Sonos Five Review: Sounds sublime but impractical
The high-end wireless speaker segment is booming and, in an era, where every expensive speaker carries the voice of Google or Alexa, the Sonos Five is one of the few that buck the trend. No smart voice assistant in here and yet, it completely depends on your home Wi-Fi network to function. For the enthusiasts who have moved on the future of wireless music but hate all the idiosyncrasies of the smart speakers, the Sonos Five is a tempting buy.
The Five has been around for a few months now and its essentially the larger and more powerful version of the Sonos One speaker. In India, you will have to shell Rs. 59,999 for the Sonos Five, which is SOME price to pay. However, in return, you get a comprehensive single unit speaker that promises to deliver a great big speaker experience with all modern-day luxuries of streaming. It is, however, not without its shenanigans.
After keeping the Sonos Five in my living room for almost two weeks, here's what I found.
Sonos Five Design
Unlike the smaller and compact speakers from Sonos, like the Sonos One, the Five is almost five times bigger! No kidding! And, it is HEAVY!
Moving around the Sonos Five requires some heavy lifting. At 6.35 kilos, I wouldn't call this portable by any means, especially since all the mass is concentrated in the size of a large shoe box. But once its sits in a corner of your room, all you need to do is plug in the cable and leave it there. The Five's design blends in nicely with most home décor, although the one in white would be the best fit for most households.
The black version that I have at my disposal is a dust and smudge magnet. In the dusty spring conditions of Noida, the speaker grabs hold of dust particles as well as fingerprints. Although it is easy to clean, the white could make life a bit easier.
In terms of features, the Sonos Five is mostly a big black plastic box with the speaker mesh facing you. You get the touch controls for playback and volume management, while the rear houses the basic ports, one of them being the power port. There's also a tiny LED indicator to show the status of the speaker's connectivity state.
With its rubber feet on three sides, you can align the Sonos Five in whichever way you seek. The vertical alignment saves space, if you are concerned about space restrictions.
Sonos Five Audio
With its six-driver setup, the Sonos Five has proven itself to be one smartly tuned speaker that sounds blissful. Three out of the six drivers are dedicated for bass, two for solid mids and one in the center for vocals. When combined, the Five has a soundstage that is finely balanced yet packs in enough grunt to be the life of your house-party.
With the default EQ settings, even the untrained ears can figure out a great dynamic range, with equally strong lows, mids, and highs. And this balance as well as clarity isn't lost in any volume level. The bass output isn't the strongest out of the box but tweaking the EQ can deliver a smile-inducing “thump” that many of us expect from a speaker of this size.
Hence, whether I was streaming Bollywood dance numbers on Apple Music, or soothing AR Rahman numbers on Prime Music, the audio quality is pristine across genres and services. Next to a regular Bluetooth speaker, you can feel the finesse in the way it controls the mids and lows, without mushing everything into an annoying low-end heavbass.
Sonos Five Smart Features
The Sonos Five is neither a smart speaker, nor a Bluetooth speaker – it is a streaming speaker sitting in its own space. Hence, there are benefits and there are quirks, with the latter often adding to frustration on a daily use case scenario.
The Sonos Five relies on Wi-Fi network to stay alive. Without a Wi-Fi network, it doesn't work; there's no Bluetooth connectivity. This seems like a big oversight, given that you are paying a substantial price. Hence, on the days when my Wi-Fi network was down, the Five lay dead, just like my smart speakers.
And even when it comes to the smartness, there's no voice assistant or voice command service to control the playback. You either have to reach for its touch controls, or fiddle with the app. And that is another chapter in the book of “tech innovations that are impractical.”
The Sonos S2 app is crucial to the Sonos Five. You use this app to set it up, log in your accounts, play and control music, and fiddle with the speaker's settings. The app itself is well designed and makes the setup process very easy, both on Android and iOS. The ability to pair the speaker with the account and the phone via the NFC is a nice thought.
Be default, you can access several of Sonos' radio stations available in the app. Tap on any of them, and after a brief pause, the speaker starts streaming from that channel. Log in with your accounts from Apple Music, Prime Music, Gaana, and most other popular streaming services, and you are good to stream your favourite tracks and playlists from your account. The app holds all the settings in a separate tab, and keeps a pop-up player window always open within.
While it all looks nice, the implementation is far from practical. You have to go into your logged in accounts every time to choose a playlist or a song, and then wait for a few seconds before the speaker starts playing. Pausing over 10-15 minutes clears the song from its memory, and that means you have to open the app again and play it from there. You can stream from services like Spotify and Apple Music to the speaker but the integration isn't as polished as Apple's ecosystem. With its total reliance on Wi-Fi, there is always a delay between what you do and what you hear. From idle, the speaker's onboard controls cannot resume the last played song, or do anything else.
And then there're the connectivity issues. When connected to a dual-band Wi-Fi router, the speaker randomly latches on to any of the bands, and if your phone is not on the network, you cannot play it. I have faced the connectivity issue frequently and despite doing a full reset, there's no respite. The app itself requires you to sign-in everyday, despite all the accounts signed in.
The Sonos Five is a fantastic speaker that delivers a superb listening experience. The tuning is pristine and is going to impress most audiophiles. Those simply seeking a big speaker experience won't be disappointed at all, although hardcore bass seekers need to use a separate subwoofer to get that effect.
That said, the Sonos Five is a streaming speaker and may not fit the bill for those seeing basic conveniences that come as standard with smart speakers. The software side of things on the Sonos Five is unpolished and buggy at the moment, with connectivity and syncing issues spoiling the experience to an extent. The lack of Bluetooth is another big disappointment, and limited controls on the speaker itself is not a good thing. For a speaker that costs Rs. 59,999, these are some glaring issues you cannot ignore.
On the whole, the Sonos Five is a solid choice if you only seek a finely tuned audio experience. Those looking for some smart conveniences should consider more affordable smart speakers instead.
- Sublime audio
- Neat app experience
- Future proof
- No Voice assistant
- No Bluetooth