Review: Sonos Subwoofer

Easy to use and easy to enjoy.


Yes, I was a bit skeptical on this one. I mean, the subwoofer looks like a Cheerio, so how good could it sound? Two drivers facing each other? The only time I’ve seen that before was in a Smokey and the Bandit movie. After spending a couple days playing a wide range of music with the new Sonos Sub, count me a believer.

About a month ago I went to a swanky New York hotel where Sonos was set up to show off its line of wireless music products. There was even a display of PLAY:3 speakers hanging from the ceiling in a kind of speaker chandelier. I was invited to check out the just-announced sub in a small suite (read about that here). In the small hotel room it sounded pretty decent, but that wasn’t an ideal place—small room, big windows, and not my music.

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Weeks later I’m unpacking the odd-looking subwoofer, a couple of PLAY:3 speakers and the Bridge (the thing that sends out the wireless signals to everything). One (of many) nice things about the Sonos system is you don’t even need to set it up with a computer—I did the entire setup process over my iPhone and then added my Samsung Galaxy Tab as an additional controller. Setup time: about 10 minutes.

Before I get off track and talk about what I listened to and how it sounded, here’s a brief refresher on what Sonos is all about. Sonos is a networked music system for distributing music all around a house over IP. It sets up its own Wi-Fi network so as not to interfere in your existing network. You can use your own speakers and amplifiers or use Sonos speakers—there are several to choose from, and you can learn all about the cool PLAY:3 speakers in an earlier review here. You control your system through apps for iOS or Android. Both apps look and work pretty much the same. You can read more about the app controller here.

Sonos has built a reputation for delivering an easy whole-home audio solution that brings together all your music—your iTunes, Pandora, Slacker, Rhapsody etc.—in one place and letting you play in individual rooms or all room together, without rewiring the house.

Many users opt for the simple method of buying the PLAY:3 speakers because they come with their own amplification and don’t require any wire except for the power cord. The drawback though is the smallish (about the size of a bread loaf) speakers are a bit lacking in the bass department. If you wanted a bigger sound experience, you needed to use the Sonos Connect amp and your own speakers and subwoofer.

Now the new sub fills in that hole, and very nicely I should add.

Setup and Play
Integrating the sub into a Sonos system is easy. The sub, like the PLAY:3 speakers, is wireless and includes its own built-in amp. The sub actually has two class D amps, each one drives a woofer that together equal about a 10-inch driver (Sonos won’t reveal the power spec). The two woofers face each other inside the circle design of the sub, and according to Sonos, they cancel out each other’s vibration so you don’t have any rattle. The sub can be played upright or lying flat on the floor.

Once the Sonos app recognized that I’d added a sub to my network it asked me what room it was in. I then paired the room’s two PLAY:3 speakers and went through a simple setup procedure within the app to adjust the phase and volume (the Sub doesn’t include a phase switch, and in fact the company doesn’t even use the term phase). After that I dove into some music.

Being that it was early in the morning, and my kids where peacefully sleeping while I was up working, I decided to start with something loud and obnoxious—Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark at the Moon and then I moved on to AC/DC. I just learned a new trick to get my kids out of bed.

After jumping around to a few different tracks, I was convinced this sub was designed by rock fans. It added a lot of presence to rock music in terms of depth, soundstage and overall power. Sonos told me that when you add a sub to the system, the other speakers tend to get louder because less of their amp energy goes to low frequencies. I confirmed that with a sound meter and RTA app. On average the system played about 3-5db louder with the sub engaged (you can easily turn the sub on and off for A/B testing within the Sonos app), but volume wasn’t what gave the system life. All I had to do was turn the volume down to the original listening level in order to hear what the sub was really offering.

Once the kids were up and moving I turned to Cat Stevens’ Wild World, and while this isn’t a bass-heavy track, the sub filled out the gaps for a more three-dimensional sound. On some Johnny Dodds blues tracks I was impressed with how the sub helped the trombone come forward.

While there was lots of bass provided by the Sub, it doesn’t overpower the music. The sound was tight and well-integrated into the music. It’s a bit more thumpy in rock than in jazz or classical, but nothing out of line with the music style.

You might note that in my original PLAY:3 review I was pretty satisfied with the sound quality of the speakers. Adding the sub to the mix takes the system to a higher level. While $699 sounds like a big jump considering a pair of PLAY:3 speakers and the Bridge will run you $650, believe me, it’s worth it.

Sonos Subwoofer

Here’s a little video Sonos made about the subwoofer design:


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