Sonos Five Review
Pros: Excellent sound quality, great volume, easy multi-speaker management, AirPlay compatable
Cons: Expensive, somewhat large, no Bluetooth
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sonos Five is the best sounding speaker we've tested, beating out the Bose Home Speaker 500 by a hair. It also offers all of the convenience of Sonos' well-designed multi-speaker management.
If you're interested in the Five because you want to use it in conjunction with your TV, you might want to check out the similarly priced Sonos Beam soundbar instead. While the smaller body means you sacrifice a bit of bass punch, it still sounds great, is sized to fit underneath a TV, can still sync with any other Sonos speakers, and offers the convenience of an HDMI input.
The Sonos Five was the frontrunner in pretty much every one of our tests, with the lack of Bluetooth connectivity being its only real tripping point. This easily earned it the top overall score when all was said and done.
Sonos obsessively engineered every part of this speaker to sound great, as evidenced by the 800 holes they laser drilled into the logo to make it 'acoustically transparent.' In our experience, that obsession paid off, as the Five offered the most enjoyable listening experience in our testing.
When talking about the heavy hitters in home audio, we would generally say that bass power is Sonos' relative weak point. That's not the case with the Five. This large-bodied speaker delivered the most powerful yet smooth and defined bass of all the speakers we tested. In fact, we were able to get the floor shaking when we turned the volume up.
The clarity is likewise superb. Even in complex compositions, we were able to easily hear separation between different instruments, and to keep up with fast-paced lyrics. This quality makes acoustic music sound particularly good, and makes all the lilts in Ira Glass' voice sound downright cinematic.
Overall, the Five sounds well-rounded and full-bodied, allowing it to produce what can only be described as a wall of sound.
When compared to its main rivals at Bose, we would say the Five is just slightly better. Both its bass power and overall clarity are a bit superior to those of the Bose, though it takes some discerning, side-by-side listening to really notice those gaps. Overall, we wouldn't suggest you get the Five instead of the Bose based on sound quality alone, but if you want to build a multi-speaker system the Five is the clear choice.
The new design of the Five allows you to stand the speaker up on its end. There is even a sensor inside that recognizes this orientation and adjusts the sound output accordingly. Not only does this provide more mounting options for the speaker, it also offers the ability to pair 2 of these speakers together and listen to songs in stereo. While buying 2 of these speakers is a pricey proposition, we can attest that the resulting listening experience is superb.
Annoyingly, if you have one of the older versions of this speaker (the PLAY:5) you can't pair it to the newer Five in stereo mode.
Thanks to Sonos well-designed app and a fairly seamless user experience, the Five earned one of the highest scores in our user friendliness metric.
If you want to physically connect a device to the Five via the 3.5mm audio jack, it's as easy as plug and play. If you want to get the speaker connected to the internet (which is kind of the point of getting a Sonos speaker) the process is fairly straightforward as the Sonos app guides you through step by step. Once we got the speaker set up and connected to WiFi we never had any connectivity issues. However, in some instances the speaker had issues going through the initial setup when far away from the WiFi router, necessitating that we either moved it closer to said router or plugged into its ethernet port. In this setup phase, the app also prompts you to tune the speaker, which essentially involves moving your phone around the room while the speaker makes a sound akin to a sinking submarine.
Once the speaker is connected to WiFi you can log into any streaming music service you use within the Sonos app, allowing you to play anything from those services on the speaker. The Sonos app provides a relatively easy platform from which to browse all of those services as well. Plus, since the music is streaming via Wi-Fi directly to the speaker and not using your phone as an intermediary, things like phone calls and text alerts won't interrupt the music.
Smart Home Compatability
While the Five does not have any sort of smart assistant built-in, it is compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices. All you need to do is make sure your smart home device is on the same WiFi network as your speaker(s), adjust some settings in both the Sonos and Alexa/Google apps, and you can control your Five with your voice.
Seamless Multi-Speaker Management
Sonos' bread and butter is creating multi-speaker systems to provide music in every room of your home. If you want to invest in a platform that will allow you to expand out into a multi-speaker system, Sonos is definitely your best bet. Competitors like Bose can do the same thing, but we've found the experience to be much less streamlined and efficient.
Not Compatible with Older Speakers
The Five can only be run on the new S2 app, which is not compatible with some of the company's oldest speakers. You can find out more about these compatibility issues on Sonos' website.
The Five offers some convenient and low-profile touch controls on the top of the speaker. There is a play/pause button along with volume up/down buttons. You can also swipe your finger left and right across the control panel to skip tracks forwards and back (if the service you're listening to supports such a function).
The biggest downside to the Five's user experience is its lack of a Bluetooth connection. This makes it much more difficult for visitors to connect their devices to the speaker, or to play audio from things that aren't' compatible with the Sonos app (with video streaming services being the most notable examples). If you're an Apple user the AirPlay compatibility essentially functions as a WiFi version of Bluetooth, allowing you to watch YouTube or Netflix on your iPhone or Mac Book while sending the audio to your Five. Android and Windows users unfortunately don't have this luxury.
The Five offers the loudest, most room-filling listening experience of all the speakers we tested. Even in an 800 square foot room with high ceilings, this speaker is able to get uncomfortably loud. Impressively, it is also able to maintain all of its clarity and quality, even when pushing the volume to the maximum. In comparison, the Bose Home Speaker 500 can get nearly as loud (which is impressive given its smaller stature), but you notice much more degradation in sound quality as it starts reaching into its upper limits.
The Five offers pretty much every avenue for connection one would expect except for Bluetooth. You can connect the speaker to WiFi, hard wire it to the internet with an ethernet cable, plug in with a 3.5mm audio cable, or stream wirelessly from an Apple device using AirPlay. The exclusion of Bluetooth does feel a bit glaring, but there are enough other options that you can usually find another way to connect, even if it's less convenient. If you really want Bluetooth you do have the option of getting a third-party Bluetooth receiver and plugging it into the 3.5mm auxiliary port.
The Sonos Five certainly isn't cheap. However, its superlative sound quality is worth the extra cost if you're willing to pay more for such luxuries.
The Sonos Five is a top-shelf speaker that provides field-leading sound, looks great on a shelf, and offers easy expandability into a multi-speaker system. It is well worth the hefty cost if you're looking for the best sound possible in a multi-speaker system. If you know you're not going to expand into multi-speaker territory, the Bose Home Speaker 500 may be a slightly more convenient option.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell