I’ve been using Sonos kit for a very long time, and have watched the company evolve and improve its proposition over the years. Although many people label Sonos as expensive, I disagree. What’s important to remember is that Sonos isn’t really competing with other wireless music streaming systems, it’s competing with full-blown home audio installs – it’s that good!
When Sonos first came to market, there really was nothing outside the realm of custom installs that came close, in terms of features and functionality. Times have changed a little now, and many competing offerings have hit the market, most notably Apple’s AirPlay system, and most recently, Google’s Nexus Q sphere.
But despite the stiff competition, I still think that Sonos has the edge, because like so many successful companies, Sonos focuses on doing one thing well. All Sonos does is design, develop and evolve solutions to stream digital music, and it’s that single mindedness that has kept the Californian company at the top of its game.
Although Sonos is always evolving its products, you won’t see new kit arriving every month, or even every year. So, when Sonos does release a new component, the media, the industry and customers tend to take notice. And this particular new component is very cool, even by Sonos’ own standards.
The Sonos Sub, as its name suggests, is a wireless subwoofer that has been designed to complement your existing Sonos install. Of course whether you need the Sub depends entirely on how you’ve implemented Sonos. If you’re primarily using Connect players (formerly ZP-90) hooked up to your existing hi-fi systems, you won’t need the Sonos Sub. But if you’re using a ConnectAmp or one of the all-in-one solutions – Play:5 or Play:3 – the Sub could be your ideal partner.
As good as the Play:5 and even the smaller Play:3 can sound, they can lack a degree of presence at the low end. The same can be said of a setup employing the ConnectAmp if you’re using small, bookshelf speakers. Obviously the quality of your speakers in this scenario is a major factor, but you can’t expect miracles when it comes to bass if you’re using relatively compact speakers.
Like all Sonos kit, the Sub is simple and quick to setup. Once you’ve placed it in your desired room, you simply select the option to add a new component via your Sonos controller. Once the Sub is discovered you’ll be asked which zone you’d like it attached to. You then need to configure the Sub for the setup in the room you’ve assigned it to.
If you’re using a ConnectAmp, the setup procedure will ask you to confirm what size speakers you’re using – Compact, Bookshelf or Floor Standing. If you’ve using a Play:5 or Play:3 setup, that first step is obviously skipped. Next you’ll be asked to listen to some test tones and confirm whether the “A” or “B” tones were louder, or whether you heard no difference. Finally, you need to fine tune the Sub to your desired level of bass – I actually found the default setting to be ideal in both setups I tested with. You can adjust the Sub level from within the Advanced Audio menu, if you feel the need to crank things up or tone them down later.
And that’s pretty much it as far as setup goes, it really is that easy. It’s also worth noting that you can put the Sub anywhere you like – unlike many subwoofers that shouldn’t be placed face-on to a wall, or behind furniture, the Sonos Sub is just as effective laid flat and shoved under the sofa as it is sat next to your speakers.
It would, however, be a real shame if you did shove the Sonos Sub behind or underneath your sofa, because it looks beautiful. In fact, the Sub looks so sleek and stylish, that it makes the rest of your Sonos kit seem a little passé by comparison. When I met with Sonos recently I highlighted this point and was told that the Sub does exhibit the new design direction for the company, which is no bad thing. Oh, and the pictures on this page don’t do it justice – think 2001 A Space Odyssey!
But looking good only goes so far when it comes to audio products, the big question is whether the Sonos Sub sounds as good as it looks. The simple answer is yes, in fact it sounds better than it looks. I was actually surprised by how cohesive the sound is once you’ve paired the Sub up with your existing Sonos setup, since even wired subwoofers can often sound slightly out of phase with your speakers if not configured just right. With a wireless subwoofer, getting the crossover right is even more of a challenge, but it’s a challenge that the Sonos engineers have risen to expertly.
I tested the Sub using a pair of Play:3s and a ConnectAmp hooked up to a pair of Sonos bookshelf speakers. In both cases the improvement to the overall sound quality was significant. That’s not to say that the Sub turns your Sonos setup into a window rattling, bass booming, neighbour baiting nightmare – although you can configure it to do pretty much that if you’re mad enough. However, when configured correctly, the effect of the Sub is very subtle, and all the more effective because of it.
Shake It Out by Florence + The Machine highlights the subtle touch of the Sub. The organ chords have more depth to them and the thumping bass drum can be felt as well as heard, but none of that intrudes on the vocals. The result is more of a musical event that fills the room far more effectively than either system can manage without the Sub.
Firing up the live, acoustic rendition of Hotel California, from The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over album proved that the Sub can make an incredible difference to material that you probably didn’t feel needed extended bass in the first place. But the strong bass drum that drives the whole arrangement sounds so much fuller and deeper, without any hint of distortion, and once again, it doesn’t encroach on the delicate guitars or vocals.
Deciding to let the Sub off the leash, I cued up The Name of the Game by The Crystal Method. It came across loud, brash and full of heavy bass lines, just like it should. But all the while, no matter how high I cranked the volume, there was no hint of distortion, and the track maintained an air of balanced cohesion.
In fact I struggled to find a genre of music that wasn’t significantly improved with the Sub switched on, although clearly some musical styles benefit from the improved low frequency effects more than others.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this review about Sonos kit not being expensive? Well, even I have to admit that the price of the Sonos Sub is a little steep at £599 – that puts it in Rel Serie T7 territory!
But the relative cost of an audiophile subwoofer isn’t really the point. If you’re already invested in Sonos, and rely on the system for your multi-room music needs, traditional components and speakers are probably of little interest to you. And if you want to get the very best sound from your Sonos install, the wireless Sub really will transform your listening experience.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Sonos Sub is an expensive piece of kit, but the difference it can make to the sound quality of your Sonos setup is astonishing.
Is it worth the money? It depends on how important sound quality is to you. If, like me, you have Sonos components throughout your house, I wouldn’t suggest putting a Sub in every room. But in your main living room, where you entertain or just kick back and listen to music, the Sub is a worthwhile investment.