IKEA may have on its hands Sonos’ bestselling speakers yet. The proposition: a £99 Bookshelf speaker that’s the new de facto budget Sonos device and a £150 Table Lamp speaker that’s looking to wrap the Sonos sound in an IKEA aesthetic. You’ll soon see them nestled into storage units in IKEA stores, the ultimate impulse buy with tech credentials. But how do they compare to ‘real’ Sonos speakers and what are they good for?
IKEA is billing the range as ‘furnished with sound’ and reps told us that with Symfonisk it ia intentionally trying to get away from a ‘high-tech’ aesthetic. Next to classic Sonos kit, and indeed most home tech that isn’t £1,000+, the pair of speakers are certainly softer, warmer and well Scandi-er with two finishes – white/light grey (which we tested) and black/gold – fabric covers and curved edges. It’s a small point but there’s also no shouty logos, just a fabric tag on the Bookshelf. They seem to have come straight from the Google Home school of design.
One thing you’ll notice straightaway is that both the Bookshelf and the Table Lamp are rather large. The Bookshelf requires the space of say, a Sonos Play:3, though it’s much shorter, and the speaker half of the Table Lamp is both taller and wider than a regular Sonos Play:1, not to mention the addition of the round plinth for the controls.
The Bookshelf is a put-anywhere device, built with the perfect dimensions for IKEA’s KALLAX storage range and with hooks and brackets available to turn it into a literal bedside bookshelf – it actually holds up to three kilograms – or hung from a rail in a METOD kitchen cabinet. It does make a lot of sense as a budget kitchen or bedroom wireless speaker or, as Sonos suggests, tucked away rear speakers for 5.1 home cinema in the lounge. (The Symfonisk Bookshelf does also fit in a trusty BILLY bookcase, though with gaps either side).
The Table Lamp, meanwhile, is really something else. I applaud IKEA for taking the lamp-speaker idea, which various companies including Sony, have flirted with on the high end, and taking it mainstream. It’s a little too large and bulbous for a bedside table, though, but it did look much more at home in Sonos and IKEA’s Soho showroom where two Table Lamp speakers were displayed either side of a big 65-inch or so 4K TV. This is by far the more attention grabbing of the two and whether you want one in your home will really come down to a matter of taste. Some say it’s ugly, others say it’s charming.
A big part of the reason that the Bookshelf is suited to smaller rooms and the Table Lamp to a living room setup is the sound. With £50 between them, you’d expect there to be a difference in sound quality and there is, though it’s not a dealbreaker for the cheaper Bookshelf speaker and it does very much depend what you throw at them. Both speakers have two class-D digital amplifiers, a tweeter and a mid-range woofer.
Let’s start with the Table Lamp. Sonos told us to expect an almost identical sound profile to the Play:1 and side by side, it’s a damn similar sound: full, balanced and satisfying, even at louder volumes, whether you’re into the crisp sound of Billie Eilish or looking to hear the detail in an Angelique Kidjo album.
The Bookshelf speaker, meanwhile, does an admirable job with pop, vocals and podcasts but play some instrumental post-rock and it struggles, giving a noticeably more muddled performance than a Play:1, which costs £50 more at £149. Sonos says it hopes the Bookshelf still has ‘impact’ and, considering the price, this is decent value. It goes as loud as you like but there’s less power behind it and that’s perceptible across the whole range.
In short, if you want the very best sound at an affordable price, with no design considerations or erm, lighting capabilities, it’s still the basic Sonos Play:1. But the Bookshelf, and the Table Lamp in particular, do not embarrass themselves, especially as part of a wider Sonos setup. You can stereo pair two Symfonisks or one Symfonisk and one regular Sonos speaker or, as we mentioned, work one of these devices in with more expensive, capable Sonos kit like a Sonos One, Beam or Sub around the house.
The IKEA speakers are as easy to set up as any Sonos device – if you already have Sonos, you simply go to ‘Settings’ in the Sonos app for iOS or Android and ‘Add speakers’. A blinking light later and you should be good to go. Once you take care of the initial set up, then, that’s where things start to vary as to how you’ll use these things.
For iOS users, you get handy, quick access AirPlay 2 controls and the option to use your iPhone for Trueplay tuning to the room, which we recommend. On Android, there’s no built-in Google Cast across third party apps, and no Trueplay (yet), but you can still use Spotify Connect, for instance, from within the Spotify app if you’re not so keen on opening the Sonos app to manage your music queue. There’s also, for good measure, the standard +/- and play/pause buttons on the front of the Bookshelf and on the stand of the Table Lamp.
It’s also worth noting that there’s no Bluetooth onboard either. This is a by-the-book Wi-Fi speaker and if say, guests to your house want to control the music on Symfonisk/Sonos they can do so directly from apps, from the Sonos app (where they don’t have access to change settings) or via voice. Because there’s also the option to hook the speakers up to Amazon’s Alexa and, as of earlier in July in the UK, Google Assistant). The speakers don’t have built-in mics themselves, so they are not controllers, but if you have an Amazon Echo/Dot, Google Home/Mini, Sonos One or Sonos Beam in the same room, that device picks up your voice requests and controls the whole system.
I tried Google voice controls out with the IKEA devices and it works quickly and fairly accurately for requesting tracks or albums, pausing music, skipping tracks and so on.
Pro tip: be careful with your naming of devices, rooms and groups across the Sonos and Google Home app, though, as this will affect precisely what you have to say in your voice commands. Best to get it right early on. But if, unlike me, you are not flatsharing with one too many assistants and protocols, chances are your controls of choice will be catered for. Sonos is easy to live with, if you play by its rules, and the two affordable Symfonisk entries into the family are no exception.
The Table Lamp, novelty as it is now, will really come into its own in the autumn. Right now you can fit an E14 bulb, either dumb or a smart IKEA Tradfri bulb, for app and voice controls of the light as well as sound. (There’s no bulb included in the box, which seems a bit of a miss).
IKEA tells us that later this year, you’ll be able to add the Table Lamp to home automation scenes in the Tradfri app, alongside other smart bulbs and its new smart blinds. We’re also looking forward to seeing the very promising looking £15 Symfonisk remote which can be used handheld or mounted to a wall to control all Sonos speakers. Plus the Sonos and IKEA partnership is not limited to a couple of products in 2019, the two companies are said to be experimenting with ‘bringing light and sound together’, whatever that might mean. All this makes the range nice and futureproof as these speakers will integrate not only with Sonos (and AirPlay and Alexa and Google) but IKEA’s expanding smart home plans.
For a lot of people we think the Symfonisk Bookshelf, in particular, though the more traditional of the two, will slot in quite nicely, and literally in the case of IKEA shelving, to existing home audio setups. The Table Lamp is slightly more niche but it’s fun and it could help to usher in more refined tech-in-furniture products. Regardless, no matter what we think, these things will certainly sell.
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