Wireless Speaker Face-Off: Edifier S1000DB vs. Sonos Play:5

    The Edifier costs less than the Sonos and sets a new benchmark for sound quality

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    Wireless speakers Edifier S1000DB vs. Sonos Play:5 Michael A. Smith

    The Edifier S1000DB replaces the Sonos Play:5 as the top wireless home speaker in Consumer Reports' ratings after our latest testing, earning impressive marks for ease of use and versatility, and—more to the point—an Excellent score for sonics.

    “Sound quality is the tail that wags the dog,” says chief speaker tester Elias Arias. “It’s the most important attribute for a speaker, and it’s what we weight most heavily in our ratings.”

    Sold as a stereo pair for $350, the Edifier is also a bargain, particularly when compared with the Sonos Play:5, which rates Very Good for sound quality and sells as a single stereo speaker for $499.

    Before you race out to buy a new set of speakers, though, you should know that the Sonos Play:5 still has some benefits the Edifier lacks. In fact, though both models let you hear the subtleties in "Rubber Soul" or fill the room with the Jupiter Symphony, in most other ways, these speakers are strikingly different.

    Here's how the Edifier stacks up to the Sonos. And if neither seems right for you and you're a subscriber, check out our complete Top 10 list below.

    Sound Quality: One Box or Two?

    Arias admits there were times, when he was listening casually as he caught up on his notes, that he couldn’t tell the difference between the $350 Edifiers and the speakers with the five-figure price tag that we use as a benchmark reference in our testing lab.

    According to our technicians, the Edifier's bass is “deep” with “good impact,” and the highs are “extended and fairly detailed.” They also praise the Edifier's audio imaging—its ability to place instruments precisely in space in a way that almost convinces you that the musicians are there with you in your living room.

    By comparison, the Sonos offers surprisingly good stereo sound from a single large enclosure. The bass is deep but “a bit lacking in detail,” while the high frequencies reach into the highest octaves but are “slightly prominent,” according to our testers.

    One note: If you purchase two Play:5s and pair them—which only the most serious Sonos fans would be inclined to do—midrange and treble both improve. In fact, the stereo pair of Play:5s earns an Excellent rating and produces slightly better sound than a pair of Edifiers—albeit at a price close to $1,000.

    Design: Retro or Modern?

    From a distance, the Edifier projects an old school vibe. It's a traditional looking two-way speaker with the tweeter and woofer visible under the removable speaker grill. The matte black boxes are accented with nicely finished wooden side panels, so the retro look exudes quality.

    Size-wise, the Edifiers are quite substantial at 13 inches tall and rather hefty at 18 pounds each, so they’re best placed on a sturdy bookshelf or even on top of your desk.

    The Sonos, by comparison, gets stereo sound from a single enclosure outfitted with six individual speakers—or drivers—hidden behind an opaque grill. It's 8 inches by 14 inches, weighs 14 pounds, and can be situated horizontally or vertically.

    Available in black or white, the Sonos projects a sleek, modern aesthetic that tends to blend in with most décor instead of standing out.

    Features: Smart Tuning or DIY Tweaks?

    Despite the throwback looks, the Edifier is not your dad’s bookshelf speaker. The right channel speaker houses a 120-watt amplifier, so it must be plugged into an AC power source and linked to the left speaker via a 5-pin cable. The flexible back panel includes an optical input for a Blu-ray player or other digital source and RCA inputs for, say, a turntable with a built-in phono pre-amp. The Edifier also comes with a dedicated remote control.

    To help you fine-tune the speaker for your listening environment, Edifier has three knobs on the back to control volume, treble, and bass. If you want speakers that'll rattle your chest with deep bass in a home theater system or a gaming console setup, note that the Edifiers offer no provision for an add-on-subwoofer, although the bass extension is more than adequate for most music.

    The Sonos Play:5 achieves its fine sound quality with a different approach, using three tweeters, three woofers, and six digital amplifiers, one for each driver, all in a single enclosure.

    The Play:5's back panel is simple. It includes a 3.5-mm analog jack to plug in a smartphone or other mobile device and an Ethernet jack to connect the speaker to a router. Though a third-party remote is available at extra cost, Sonos assumes most users will operate the Play:5 through a smartphone using the company's mobile app.

    When it comes to tuning the Play:5s to your room, Sonos does the job for you. The TruePlay function on the Sonos app plays test tones and then uses feedback from your smartphone’s microphone to adjust the speakers to the characteristics of the listening environment.

    Versatility: Multiroom or Music Room?

    When used wirelessly, the Edifiers are designed to pair with a digital device—smartphone, tablet, or laptop—via Bluetooth. Our testers found the wireless connection to be both robust and reliable. CR's testing also found no sonic difference between the Bluetooth and the wired connections.

    The Edifiers don't offer WiFi networking, although there’s an easy and inexpensive way to add that option to these speakers (and many other wireless models). Buying a $35 Google Chromecast Audio allows you to stream from Google's music services, Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, Tidal, and others. This option wasn’t tested by CR.

    The Sonos, on the other hand, is strictly a WiFi device when it's used wirelessly. To pair it with your phone, tablet, or laptop, you need to download the Sonos app.

    That said, the Play:5's impressive flexibility might be its best feature. You can, for example, pair the speaker with a Sonos sound bar and a subwoofer for a 5.1 channel home theater system. The Play:5s also play well with other Sonos speakers. You can link them with myriad Sonos devices to form a flexible multiroom system that allows you to play Kanye in the family room, Tom Waits in the den, and Al Green in the bedroom.

    Which Should You Buy?

    These are both great-sounding speakers, and whether you listen to Bach, the Beatles, or Beyonce, you really can't go wrong with either one.

    If you’re looking for sound quality on a budget in a single room, the Edifier is your choice. It offers superb sonics for a lot less money than you’d expect.

    The Sonos Play:5 sounds great, too, but it costs quite a bit more—especially if you're hoping for a stereo pair. What you're paying extra for is the flexibility afforded by the Sonos system, which many people admire. The Play:5 performs well in a single box configuration, but it also gives you numerous options for configuring—or re-configuring—your system.

    For more test results on the Edifier S1000DB, the Sonos Play:5, and the other wireless home speakers that round out our top 10 wireless speakers, keep reading.

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