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When I started shopping for an upgraded speaker a few years ago, I remembered a question I was advised to ask myself as I started reviewing products: If you take the total cost of the product and divide it by the days you’ll spend using it, does that daily cost feel good to you? If so, it’s worth splurging. In other words: Sure, we might have to invest in some of the things we buy, and that’s okay — as long as it’s an investment we plan to continue using.
Music, and listening to it, is a big part of my life. Before the pandemic, I was going to live concerts monthly. I always have songs playing in my ears, and those songs come with me — in my wireless earbuds — wherever I go: on runs, on the subway, in the grocery store. If you see me in public and shout my name, I won’t be able to hear you — my earbuds are blaring my latest musical obsession, the volume (almost) all the way up. Sorry. But it doesn’t stop there: If I’m at home cooking, entertaining or scrubbing the tiles of my kitchen floor, I’ve also got a soundtrack accompanying the moment playing on my speakers.
After an era of cycling through inexpensive, portable Bluetooth speakers that I ultimately found irritating to constantly charge (and which eventually died altogether), I wanted an improvement. I mean, imagine: You bring home a date and can’t unwind with a glass of wine because, of all reasons, your Bluetooth speakers have run out of battery.
I knew that if I wanted a good home speaker, one that would sound beautiful, look attractive and fit into my modern apartment design — better yet, one that didn’t even rely on a battery — I would want to put money into it. At the time, experts and friends alike recommended the Sonos Five. And now, three-and-a-half years after setting it up at home, I can tell you it was (and is) worth every dollar I spent. While I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile, I also feel confident telling you the Sonos Five sounds — in a word — gorgeous.
The Sonos Five is the largest in a family of five home speakers, all of which prioritize similarly high design and high fidelity. It’s about 6 inches deep by 14 inches wide and 8 inches tall, and weighs 14 pounds — you won’t be running around with it anytime soon (unless you’re creative with your fitness). Sonos offers support for more than 100 streaming services, too, including the big dogs: Amazon, Apple Music, Google Play, Pandora, and Spotify. It can connect to your phone, tablet or computer via Wi-Fi. And it’s earned 4.7 stars from more than 600 reviews on Amazon. Notably, the Sonos Five does not pair via Bluetooth and only via Wi-Fi.
The Sonos Five sounds incredible. The Sonos Five’s sound filled up various apartments I’ve lived in across Brooklyn — it worked as well in a massive living room with 20-foot ceilings as it did handling the smaller living space of a studio apartment. Its sound was clean and crisp, and the voices on each track I played separated themselves neatly from the instruments that reverberated in the background. It felt fresh and exciting to hear music in ways I hadn’t before.
It’s very easy to control, a mixed bag for some. After I hooked it up to my phone, it’s simple to access my music through the Sonos app. If I want to, I could connect it directly to the music streaming service of my choice. It has no physical buttons: My phone controls it completely, from song choice to volume. That might be jarring if you’re someone who prefers to have your hands on your controls. But if you’re like me, you appreciate your Sonos sitting in the corner of your room, behind a couch and just out of reach — the fact that I can control every different facet of the Sonos’ sound through my smartphone has been game-changing.
The Sonos Five looks really, really good. It bears repeating: For a fairly chunky accessory that some people like to leave out — or center — in their apartments, aesthetics can be important. The Sonos Five comes in two colors — entirely white or entirely black — and it can be positioned in a variety of different orientations (horizontally or vertically on either side), which is a blast for my inner design nerd. Change its orientation with your moods, when Mercury is in retrograde or when you’re nervously preparing for a big meeting.
It plays well with record players but doesn’t pair through Bluetooth. You can also pair the Sonos Five with a record player if you’re into that sort of thing — my Audio-Technica record player (predecessor to this newer model) is hooked up to my Sonos Five, and I enjoy hearing the crisp sounds that come through my speakers when I’m relaxing or making dinner. You can clearly hear the needle through the speaker as it tip-toes into the groove of the record and settles. That said, Sonos only pairs via Wi-Fi so it won’t work via Bluetooth connections across devices — I’ve personally never found this to be an issue but you might.
Other home speakers to consider
Here are other speakers that may work for your home instead, especially if you want a voice-enabled speaker, a slimmer profile speaker or a master quality authenticated option.
If you’re looking for a smart speaker that’s similar to the Sonos Five, but smaller and less expensive, the Amazon Echo is a great alternative. It’s also rounded around the top and sides, so make sure you can get into that design choice first before investing. You can control the Echo using Alexa via your voice or with the app — the Sonos Five does not have a microphone built in to hear a voice command. It comes with a 4.7 star rating from more than 105,000 customer reviews on Amazon.
If you value a taller and slimmer profile than the Sonos Five and you love presettings, the Bose SoundTouch 10 Wireless Speaker is worth looking into. The Bose SoundTouch 10 allows you to save presets, which means you should be able to quickly listen to your favorite radio stations, songs or podcasts. Like the Amazon Echo, the Bose SoundTouch 10 works with Alexa for voice control (although you’ll have to buy an Alexa device separately). It comes with 4.5 stars from nearly 3,800 customer reviews on Amazon.
If you’re looking for especially hi-res audio and MQA support, the Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i supports both and looks similar to the Sonos Five. The Pulse Mini 2i has its own app, too — the BluOS Controller — that you can download to make it easy to use the speaker, too. Although it only has 4 stars over a handful of Amazon reviews, it’s highly-rated by review outlets like What Hifi and TechRadar.