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Updated: 2 Feb 2022

Sonos Five tested: is this high-end home speaker worth £500?

The new Sonos Five is aimed at audiophiles who fancy treating themselves to an immersive, multi-room experience

You can't shop for a premium wireless speaker without Sonos stepping in to try and tempt you with one of its products. The brand's latest arrival, the Sonos Five, is replacing the Sonos Play:5 (2nd Gen) - but is it a worthy upgrade?

Sonos is a major name in the world of home audio and its latest model is being pitched as a premium, room-filling speaker boasting 'superior sound'. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't come cheap, so we've put it in front of our expert listening panel to see if it's money well spent.

Find out what to expect from the new Sonos Five and what you could consider instead.

The best wireless and bluetooth speakers from our reviews offer top quality audio for film and music.

Sonos Five vs Sonos Play:5: what's the difference?

Although these two speakers are practically the same in terms of size and weight, there are clear visuals differences between the pair.

Both speakers are available in black or white, but the newer Sonos Five model (below, left) has a monochromatic exterior. The white version is therefore white all over (including the mesh covering on the front), making it well-suited to a modern-looking living room. Meanwhile, the older Sonos Play:5 (below, right) uses a dual colour exterior.

Each of these speakers can be positioned horizontally or vertically, depending on where you want them in your home. You might choose to position them either side of your TV, or on a nearby bookshelf. Three mid-woofers and three tweeters are sat inside both speakers.

Looks aside, you get more memory and improved processing power with the Sonos Five. This upgrade will help you deal with future software updates rolling out as part of the Sonos S2 experience, the operating system powering the brand's next generation of gadgets.

The Sonos S2 operating system can handle hi-res audio with more advanced features to come, so you might lean towards the Sonos Five over the Play: 5 if support for the latest features is high on your wish list.

For more details on what to expect from Sonos' latest speaker, read our full Sonos Five review - or get a refresh on the Sonos Play:5.

Sonos software updates

Sonos software support is a rather controversial topic. It wasn't long ago that the audio giant came out and confirmed some of its older products will no longer be supported by software updates from May 2020.

With that in mind, is it time to upgrade to the Sonos Five if you're still using one of the brand's older speakers? Ultimately, it depends on how much you care about Sonos S2, a system that supports higher resolution audio and the latest features.

If you own the first-generation Sonos Play:5 (launched in 2009), you'll need to upgrade for access to Sonos S2. You have nothing to worry about if you're using the second-generation Play:5.

Image source: Sonos.
* Sonos S2 required

It's also worth noting that products released after May 2020, such as the Sonos Arc, Five, and Sub (3rd Gen), will not be compatible with the S1 Controller app.Check the Sonos website for more details on the brand's legacy products.

How does the Sonos Five compare with its rivals?

If you're not 100% set on the new Sonos Five, you'll want to see the results of our speaker tests covering popular rivals such as Bose, Google and Samsung.

Google Home Max (£300)

This voice-activated smart speaker from Google is around £200 cheaper than the Sonos Five and shares a similar minimalist design.

You can bark orders at the Google Home Max using Google Assistant and, thanks to support for Chromecast multi-room, connect it to other Chromecast-compatible models from different brands.

Bose Home Speaker 500 (£320)

The Bose Home Speaker 500 might catch your eye if you don't want to spend £500 on the Sonos Five. If you already own another Bose speaker, you can connect this model using the Bose Music smartphone app.

This Bluetooth and wi-fi wireless stereo multi-room speaker is powered by the Amazon Alexa voice assistant and the 3.5mm socket lets you connect an MP3 player over a wired connection.

There are a range of physical controls on the top of this speaker, letting you play/pause your music, mute the built-in microphone and activate the voice assistant.

Have a read through our Bose Home speaker 500 review to see if this is the perfect speaker for you.

Samsung VL550 (£290)

If you're shopping for a premium speaker from a big-name brand, consider adding the Samsung VL550 to your shortlist. This Bluetooth and wi-fi stereo wireless speaker has a minimalist design and a compact body.

To control it, you use Samsung's unique Moving Dial - you can see it sat on the top of the speaker in the image above. But if you want to use it from a distance, you can also detach the magnetic dial and carry it around the house. It's used to adjust volume, skip songs and enable voice commands.

The list of supported music streaming services includes Deezer and TuneIn radio (may require subscriptions). You can control these apps through Samsung's SmartThings mobile app for Android and iOS.

Should you buy a sound bar (or sound base) or a home theatre speaker?

Choosing a sound bar is certainly the easier option if you're not particularly tech-savvy, but a home speaker is generally more versatile and offers a better surround-sound experience if you buy more than one.

The benefits of buying a sound bar include:

  • Ease of use Plug-and-play sound bars are easy to set up and you won't have to trail loads of wires around the room.
  • Compact Sound bars don't take up as much room as home theatre speakers, so you can tuck them underneath your TV without obscuring your view of the screen.
  • Punchy bass If you enjoy watching films at home, buying a Which? Best Buy sound bar will improve your audio experience.

Keep scrolling for a closer look at some of the sound bars that have passed through the Which? test lab.

JBL Bar 9.1 (£900)

The JBL Bar 9.1 is best described as a hybrid between a sound bar and a home cinema speaker. Although it looks like a typical sound bar, you can detach the battery-powered speakers at both ends and position them behind your sofa for a surround-sound experience.

This pricey JBL model comes bundled with a separate wireless subwoofer that aims to serve up booming bass on movie night. It supports Dolby Atmos technology, with upwards-firing drivers inside the JBL Bar 9.1, creating the illusion that you're hearing noise from overhead. Bluetooth support also means you can play music through this sound bar from your smartphone or tablet.

A remote control is provided in the box, but you can also control the JBL Bar 9.1 using physical buttons for power, function and volume. This model is best suited to TVs that are 40 inches or more.

We've got hands-on with this sound bar to see if it can pair its unique looks with top-notch sound quality. Find out if it's a proven Which? Best Buy in our JBL Bar 9.1 review.

Sonos Arc (£800)

This sleek, Dolby Atmos sound bar from Sonos is best suited to larger TVs - we're talking models of 46 inches or more. There are a selection of touch-sensitive controls on the front for playing and pausing content, or skipping music tracks.

You can connect this sound bar to your home wi-fi network wirelessly or using the ethernet port. Once that's sorted, you'll be able to use Apple AirPlay 2 and Amazon Alexa voice control.

This sound bar doesn't come bundled with a remote. Instead, you control it through Sonos' free S2 smartphone app, just like the Sonos Five. The app lets you adjust the tonal quality of the speaker and launch streaming apps including Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify and TuneIn (may require subscriptions).

Did this sound bar manage to impress our expert listening panel? See our Sonos Arc review for more details.

Canton DM 60 (£325)

This black sound base from Canton can support TVs weighing up to 40kg. It has a built-in wireless subwoofer which aims to add some punch to your audio setup.

If you enjoy playing your favourite tunes through your TV, you might want to play around with the dedicated 'music mode'. This has been designed to enhance music playback via the TV itself and over Bluetooth.