With great smart speakers come great responsibilities and among that many questions, such as: What speakers are best for you? What’s the difference? Do I need wires? Do I need multiple speakers? Where do I even start?
They say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and when it comes to Sonos, this is especially true. The Sonos wireless home ecosystem is one of the easiest and greatest-sounding ways to add music to any room in your home. With its superb remote control app, compatibility with dozens of the most popular streaming music services, and support for the latest technologies like Alexa, Google Assistant, and AirPlay 2, it’s a great system that just keeps getting better. But with a wide range of speakers and other components, figuring out which device(s) you should buy isn’t always obvious.
That’s especially true when looking at the company’s Play:1 and Sonos One speakers. They look very similar, and you’ll find that there are a ton of other similarities as well. But the new Sonos One has its own added features that make it well worth considering if you’re looking to update your Sonos system. Read on and we’ll cover all of the key features that separate these wireless speakers, so you can choose the right speaker for you.
If you were to pick between the Sonos One and the Play:1 purely based on price, it’s an easy choice: The Play:1 comes in at $149, a full $50 less than the Sonos One. If all you cared about was adding a Sonos speaker to your home for the lowest possible investment, clearly the Play:1 has the edge. Although if budget is your biggest concern, be sure to check out the Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf speaker. At just $99, it’s the new value king in the Sonos universe.
What’s more, there are excellent reasons to spend the extra $50 on a Sonos One, but since this category is purely about price, the Play:1 takes it.
This is by far the hardest category to judge because these two wireless speakers look a lot alike. That’s no accident: The Sonos One is essentially a Play:1 with added technologies that have come of age since the Play:1 was originally launched in 2013. The physical dimensions are virtually identical, so wherever you can find a space for the Play:1, the Sonos One will fit just as easily. However, the Play:1 has a built-in threaded speaker mounting hole on its back that can accommodate a wide variety of speaker mounting hardware, letting you place it anywhere you have access to a power outlet, giving the speaker an edge in versatility.
The Sonos One uses touch-sensitive controls which you can tap or swipe, while the Play:1 uses three physical buttons. Both let you play/pause, adjust volume, join a speaker to a group, and skip tracks. These last two options are a little easier on the Sonos One with simple swipes to the left or right, whereas the Play:1 requires multiple presses on the play/pause button. The Sonos One also has a microphone mute control (more on the Sonos One’s voice features later).
The last significant design difference is the metal speaker grille that protects the drivers of both speakers. The Play: 1, whether you buy it in black or white, always uses a brushed stainless grille. The Sonos One, by contrast, has less contrast. Both black and white models are dressed in a monochromatic grille that matches the color of the cabinet for a subtler look. Both products are moisture-resistant, which means they can withstand the extra humidity of a bathroom, but can’t be exposed to water directly.
Because of its superior versatility in placement options, we’re giving this one to the Play:1, but we acknowledge that if wall- or stand-mounting your speaker doesn’t matter to you, this category is a tie.
Sonos is notoriously quiet about specs like wattage and frequency response for its speakers, making it hard not only to compare them to speakers made by other companies but even to other Sonos products. As such, we’re left to our senses to make qualitative assessments of these two products. What we know is that the Sonos One and Play:1 have nearly identical components from a driver and amplifier point of view.
Listening to them side by side reveals only the minutest of sonic differences, and if we were to try to qualify them, it would be to say that the Sonos One sounds a touch fuller than the Play:1. But we’re talking about fractional differences that you would only become aware of after comparing them head to head, as we have done, over hours of listening. We think most people won’t hear any difference at all, and it’s far too close to call.
At last, we have arrived at a category in which there is no contest. The Sonos One is far more than a wireless speaker, it’s also a full-fledged smart speaker and a very good one at that. The Sonos One initially shipped with support for just Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, but this year the company added the ability to use Google Assistant instead. Switching between the two is easy enough — you can do it in the Sonos app — but you can’t have them running simultaneously. We won’t get into the litany of things you can do with these two assistants in this comparison, but as for Sonos products themselves, the Sonos One gives you voice control over your music on any Sonos speakers in your home, smart or not.
A smart speaker only works when it’s listening, but there are times when that’s not what you want. Sonos claims that tapping the mic icon on the Sonos One is a guarantee of privacy: If the microphone LED isn’t on, it means the mic has been physically shut down by the speaker’s circuitry.
The Sonos One also comes with Apple AirPlay 2, Apple’s latest standard for wireless multiroom audio. You may wonder why a Sonos product even needs AirPlay 2, given that Sonos’s own wireless multiroom technology is amongst the best we’ve ever used. And yet, there are two very good reasons to care about AirPlay 2.
First, Sonos has announced that in the near future, changes to iOS will prevent the remote app from being able to access local music on your iPhone or iPad. In effect, the “on your device” source that Sonos users are used to seeing, will no longer show up. The solution to this, according to Sonos, is AirPlay 2, which will let you continue to play music from your iOS device to a Sonos system, albeit not through the Sonos app. If your Sonos system doesn’t have at least one AirPlay 2 compatible product (like the Sonos One), you’ll lose this ability entirely.
Second, AirPlay 2 is an amazing way to leverage the power of your Sonos speakers to improve the sound of any video that’s playing on your iOS device. Wish you could hear that Netflix movie playing on your iPad with something that’s got a bit more oomph? Simply open your AirPlay menu and select your Sonos One. If you have several Sonos speakers, they can all receive that same AirPlay feed, as long as they’re grouped with the Sonos One.
As we said, it’s no contest, and it’s these extra features that more than justify the Sonos One’s higher price.
Winner: Sonos One
You might think that because the Play:1 took two of the four categories outright and tied a third it’s our winner, but as is sometimes the case, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Given its impressive capabilities as a smart speaker, and its inclusion of AirPlay 2, we think the Sonos One is a better all-around wireless speaker. Though we definitely deducted a few points for its lack of a threaded speaker mount hole, it’s far from a deal-breaker. In fact, the Sonos One is so good, even at $50 more than the Play:1, we think the only reason people should buy a Play:1 is if they already own a Sonos One (or perhaps a Sonos Beam, the company’s other smart speaker product) and are simply looking for an inexpensive way to add more speakers throughout their home.
Two more small points for consideration: First, if you want to stereo pair your speakers, you’ll need two of the same kind (two Play:1 speakers, two Sonos Ones, etc.), as Sonos does not allow stereo pairing for separate speaker models.
Second, if you genuinely have no interest in owning a smart speaker but you’re concerned about the Play:1’s lack of AirPlay 2, you may want to buy an Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf speaker ($99) or an Ikea Symfonisk Table Lamp ($180). Neither are smart speakers, but they both have AirPlay 2. Whether you buy them on their own, or in addition to older models, they’re a great way to future-proof your Sonos setup without inviting Alexa or Google Assistant into your home.
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