“Senic's MoodPlay is the digital turntable for Sonos you didn't know you needed.”
- Excellent build quality
- Matches Sonos products
- Easy to set up and use
- Works with any Sonos device
- Expensive to buy and expand
- Can't associate MoodBlocks to speakers
I will argue with you for hours over which sounds better — vinyl or digital. (It’s digital; deal with it.) What I will acknowledge without hesitation, however, is that the experience of pulling an album from a shelf, placing the needle on the record, and then getting lost in the artwork and liner notes has yet to be replaced by a streaming equivalent. But Senic’s MoodPlay — a 249 euro (about $270) wireless accessory for Sonos music systems — is the first time anyone has come close.
Instead of albums, you use colorful
This physical way to experience digital music doesn’t come cheap. But after spending two weeks playing with the MoodPlay, I think its good looks and thoughtful design will help it find a home with well-heeled
If you own a
The other way, which is becoming increasingly popular thanks to the number of
The MoodPlay introduces a third way. By placing a MoodBlock (a nearly 3-inch by 3-inch
Once the music is playing, you can use the MoodPlay’s knob to play or pause and control the volume, while its integrated touchpad lets you use swiping gestures to skip forward or backward.
MoodBlocks come in two flavors: preprogrammed from Senic to play only one thing (e.g.,
The MoodPlay itself actually is optional: you can program MoodBlocks with your phone, and also use it to read MoodBlocks, which has the same result as placing one in the MoodPlay.
Senic has clearly hitched its wagon to
Since the MoodPlay can control a
If you have a
In theory, any song, album, artist, playlist, station, or podcast that you can access via the
Senic says that you “store” music on a MoodBlock, but that’s not exactly accurate. Instead, by programming a MoodBlock, you’re encoding a link to the music — not the music itself.
When you place a MoodBlock on the MoodPlay, it’s the same as if you had browsed to that content within the
No, your phone needs to be NFC-capable. In the iPhone world, this means an
Senic includes everything you need to get started, including the MoodPlay, a USB-C power cable, a power adapter, one preprogrammed
Honestly, three MoodBlocks is the equivalent of the inkjet printer that comes with 200 sheets of ink — it’s just enough to prove the concept for you, but not nearly enough to exploit the MoodPlay’s full potential. And since additional creative MoodBlocks are sold in packs of five, for 30 euros ($32), things start to add up fast. Preprogrammed
More than one friend who saw it assumed it was a
Senic was kind enough to also include a white Table Stand — a small block with three grooves that lets you display three MoodBlocks. At 15 euros ($16.30) each, you could spend a small fortune to display your entire library. Senic also makes a 10 euro ($10.88) aluminum rail that sticks to a wall and also has room to display three MoodBlocks.
Just like Sonos’ speakers, the MoodPlay comes in two color options: black on black, or black on white. In both guises, the 7-inch by 7-inch device looks like it was designed in Sonos’ offices — that’s how closely it hews to the company’s aesthetics. Even the indicator LED is shaped like the ones
The main plinth is made from a mineral material that looks and feels like a high-end quartz kitchen countertop. Though relatively small, it has some heft to it at just over 17 ounces. On its underside, a set of four inverted-cone, rubber-tipped aluminum feet keep it firmly anchored.
The anodized aluminum control knob has an indexed rotation, with each click corresponding to a tap or a press of the volume controls on a
Under the LED indicator is a short horizontal gray line — this is the touch-sensitive area used for swiping. Again, it works just like the track-skipping swipes on a Sonos One or
In practice, I experienced the occasional delay for all of the MoodPlay’s actions. Dropping a MoodBlock into the cradle didn’t always kick off the assigned playlist immediately, and there were also momentary gaps between swiping on the touchpad and hearing the expected next track.
It was hardly a deal-breaker, and I have a feeling it will improve over time. I don’t think it’s an inherent quality of the hardware as much as it is the software that could do with some tweaking.
The physical nature of the MoodBlocks makes it tempting to think of them like CDs, or game cartridges that need to be kept in the MoodPlay’s cradle in order to play your chosen music (ask your parents, kids). But once I’ve inserted them, they’ve served their purpose at least as far as playback is concerned. You can remove them as soon as your music is playing and nothing will be interrupted. In fact, the MoodPlay’s actual
The only reason to leave a MoodBlock inserted is as a reminder of what’s playing, although, as I’ll get to in a moment, that’s a task to which creative MoodBlocks aren’t especially well-suited.
In keeping with the MoodPlay’s dedication to Sonos’ design philosophy, getting the device set up is very easy. The MoodBlocks app guides you through the process, which involves powering up the MoodPlay, connecting it to your Wi-Fi network, and then assigning it to a default
You can go back into the Settings portion of the MoodBlocks app at any time to reassign the default speaker, but sadly, there’s no ability to pick from any
Another small disappointment: MoodBlocks can be programmed with content, but not with speakers. In other words, you can’t have one MoodBlock that plays piano jazz in the kitchen and another that plays death metal in the bedroom.
This is also remarkably easy. To program a creative MoodBlock, you start by opening the dedicated app for the specific music service where your track, album, etc., is located. At the moment, that means Spotify or Apple Music.
If you’re a
Each of these items has its own unique link. Once you find it and copy it, you return to the MoodBlocks app and use the Save to Block tab to complete the process, which is as easy as holding a creative MoodBlock to the back of your phone. If you’ve ever reloaded a transit pass or used tap-to-pay with your phone, it’s just as easy as these activities.
One small caveat here: the copied links from Apple Music and Spotify aren’t the links that get written to the creative MoodBlocks. The MoodBlocks app converts the links into Senic links which it then hosts on its cloud servers. This means that, in theory, if Senic ever shuts down its cloud service or goes out of business entirely, your MoodBlocks could be rendered useless.
If the MoodPlay is at its core, an
The big catch to this (which I learned after initially publishing this review) is that each MoodBlock has its own unique ID. If you read and write its information to a blank
I had initially hoped that if you wanted to create a large library of favorite music, this might be a much more cost effective way to do it. It might have also fixed a problem that Senic has yet to fully solve — remembering what you’ve programmed onto a MoodBlock.
The included labels are a step in the right direction, but I doubt generic terms like classical, morning, or charts are going to be descriptive enough unless you’re in a doctor’s waiting room. Senic doesn’t include blank labels or sell them on its site.
The labels also take what is otherwise an attractive way of showing off your music and cheapen it. They look like the promotional stickers that music labels and record stores use to plaster all over albums. They’re easily removed, but not easily reused.
The next album you buy could come with its own MoodBlock.
At $270, the Senic MoodPlay isn’t a small investment, especially when you consider the added cost of acquiring a sufficient number of MoodBlocks to make owning one worthwhile. I expect many
However, its tactile nature, the quality of its materials, and its elegant, Sonos-esque presentation are undeniable. Being able to interact with streaming music using a physical set of cards and an ersatz turntable isn’t just a novelty — thanks to Senic’s careful design, it’s also fun and easy. Judging from the reaction I got from friends and family who tried it, I think the company has a winning formula.
But Senic’s work has only just begun. It needs to offer more types of creative MoodBlocks — the current gradient collections are a good start, but they aren’t for everyone — and it needs to add compatibility for other
Editor’s note: the original version of this review said that the Moodplay’s control knob was made from plastic. This has been corrected.