Name: Sonos SUB
Type: Wireless subwoofer for Sonos music systems
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: £599
Sonos have expanded their wireless audio range to include the striking new SUB subwoofer. It looks and sounds the business, but is the sonic boost worth the high asking price? Read on to find out.
The Sonos SUB is a monolithic subwoofer. Measuring 402 x 158 x 380mm, it's of average size for a sub, but weighs a stonking 16kg. With a glossy black finish, it has a donut-like gap in the centre of its boxy shape, making it quite unlike any subwoofer you've ever seen before.
That hole doesn't just make it easier to carry the weighty SUB around, but is also a design decision intended to improve the overall audio quality. Inside the gap are two force-cancelling speakers, facing each other. As a result, none of the power of low, rumbling frequencies is lost to rattling or shaking within the cabinet itself. It also means that the SUB can be placed anywhere in a room (providing it is within a few feet of a power outlet), and deliver the same audio quality whether standing vertically of laid horizontally. This flexibility means that you could easily slip the SUB under a bed or raised sofa and still get a great audio response from it, though its stunning looks mean you'd probably want to leave it on show for all to see.
Set-up couldn't be simpler. Joining an existing Sonos wireless speaker set (Sonos recommend a pair of Play:3 wireless speakers, but Play:5 speakers will work just as well, though the SUB doesn't work with non-amplified Sonos components), it's just a matter of plugging the subwoofer into a power outlet, firing up the Sonos controller application on a desktop computer, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone or Android device, hitting the lone wireless sync button on the SUB and completing a short calibration process. If you were looking to use the SUB in a Sonos set up with speakers spread across multiple rooms, you'd also need to pick which speakers you'd like the SUB to pair itself with.
As you can see, Sonos assume you already have other compatible Sonos gear with which to pair the SUB, which you'd better have if you're considering the subwoofer as it won't work with any other audio gear. Aside from a power connection and the usage of an optional Ethernet port on the unit's underside there are no other terminals. Considering the £599 price tag, it stunts the potential lifespan of the SUB, should you be thinking about an overhaul of your audio gear sans Sonos in the coming years.
We paired the SUB with two Play:3 speakers, both in a stereo pairing and with a single Play:3 speaker too. In both cases, there was an easily noted improvement in the audio quality compared to using the Play:3 speakers by themselves. The SUB lets the Play:3 speakers ease off the lower frequencies a little letting the highs and mids shine through, without losing any of the kick and power of deep lows. Syncing perfectly with the smaller units, it can be disarming to see them seemingly pump out bass way beyond your expectations if the sub is tucked away.
No matter what style of music we threw at the SUB, it helped the Sonos system perform marvellously. The bass arpeggio of Bjork's Army of Me rang clear and low, helping to highlight intricate details elsewhere in the song, whereas Daft Punk's Derezzed from the Tron 2.0 soundtrack sounding properly mental, shaking our office to its core when the bass and volume levels were pushed to their max, with no obvious signs of bass distortion. The funky bass line of Rick James' Super Freak bounced with warmth and energy, while even tracks with less obnoxious bass like Bowie's Absolute Beginners sounded smooth and detailed. Classical music benefited less as did acoustic tracks, with Debussy' Claire de Lune seeing a marginally more spacious sound achieved. Something a little more dramatic like Beethoven's 5th Symphony benefited from the extra bombast offered by the SUB though. Impressing pretty much across the board, it made us wonder what Sonos could do with a wireless home cinema set up if they put their minds to it.
Things can get ridiculously loud too, and with bass levels dropping as low 25Hz, you'll be able to rock an outdoor party as easily as one in a small flat with just a single Play:3 and the SUB.
If there's one possible issue we had with the SUB, it's found when pairing with a single Play:3. Unless you've carefully balanced the bass levels in the EQ area of the Sonos software, it is easy to overwhelm a lone Play:3. Best results certainly come from the increased output offered by a stereo pairing.
Adding to the premium experience is the Sonos software. As it's been widely available for a few years and is well documented, we won't dwell on it too long, but it's a really wonderful system. Whether you're using a computer or mobile device, a clean, simple interface full of colourful artwork pulls in music from hundreds of sources, be they online radio stations, streaming services like Spotify or your own locally stored MP3s or iTunes library. Both the apps and desktop controller let you control individual streams to each speaker, meaning you could in theory have a different song playing in every room in your house that has a Sonos speaker, controlling playback, EQ and volume controls from one central position. It's incredibly intuitive and a joy to use.Verdict:
There's no denying that the Sonos SUB is a great bit of kit. It looks amazing, is a piece of cake to set up and gives a marked improvement to the audio quality of an existing Sonos system. However, £599 is also undeniably expensive for a subwoofer that can only ever be paired with other Sonos gear. Add to that the fact that to get the most out of the SUB you're going to need two complimentary Play:3 speakers and the overall price shoots up to £1,117 for the complete set up. It's a premium price for a premium package however, and if you've got the disposable income or already have compatible Sonos gear, it's a worthy, luxurious upgrade.