FACT: It doesn’t matter how well written or intricately produced a song is, if it’s played through a crappy pair of speakers, it’s going to sound like shit. Throw bad room acoustics into the mix and it’s game over.
Case in point: The sound of school kids on the back of the bus listening to terrible tinny tunes being played out of their phones. Mind you, that could just be their piss-poor taste in music, ho ho.
I listen to music at home (not generally on the back of a bus tbh) a helluva lot and have been despo to give Sonos a spin for a while, as they have a bit of a rep for being the best in the biz where smart wireless speakers are concerned. However, they are also very much what you might call an *ahem* investment purchase, so I wanted to try before I (save up to) buy. Ya know?
Getting an invite via Currys PC World to spend a Saturday afternoon at the fancy Sonos Studio LDN in Shoreditch, to experience the sound of their PLAY:5 speakers IRL was therefore pretty damn dreamy – and worth the trek from one side of the tube map to the other of a weekend (curse you, leafy suburbian living!).
Btw, the Sonos Studio LDN is mega swish and a cool little place to hang out and have coffee with your pals downstairs – it’s tucked just round the back of Box Park in Shoreditch. We were treated to delicious lattes on arrival, which helped thaw out my freezing hands from the blustery walk round from Liverpool Street station!
I must admit, I was slightly dreading the ‘sales pitch’ part of the afternoon as I HATE that sort of thing but needn’t have worried as Sonos basically let their hero product – the revamped big PLAY:5 speaker – do the talking. Or rather, the playing. And when your tech is this good, why wouldn’t you?
We were invited to get comfy in the ‘living room area’ of the studio (note: I would quite like to live there pls because it’s so damn Instagrammable with its Moroccan rugs and leafy house plants) and then we spent some time listening to tracks selected by the Sonos guys that really showed-off the speaker.
They then opened it up to the assembled bloggers for song suggestions to test on the sound system. I did my usual thing of suddenly getting paralysed by fear but how I WISH I’d got them to play Depeche Mode’s Halo. All the other songs we listened to were beautiful, but quite ‘guitar-y’ and ‘jangly’ (technical terms) and I would have loved to hear how a more punchy bit of moody 80s electro sounded.
Anyhoo, emotional meltdowns aside, we learnt that the PLAY:5 has basically been re-designed to give a studio-sound experience in your home – even if you don’t live in an airy loft conversion like the Sonos space. How? There’s a clever bit of tech that syncs with your smartphone and involves you waving your device around your room, windmill style, so the Trueplay speaker-tuning software can adjust your speaker sound accordingly, to give you the best sound quality every time. I mean SRSLY, how amazing is that?
And the verdict? Bloody impressive. I suddenly realised how music could sound in glorious technicolour and was able to hear every instrument, every bleep, strum and bass line crystally clear. It was like putting my head inside a big sound bubble (I want to say ‘sound cloud’, but that’s already taken, and ‘sound helmet’ wasn’t as snappy); a fully immersive experience. They honestly haven’t paid me to say this, btw.
If you’re a massive cynic like me and want to know if the effect would be the same in your pokey flat with a much smaller speaker, we also listened to the teeny PLAY:1 positioned under a sofa and facing the wall, and with Trueplay enabled, it sounded flippin’ amazing. Clever, clever stuff. Christ knows how they do it.
I also was impressed by the fact that Sonos speakers are built to last – around ten years, in fact, so the initial sting of the price-tag seems much more affordable when split across that time span. And they continue to supply software updates to their discontinued lines (e.g. the old PLAY:5 model), so that your speaker will continue to perform at its best. Unlike, say, Apple with their iOS updates for first-generation iPads and the like (not that I’m bitter).
We then had a go at building our own speakers from cardboard and sticky-back plastic, Blue Peter style, but I think it’s safe to say the design team at Sonos won’t be out of a job just yet.
As for me, I’m thinking about getting a single PLAY:1 for my flat, with a view to maybe adding a secondary one later down the line to go stereo. At around £160, it’s not cheap but I feel much happier to invest now I’ve heard it in action. Almost seems criminal to listen to music on anything else, now, though…