The Play:3 is Sonos's smallest and most affordable speaker unit. It costs £259 and houses three speaker units. For years now, Sonos has been known as an expensive, high-quality streaming solution. But now that it has dropped the expensive bit, is the quality going to drop off too? Not in the slightest.
Sonos's speaker units are traditionally thought of as multi-room devices, but the Play:3 can happily replace an iPod dock for many. Using a home Wi-Fi connection, it'll stream your music collection from a NAS drive or computer, or the millions of tracks available from online services like Spotify. Physical media is on the way out, and the Sonos Play:3 is busily hammering nails into its coffin in preparation.
The Sonos Play:3 is an unassuming little box. 26cm wide and 16cm deep, it's small enough to fit on a bedside cabinet without poking over the edge. If that foot print is still too large for your liking, this box is also designed to function just fine on its side, making it just 13cm wide. There are little rubber feet on one side as well as the bottom, to avoid scratches, while a built-in accelerometer lets the box know when it's on its side, and to change the sound processing accordingly.
It may not have the bold styling of something like the TEAC Aurb SR-100i, but it sure is practical. The back and front edge are lined with a rubberised finish to give it some protection against the odd inevitable bump while the front is covered with a slightly flexible metal speaker grille. Anyone familiar with Sonos's history will know that it's the streaming software that's been its raison d'etre since the beginning, but it's nevertheless refreshing to see such "ego-free" design in action. The Play:3 wants to disappear into your living room, not assault your eyeballs every time you enter it. Unlike the (admittedly stylish) Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air.
Behind the grille live three drivers - two 3in mid-range drivers and a tweeter that sits in-between this pair. Each is powered by its own digital amplifier, and there's a bass radiator on the back. This is a passive cone - it doesn't have its own driver - but helps to tame the low-end frequencies, improving bass performance. The back is perforated with much larger holes than the front, giving the radiator's output free passage.
The simplicity of the Sonos Play:3's form factor continues in its controls and sockets. It has little need for them, since it's intended to be controlled with an iPhone, Android smartphone or a CR200 controller, and sources all its tunes over an internet connection rather than copper audio cable. It has Wi-Fi built-in, but if your connection to cables runs deep, there's also an Ethernet port to connect directly. The Sonos Play:3 needs a Bridge unit (which costs £39) if you're going to use wireless, but you won't need one if you plug the box directly into your router.
Although in most ways it’s just like a shrunken-down take on the Sonos Play:5, there are a couple of key differences. The Play:3 doesn’t have an auxiliary input or a headphone output, limiting the versatility of the box a little. There are no side doors into the audio experience here – either you buy into the Sonos way or you won’t be listening to anything.