Sonos has been one of the top dogs in wireless audio for some time, where its stylish Play:3 and Play:5 speakers lend themselves perfectly to multiroom use. The beauty of Sonos’s proprietary system is that you can have as many speakers as you like running simultaneously and are restricted only by the range and bandwidth of your network. Being able to pick and choose at random where you want to listen to music stored on a computer, smartphone or tablet is liberating.

The Play:1 is a new addition to the portfolio and is Sonos’s most affordable speaker yet. The company recently told HCC it sees the Play:1 fulfilling the role of a rear speaker in a multichannel set up, with a PlayBar soundbar taking on L/C/R duties and a Sonos SUB on LFE patrol, but the lack of HDMI inputs on the PlayBar makes this an awkward option, so we think it best to look at the Play:1 in the context of a wireless music speaker.

The Play:1 has been designed with two all-new drivers to deliver a bigger sound than you’d expect from a 16cm-tall speaker, with a 3.5in midbass unit joined by a 1in tweeter. The canister-like design is a touch bland but the build quality is high. The only socket is an Ethernet for connecting to a router. Handily, if used as a stereo pair only one speaker needs to be connected to the router.

Another option is to connect wirelessly to a Sonos Bridge (which you connect by Ethernet to the network). On top are controls for volume adjustment and a play/pause button, which allows you to leave home, return later and instantly resume playing the same track. Quickly double-pressing the button advances the playlist to the next track.

Refined control

Setup requires the Sonos app, which has been refined and now allows you to move from one system in one building to another without requiring a reset. Handy for the lake house or city crash-pad, I suppose. The app’s range of sources would make the Stasi jealous, providing seamless access to internet radio, NAS and other DLNA drives, online services including Spotify and Rdio, and even Amazon Cloud Player. A Favourites feature lets you quickly access preferred stations, artists and playlists from subscription services – but weirdly not from iTunes.

I paired two of the Play:1s in order to hear stereo reproduction and was highly impressed. Bass response is indeed substantial – Silent Shout by techno outfit The Knife sounds meaty and tight – but there’s plenty of detail in the higher frequencies with the chimes in The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite's Child and Demis Roussos’s alto vocals comfortably room-filling.

The Play:1s aren't as capable as the Play:3s or Play:5s at higher volumes: they don’t distort but do sound less controlled. Yet for small-to medium-sized rooms they have more than enough power in a pair to deliver a clean, engrossing and lively sound.

As an affordable introduction to a Sonos system this new speaker is a smart idea – especially the press-to-play button on top – but those already in ownership of Play:3s and Play:5s may find it a little underwhelming.