differentiated and as long as the speaker wasn’t placed in a corner, the bass was precise. The depth and the precision are remarkable, in appartments it suggests a size of the loudspeaker that is several times bigger than in reality.
Recordings with deep bass impulses or playback in a larger room however might limit this mature performance by means of SPL. But even when pushed to its limits, the Sonos Five reacts without audible disturbance and taking us of its DSP to rather subtly cut off the bass impulses. Timing and speed remain amazing. The sound of the Sonos Five develops an amazing drive, especially with pop, rock and heavier music genres. Even jazz or classical music sounds way beyond what one would expect from a one-box system. Even large orchestras are somewhat accurate in timbres, with tonal warmth and beautiful differentiation. The room remains rather diffuse and you may not hear the last subtleties as precisely as on a studio monitor.
Because in general, its soundstage is broad and mature but not precisely focused. With pop and rock having the voice panned to the center you don’t even notice that there is no stereo system.
Once the room calibration is activated, balance and timing are even better. When placed close to the wall, Trueplay also provides a leaner and faster bass. The basic tonality in the vocal range remains warm with rather mild highs, but this does not detract from the driving rhythms or the pure listening fun.
Conclusion, alternatives and competitors
If you decide to use the Sonos system, you won’t find a serious alternative to the Five for music (even not the soundbar alternatives). Setting up a real stereo system with a Sonos amp is much more complex and expensive. If you’re ready to leave the Sonos world, there’s no other multi-room system speaker on the market that can hold a candle to the Sonos Five in terms of overall sound quality. The direct competitors, the Harman Citation 500 and the Denon Home 350, offer more deep bass punch and subjective dynamics. However, they don’t sound as transparent and balanced as the Sonos Five. At best, the Bluesound Pulse 2i delivers a bit more audiophile resolution and subtlety, but it’s also more expensive and tends to be inferior to the Sonos in bass and SPL.
Specifications Sonos Five
- Price: approx. 650 $
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 36.4 x 20.3 x 15.4 cm
- Weight: 6.36 kg
- Features: 2-way, Stereo Pairing, LAN, WLAN, Sonos S2 App compatible, TruePlay room calibration
- More at www.sonos.com
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