Setting-up the Sonos Play:3 is very simple, and is something you're guided through from within the Android or iOS Sonos app - which is a free download. Using a Wi-Fi connection, you merely press one button on top of the wireless bridge, then two buttons simultaneously on the speaker to get the boxes playing on the same team. You’re then taken to the main menu in the remote control interface, although at this point you can only stream radio stations. This setup process is the same if you use the PC software rather than the iPhone/Android app.
To get the good stuff – like Spotify, Deezer and so on – you need to have signed up for a Sonos account. These extra services are available from within a “More Music” submenu, but can only be added to the main menu once you’re signed in with your Sonos user name. Getting an account is free though, and only takes a minute.
There are currently seven additional services you can plug into the Play:3 in the UK, including – Spotify, Last.fm, Deezer, Aupeo!, Napster, Wolfgang’s Vault and Stitcher SmartRadio. This should be enough to satisfy most buyers, but there are still some missing choices, like We7 and Grooveshark.
If your music service of choice isn’t yet supported, you may need some serious patience to play the waiting game here. Sonos isn’t a new system, and now that the biggest-hitters are on-board we don’t expect to see many new services flood in all that soon. Spotify is the killer app here for our money, giving you access to over 15 million tracks – alternatives Naptser and Deezer both lag behind here. Even though you may use an iPhone to control the Play:3, you're not effectively streaming over a mobile, meaning you'll only need the £4.99 a month sub to get unlimited ad-free music.
The triumph of Sonos’s software is how well it integrates these online services. Each has its own discrete section within the Android/iPhone app, but you’re never more than a few clicks away from the services’ wares. The user interface is entirely bespoke – you’re not transported to a separate menu system when you leap from Spotify to Naspter. This makes the Sonos Play:3 very accessible. In some ways, the Android app is the best way to control this speaker. It lets you use the physical volume rocker of your phone to alter the sound level (not possible on iPhone/iPod Touch) and doesn't cost you an extra penny. Unlike the Sonos CR200 remote, which costs as much as the Play:3 itself, at around £259. This is gadgety convergence at its best.
The Play:3 does demand a certain acceptance of the Sonos way. There’s no management of your music library from within the Sonos app, just streaming. While Spotify as a service lets you buy music outright, you can’t do so here. And, in a similar vein, although you can listen to podcasts all day long you can’t download them. While a Play:3 may become the heart of your music setup, you’ll still have to head back to your computer if you want to expand your MP3 collection or download some podcasts to keep.
Adding a NAS or computer-based library is simple enough, but does need a little patience. We couldn’t get the Play:3 to hook into our iTunes library directly so instead had to share a specific music directory on the hard drive – which was followed by a bout of indexing that took a good 45 minutes to process (we are talking about a 15,000-track library though). Sonos claims its software is more than happy to take on large libraries of around 65,000 tracks, and we found browsing through albums and artists wonderfully easy using the iOS app. Scrolling through the list is very quick, and you can skip to a letter of the alphabet rather than just endlessly flicking through a book’s worth of pages.
The potential downside of relying on a “real” music library rather than a cloud collection like Spotify is that the device you’re streaming from needs to be powered-up all the time. If you use a NAS box, this is hardly a problem, but we’d be less keen on keeping a computer on all day long.
The Sonos Play:3 is ready to become more than just a lounge music player though. There’s a built-in alarm function, further boosting the box’s skills as a bedside unit. The standard alarm tone is a basic chime sound, but you can also pick a radio station or playlist. A pet hate of ours is alarm clock units that you can’t dim properly. The Sonos Play:3 doesn’t have a clock display of course, but there is a power indicator light on the top control panel. Thankfully, you can turn this off within the app.