The Sonos Play:3 uses three drivers, each with its own digital amplifier. There are two 3in mid-range speakers and a single tweeter sitting between its two bigger brothers. There’s no dedicated subwoofer, just a passive radiator on the back to help improve the bass response.
iPod docks of this size and price will often offer decent audio quality, but tend to struggle at higher volume, as we saw in the JBL On Air Airplay dock. The Sonos Play:3 performs well above the average here, supplying a genuinely surprisingly amount of well-controlled bass, even as the volume is increased to levels that would start to cause distortion in rivals. While the dual drivers do start to sound a tiny bit strained at around 80 percent volume, they cope incredibly well, far exceeding our expectations. It can handle the incredibly low-frequency blasts of dubstep music in a clear and even way, where most units of this size simply can’t.
Sound is still definitely positional – the Play:3 can produce serious volume, but it’s not hard to pinpoint where the sound’s coming from compared with the larger Play:5. This ensures it can’t replace a full hi-fi on its own, but Sonos has a solution for that too.
Two Play:3 units can be paired together, each taking on one side of the stereo channel. When setup like this, bass response is further improved and the scale of output increases hugely. Use each of the devices like a bookshelf speaker in a 2.0 stereo and you have a formidable setup capable of filling rooms much better than a B&W Zeppelin Air could hope to. Of course that involves another £259 investment, but is worth considering if you want an alternative to one of the top-end £500 iPhone docks like the Zeppelin or Arcam rCube.
The sound signature is definitely on the warm, bassy side, but you are given some minor control over it within the iPhone app. A Music Equilization submenu lets you tweak the bass, treble and balance, and turn the Loudness mode on and off. The two frequency sliders only have a subtle effect on the sound – Sonos doesn’t give you the opportunity to ruin the sound quality here, but the Loudness option makes quite an impact. Primarily, it increases bass output to help the Play:3 maintain a decent sense of scale at higher volumes in spite of its fairly small-sized drivers. It can make the box sound a little bass-heavy, but this can then be tamed a little with the bass slider.
We’ve reviewed quite a few £200-350 docks over the last year, including the Teac SR-100i and JBL On Air. Although the Sonos Play:3 isn’t a dock as such, these are the kind of devices it has to compete with. And compete it does. With no distortion to be heard, plenty of power to draw on and superb software at its core, this is a brilliant box – as long as you can live without a physical dock to slap your aging iPod Classic into. The Play:5 makes a very attractive alternative at just £80 more, but if you need something smaller you can’t go wrong here.
Sonos’s brilliant streaming solutions are now available at an affordable price. The Play:3 sounds great, gives you access to a dazzling array of content and can be controlled completely with an Android smartphone or iPhone. Even if you have no intention of buying more than one box, that this effortlessly beats most small iPod docks in the sound department makes the Play:3 a champ.