Top positive review
Great, deep bass as part of a home audio system. No sound difference from Gen 2 SUB
Reviewed in the United States on July 6, 2020
At $100 more than the Sonos SUB (Gen 2) at launch, this new subwoofer (Gen 3) is not much different than its predecessor.
When I had just purchased a home, I was looking into having it wired for whole-house audio. Looking into multi-room systems on Amazon, it was apparent to me that it wouldn't be cheap: cost of the speakers, controllers, PLUS cost of running wires throughout the house. When I saw the Sonos PLAY:1 promotions at the time, I found its wireless solution to be more cost effective and with better speakers to boot. My family and I decided to move forward with Sonos instead of wiring the whole house. More on that later.
I had since purchased the Sonos ONE speakers in late 2017, and replaced them with the 2019 Sonos ONE (Gen 2). Currently, the newer model does not yet offer significant advantages over its predecessor except in 2 areas: faster processor for future expansion and Bluetooth LE (for speaker setup via Bluetooth at this time). The Sonos SUB (subwoofer) and Playbar (soundbar) were later added for a complete, home cinema experience. One should note that Sonos made a smart move when they first introduced the relatively inexpensive PLAY:1 speakers: it gave buyers a taste of the Sonos offering with hopes that more components would be added later. Indeed, we bought into that ecosystem.
Fast-forward many years later, and the company had just released its next-generation Sonos Arc that has made the short-lived Playbase, the old Playbar, and the less powerful Beam pretty much things relegated to the past. What system works best for you will depend on your budget, but for those who want the best sound, the Arc is hard to beat. The company had recently started releasing updated models of its speakers ("S2") in an attempt to offer more higher-end features, slowly retiring its older offerings ("S1" generation products). That has not gone without a few missteps made by its new CEO, angering some of its loyal customers, myself included. Regardless, our family remains with the Sonos camp.
In this review, we will first look at what is different between the Sonos SUB Gen 2 and Gen 3, what makes the SUB good or bad, then dive into the pros and cons of Sonos in general, and why we chose them over a whole-house, wired audio system.
Fun Fact: "SONOS" is a palindrome. It says the same thing when read backwards and forwards.
SONOS SUB (Gen 3)
There virtually is no difference between the newest SUB and its predecessor. The parts that drive the sound and the product dimensions are essentially the same. What has changed is more updated hardware with the newest version. Can you tell the difference in sound, however? No, and for a simple reason: the SUB is a supporting product for other speakers like the Arc, Playbar, One, Five, and so on. It is a "dumb" device that is told what to do by the other Sonos products.
- Satisfying, heart-pounding, butt-rumbling bass without any distortion or buzzing
-- If you hear something buzzing, be sure nothing is obstructing the middle opening. I once had styrofoam nearby and kept hearing a rattling
- The bass is so good, you could literally jump out of your seat when an explosion occurs on the screen
- Can be used standing up or laying down
- Glossy, classy, piano finish
- WiFi and Ethernet (wired) network connectivity
- More future-proof with updated hardware, though I do not expect much to change the same way nothing really has changed between Gen 1 and Gen 2
-- Sonos SUB Gen 2, with no change in sound, can be had for $100 less at the time of this writing
- Only comes with 1 network port
- VERY heavy
Regardless of which Sonos subwoofer you are looking to purchase, at the heart of Sonos is its software features that we will look at next.
The following are the pros and cons that led me to decide for Sonos over a wired, whole-house speaker system.
- Excellent, multi-room, Hi-Fi sound
-- Speakers sound better than the multi-room, wired systems I looked at for less than $500 - $1,000
-- Crisp and clear mid tones without bass drowning out voices
--- The Play:1 and ONE products do sound a bit more muffled when placed in the corner of a room because the walls on both ends amplify the bass. Use the Sonos app to add more Treble to counteract that
-- At 15-25% volume, the sound is plenty loud and clear. To fill larger rooms requires the more higher-end Sonos products
-- At 100% volume, there is no distortion for any of the Sonos speakers I have owned
-- Pair the Playbar/Beam/Arc with 2 Sonos ONE speakers for the rear to make a 3:1 or 5:1 surround sound system, and movies and music come alive
- Audio/Music sources
-- At the heart of Sonos' ecosystem is the support for a wide variety of music sources and vendors. They are not locked to a single vendor
--- Voice (with supporting products, such as Arc, One, Beam): Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and to some extent: Siri via AirPlay
--- Music: Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, iHeartRadio, Plex, Radio Disney, TuneIn, Apple Music, Audible, Last.fm, PocketCasts, SiriusXM, Stitcher, your local NAS network share, and so many more
- Resale Value. Wired speakers do not add much resale value to your house
-- Why spend $1,000s only to leave the audio system behind when you sell the property or move?
-- With wireless, the expensive speakers could be taken with you to the new home
- Freedom to move around
-- With wireless, you are free to take the speakers anywhere you want throughout the whole house
--- Neighborhood block parties: we have taken some Sonos ONE speakers out to the street for entertainment while completely synced with the music inside our home
--- Backyard entertaining. Note: although the Sonos ONE are moisture-proof, I would not use them as permanent outdoor speakers without putting them into proper, outdoor-rated enclosures
- Free Sonos app for Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod), Windows Phone, Mac/Windows laptop/tablet (sadly, no Windows Store app yet)
-- Each speaker can be controlled by the app, including setting Bass, Treble, and volume
-- "Sonos S1 Controller" app supports the earliest ("S1") Sonos products
-- "Sonos" app supports the newest ("S2") Sonos products
-- If your Sonos system is capable of being entirely upgraded to "S2", the Sonos app will prompt you to do so
--- This is IRREVERSIBLE. You will NOT be able to revert them back to "S1"
--- If you ever add "S1" products into your home later on, they will not be able to work with the "S2" products (or those upgraded to "S2")
- Sonos plans to release the newest features only to the newer, more capable "S2" products, but allows "S1" items to continue to work
-- My Play:1, One, Sub (all 3 generations), Playbar, and Arc are all considered "S2"
- Ease of music sync
--- Grouping of speakers to have them all play the same music. You can have up to 32 separate groups.
--- Each speaker can be controlled from the app individually or relative to the Group
---- Example: If Speaker 1 is 50% and 2 is 25%, lowering the volume by 5% will lower them to 45% and 20% respectively. Or, you can only make Speaker 2 go to 40%
-- Once music plays (ie. Pandora, Spotify), you can leave the house and it will continue to play
-- Party feature: any guest who has their Sonos app paired to your speakers can add music to a playlist, allowing everyone to DJ the mood
-- Sonos did a smart thing. You can add and remove additional speakers and models as you like. They all will work in harmony with one another
-- Note: As Sonos retires its older products ("S1" generation), they will eventually not be able to work alongside the next generation ("S2") in terms of feature sets
--- At the time of this writing, Sonos has no plans to stop supporting S1 products (after a public backlash to the contrary), and so they will continue to work. They will simply not get the newest features as they become available due to hardware limitations
- Easy installation
-- Turn on the speaker, follow the Sonos app to provide it a name and connect it to your WiFi, and it is ready to work with the other Sonos products
-- Some of the products can be wired to the network to help alleviate WiFi congestion and provide better performance
-- Sonos uses a proprietary, wireless "mesh" system to have all products talk to one another. Read the TIPS section for more details
- LED status light can be configured to stay on or off via the Sonos app
- Alarm/Sleep timer
-- Each speaker (or Group of them) can be set to play music at a specific time, day, and volume (Alarm) from a specific source for a specified amount of time
--- For example, the Kitchen speaker can turn on at 7am to play the local news for an hour at 70% volume. You no longer have to remember to turn off the speaker when you leave for work
-- A Sleep timer can be set to to play music for a specific number of minutes to ease you into sleep
- Design. Every Sonos product, including the SUB, ONE, Arc, and the old Playbar are beautiful devices.
- Pricey. Every Sonos product commands a cost premium with rarely a discount available (TIP: Black Friday tends to lower the prices)
-- Owning a 5.1 home theater setup will run you in the thousands of dollars, but makes up for it by being easily expandable with additional speakers and smart functionality
-- Still costs less than wiring a whole house with Bose speakers (that cannot be moved to a new home if you were to move)
- Sonos App Interface
-- The app has gone through a few iterations, but remains clunky in some parts and counter-intuitive (as evident when my elder mother-in-law keeps asking how to play a particular playlist or music source)
- Not all apps can directly beam sound to the Sonos speakers that do not have built-in Bluetooth
-- You have to use the Sonos app to add the approved source to the Sonos app, and from there you can play it to the speakers
-- You CAN beam sound directly to Sonos speakers that have Bluetooth available
TIPS AND NOTES
INSTALLATION AND CONFIGURATION
Setting up a Sonos speaker is quite simple!
- You first download the Sonos controller app (from a mobile app store or Sonos website)
- Using the Sonos app, add a Sonos product by following the simple on-screen instructions
-- Connect the first speaker to your WiFi (or wired network, if available with the Sonos product)
-- Give the product a name (ie. Master Bedroom, Kitchen, Family Room, Garage, etc.)
-- Optionally, configure additional, product-specific features, such as sound optimization based on where the speakers are placed in the room
- To add additional Sonos products, have the app "find" the new speaker
-- The app automatically adds the new speaker to the existing Sonos system. No WiFi configuration is needed
- Originally, at least 1 Sonos product (Play:1, ONE, Playbar, Sub, Arc, Bridge, etc.) needed to be physically plugged in to your wired home network, and every other Sonos speaker would subsequently communicate with that one to access the Internet and online music sources
- Today, the 1st Sonos product can simply be hooked up to just WiFi. A network cable is no longer a requirement
- Some Sonos products come with 2 network ports. This allows:
-- 1st port to connect to your wired home network to alleviate wireless traffic and improve performance
-- 2nd port to have something else connected to it, such as a printer or PC
--- Conveniently allows a wired device (ie. printer, PC) to be used "wirelessly" through the Sonos speaker
- Sonos Playbar only comes with 1 network port
PROPRIETARY, WIRELESS "MESH" NETWORK
Sonos products communicate on a proprietary, wireless "mesh" system that is separate from your home WiFi. This has multiple benefits:
- Minimizes congestion on your home network by not using your WiFi
- Maintaining a strong, wireless signal between the speakers throughout the whole house so the music can play without interference/interruption due to network congestion caused by your other devices (ie. laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.)
HOW DOES A "MESH" NETWORK WORK?
This technology has been around for some time. A mesh network is where each device is connected to as many other ones as possible, cooperating with one another to move data between points as efficiently as possible. Think of a spiderweb of roads. If you wanted to drive to the beach, there are a number of streets you could take. Should one be closed, instead of being stuck, you can still reach your destination via another route.
The Sonos speakers operate the same way. The one at the farthest end of the house can go on the Internet by 1) directly communicating with your WiFi router, or by 2) talking to the nearest Sonos who then relays the information back and forth between the router and the distant speaker.
Imagine yourself at the park with friends and family scattered throughout. You want to tell your child that you need his help, but you cannot find him. So, you tell everyone nearby that if they see your son, to let him know to find you. One by one, your friends and family tell others close by until somebody finds your child and tells him your message. He replies back that he is on his way, and each person relays it to the next one until you get your child's response.
Jack is in the backyard and shouts a message to Jill who is on the front lawn. No matter how loud Jack screams, Jill can't hear him because the house is between them. Jack has 3 choices:
A. He can pick up the phone and call Jill
B. He can move closer to Jill
C. He can tell Dad who is sitting on the couch nearby. Dad yells out the message hoping that Tom (kitchen) or Mom (front door) hears it. Mom hears it first and tells Jill what Jack said. If Mom was not available and Tom heard it too, he could have sent the message over to Jill himself.
- Option A is like Jack talking to Jill over a wired network connection. If the phone (or network connection) does not work, the message is not heard
- Option B is like moving the speaker closer to the WiFi router. This may not be physically possible due to inteferences (such as walls) being in the way
- Option C is a mesh network. Everybody in and around the house who can hear the message can send it on to the next person until it has reached the destination... like a game of Tag. There is less of a chance from something blocking the message as long as any one around can hear it
Like a spiderweb, if any part of it is touched, anybody on the web can feel the vibration even if part of the web is broken.
Back to technical terms, you can have one Sonos component next to your Internet router, and all the other speakers can piggy-back off one another to talk to the Internet or between each other. An excellent example of this is when I wanted to listen to music in the garage and the WiFi signal from our family room was too weak to reach it. I placed another Sonos product between the garage and the family room, and suddenly I was able to enjoy music in the garage because the middle Sonos acted as a bridge between both points.
Technically, you could create a huge, Sonos wireless mesh by placing a few speakers into each house in the neighborhood, and suddenly the same music could be played at each home for a truly neighborhood block party. Try THAT with Blueooth speakers -- it would not have been possible!
TIP: If your home WiFi signal is weak, you may look into "mesh" WiFi products, such as the Linksys Velop and Eero Pro products. They will help you have strong WiFi signals throughout the whole house by establishing a "mesh" network of network nodes. They are very simple to set up, too!
Overall, I'm quite pleased with the Sonos ecosystem. It came out cheaper than wiring the house, has excellent sound, and I get to control my music from any of the mobile devices from anywhere. Add to that the ability to issue voice commands to Alexa or Google's Assistant, and you have a very smart, home entertainment system! Mind you, Sonos is expensive, and one can only hope that increased competition from Apple, Amazon, Google, and other manufacturers can drive the prices down. As it stands today, I am not aware of any good, alternate, wireless HiFi sound solution.
Functionally, the new SUB is not any different than its predecessor in terms of sound quality and dimensions. You can almost not tell either apart from one another. Where it does make a difference is that the older one is $100 less.