Sonos Five: Two-minute review
The saying goes that if you don’t like something, change it. But because the general consensus was that we did like it, the Sonos Five will look very familiar to anyone who knows their way around Sonos’ 2015 Play:5 Gen. 2 (or even the 2009 inaugural Sonos Play:5, originally called the S5). Considering the brilliance of Sonos’ innovative, long-standing and highly popular multi-room speaker lineup, it’s no bad thing.
The Five is the biggest and most powerful wireless home speaker in Sonos’ range, and it sounds every inch as detailed and musically pleasing as we’ve come to expect from Sonos. This flagship iteration (released in June 2020) adds increased memory, snappier processing and a new, er, wireless radio feature. Not a huge upgrade then?
Well, the last Play:5 was mightily good to start with – and the new all-white or all-black styling does look slightly sleeker. More than that, though, the new processor puts to rest any doubts you might have about future compatibility and firmware updates (even though the older Play:5 was already compatible with the company’s S2 platform).
For many, its powerful, regimented bass clout, undeniably classy audio performance and the Sonos name-plate proudly featured on its grille will be all the reason they need to click ‘buy’ – and we certainly won’t be stopping you. If you want room-filling sound and Sonos’ full multi-room streaming tech built-in, the Sonos Five is a top buy.
While so many of the best wireless speakers on the market come boasting decent, powerful audio that doesn’t distort even as you crank the volume, the Five actually delivers it. Want to add it to a home theater setup? Of course – few Sonos products are as open to meeting new friends and working together as the Five. See how the Sonos branding is written vertically? That’s because it can be placed upright or horizontally, and will deliver sound in stereo on its own (when positioned on its long side) but when synced with another Five, each will deliver half of the sound in a more conventional stereo pair configuration.
You can also use two of them (in the upright position) as rear surrounds for a home theater set-up with a Sonos Arc – though, to partner the smaller Sonos Ray or Sonos Beam 2nd Gen, we’d suggest a pair Sonos One SL units instead.
If barking at your home speaker isn’t important to you (there are no mics here, although you could control it with another mic-ed up Sonos speaker in your network) and superior streaming over Wi-Fi means Bluetooth streaming isn’t high on your list either (there’s also no Bluetooth) this is the model for you. Sonically, it’s impossible to beat this one-box speaker for the money.
Sonos Five review: Price and release date
- Costs $549 / £499 / AU$799
- Sonos’ most powerful home speaker – and it’s not cheap
- Released in June 2020
The Sonos Five is available to buy now, costing one pound less than £500 in the UK, just under $550 in the US, or as close as makes no difference to AU$800 if you’re in Australia. And if you thought its relative age might mean a few discounts across well-known online retailers, think again – Sonos kit rarely sees a price cut, so expect to pay this much or thereabouts for the foreseeable.
The thing is, we don’t need to tell you there are plenty of cheaper options out there if you just want a portable Bluetooth speaker (JBL Flip 6 or JBL Charge 5 are the go-to models there) and for home use, the screen-enhanced Bose Home Speaker 500 or Amazon Echo Show 15 smart speakers also undercut the Sonos Five considerably.
However, for similar size, stature and features, the Braun LE01, Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin or Sonus Faber Omnia are considerably pricier – so depending on your priorities, the Sonos Five does still represent value.
One more consideration and we’ll move on, we promise. It’s just that if you were looking to buy a second Sonos Five to create a stereo pair, the KEF LSX stereo speaker system (and brand new LSX II) is closely priced and boasts a more comprehensive connectivity spec-sheet and hi-res capabilities out the box.
Don’t get us wrong, the Sonos Five is certainly a strong product, but depending on what you’re after, there may an option that better suits…
Sonos Five review: Features
- Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2 plus line-in connection for music sources
- Full Sonos wireless support
- No Bluetooth, mics or Chromecast
Kicking off with connectivity, swizzle the Sonos Five around and you’ll find three ports. The first is for power (in case it needs to be mentioned, the Sonos Five must be plugged in to function at all times, so it isn’t a great candidate for outdoor listening despite its ‘humidity resistant’ rating), then Ethernet, and lastly a 3.5mm input to add a source, such as a turntable with a built-in phono stage – the beauty of it being that your vinyl could then be streamed across your network of connected Sonos speakers.
You don’t get any built-in voice assistant here, unlike the Sonos Beam or Sonos Arc. No Alexa, no Google Assistant, and no Sonos Voice Control. That is because there’s no mic at all, which seems a little bizarre given Sonos’ recent focus on its proprietary Sonos Voice rollout, but there we are.
While this will excite little more than a shrug if you don’t like talking to your speakers anyway, the lack of Bluetooth streaming support may be more of an issue – although this is nothing new for Sonos. As usual, (only the Sonos Move and Sonos Roam buck this trend) the Sonos app asks you to enable Bluetooth on your device in order to recognize the Five, but it’s for setup only – after that, Bluetooth is never mentioned again.
From within the intuitive and slick Sonos app, you can tweak the Five’s EQ (to add/remove bass and treble) the stereo balance, and set up Sonos’ TruePlay tuning if you’re using an iPhone, which requires you to walk around your room wafting your iPhone to a selection of intergalactic battle-type noises, to measure how sound bounces around your room’s physical dimensions. Then, TruePlay tweaks the Five’s sound profile to compensate for these sonic imperfections, boosting the accuracy and clarity. Sadly, this only works on iPhone, but if you can, we’d certainly recommend using it – and you could always borrow someone else’s iOS device to TruePlay your Sonos Five, since you only do it the once in a room.
One sticking point here is that although the Five features AirPlay 2 support over Wi-Fi, there’s no Google Cast baked in, which could be a stumbling block for Android households, particularly since Bluetooth isn’t onboard either. But you can play music through the Sonos app, of course.
Sonos Ray review: Sound quality
- Expressive, detailed sound
- Textured vocals
- Full and snappy bass floor
In traditional Sonos style, the Five is not interested in a shy, retiring sound – it’s here to bring the bass and make you feel it, and we’re not complaining. However (and we’ve said this before) it’s important to note that we like it more if you can use TruePlay tuning, and not everyone is granted that privilege.
Take the time to weave your iPhone through the air around your room (do it with purpose though, because the app will tell you if you’re not moving quick enough) and the low-end resonates in a way other speakers, even those of similar proportions, could never reach. Even without TruePlay you’ll get a good dollop of bass clout, but the leading edges of notes and horns in hip-hop tracks such as Lethal Bizzle’s Fester Skank are just a little more impactful with it, as you’d expect, and there’s a marginal improvement to be had through the dynamic rise and fall of each sonic article.
That’s not to say it’s bass-heavy overall though. Listen to Fontaines D.C.’s Skinty Fia and you’ll hear a low-end that, while impactful and unwavering, never bloats or muddies other musical passages such as accordions, drum riffs, angered vocals and keys.
Stream Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, performed by Andre Previn, the London Symphony Orchestra and Vladimir Ashkenazy, and the flute is never harsh through the sparkling and untethered treble. Piano notes are distinct, three dimensional and lilting with enough space around them to shine in a cohesive mix.
There’s an openness to the sound too. Close your eyes and, unlike so many one-box solutions, the Five could quite easily trick you into thinking you’ve got a set of very good bookshelf speakers on the go.
Sonos Five review: Design
- Available in all-white or all-black
- Configuration unchanged since the Play:5
- An unfussy but rock-solid design
Like so much of Sonos’ range, the Five’s design is simple, almost to a fault here given its larger dimensions. The Five is available in black or white, with an easy-to-dust metal grille and small icons to denote play/pause on the top plate, flanked by two other ‘buttons’ which can be covered to increase or lower the volume. You can also swipe across these for track skips, which is quite fun, although in low-light situations there’s only a solo light above the play/pause icon which can make things hard to locate.
Although it’s about the size of a large shoe-box (and heavier than it looks, at 6.36kg) the Sonos Five isn’t quite a cuboid since its grille portion is slightly bigger than its rear end and the baffle is slightly bowed out and angled upwards too, to aid with sound dispersal.
Under the hood, the speaker array remains exactly the same as its Play:5 predecessor – and Sonos actually makes no bones about this. You’re getting the same six custom-designed drivers driven by six class D amplifiers for a combined power output of 120W: three high excursion 10cm mid-woofers across the bottom of the unit and three tweeters above them, two of which are angled outwards.
So why did it even refresh the product? Well, you’re also getting an upgraded processor here, which is key – it signifies that Sonos is likely future-proofing this speaker for potential firmware upgrades, ie. the oft-rumored addition of hi-res music support. So, there’s that.
Sonos Five review: Value
- No voice assistance or Bluetooth or when competitors do have
- Lack of Google Cast support could be an issue despite Sonos multi-room
- But for sound, it’s a class-leader
For sound quality, the Sonos Five actually isn’t just good value, it’s absolutely great value. But it’s a case of different strokes for different folks; if Bluetooth streaming is important to you and you own an Android phone, you should look elsewhere.
In terms of counting features, the Sonos Five has got plenty going for it (AirPlay 2, Sonos’ class-leading multi-room platform, plenty of scope for adding to it at a later date, a friendly and rock-solid app) but there are a few holes on the spec sheet too; Google Cast, voice assistance, Bluetooth, we’re looking at you.
Ultimately, we come back to how good it sounds – and it really does sound as good as this money can buy for a one-box speaker design. But that’s no good if you want waterproofing (there is none here) interesting colorways or Bluetooth streaming.
If exhilarating Sonos sound quality is paramount though, look no further.
Sonos Five review: Should I buy it?
|Features||A multi-room ready Sonos speaker with AirPlay 2, plus 3.5mm line in – but no voice assistance||4/5|
|Sound quality||Incredibly impactful and expressive sound from a one-box design||5/5|
|Design||Solid, clean and… just a little bland||4/5|
|Value||Sonically it’s a bargain for the money, but the feature-set means certain serious competition is not far away.||4/5|