Skip to main content

What Is Sonos? How the Speakers Work (and What They Work With)

Sonos is a leader in home audio. With its high-quality speakers that can stream sound around your home, Sonos products are designed with audiophiles in mind. Its smart speaker, the Sonos One, is among the best smart speakers that works with digital assistant like Alexa and Google Assistant

But what really makes Sonos stand out is its expansive streaming library. It supports everything from Spotify, Pandora and Tidal to Audible, Stitcher, and SiriusXM. Sonos is also the company that, in many ways, has perfected the whole-home audio experience. It supports the ability to play different tracks in various parts of the home, sync them together and control them all from your phone.

Simply put, Sonos gives customers choices of high-end audio and a range of sleek speakers that can fit in just about any room. Here's how it all works.

Getting started with Sonos

(Image credit: Sonos)

The first thing you'll want to do is decide what you're looking for out of a Sonos speaker. If it's streaming sound in one room, the Play:1 or Play:3 might come in handy. But If you want better sound for bigger rooms, consider the Play:5. And if you're looking for something to augment your TV's audio, the Sonos Playbase and Sonos Playbar are some of the best.

You'll need to download the Sonos app to a mobile device to start using your Sonos speaker. From the app, you can choose which music services you want to use (more on that in a bit) and wirelessly select the music you want to play around the house.

MORE: What's the Best Music Service for You?

The Sonos experience lets you play different music throughout your home. So, if you want to play classical music in the living room on your Play:1 and pop music on the Play:5 in your family room, for example, go for it. And at any time, you can sync those speakers to listen to the same track in different rooms.

All of the Sonos speakers can be controlled on the app running on your phone (or via voice commands, thanks to Sonos One), and you can adjust everything from what you're playing to music volume from the program.

How do you set up Sonos?

If you've decided on a Sonos speaker and want to set it up, the process is rather painless.

After you take the Sonos speaker or speakers out of the box, you'll need to decide where they should go. Place the speakers away from obstacles that could disrupt your sound quality.

Once you have your spot, pick up your Android or iOS device, and download the Sonos app. It's a free download for Android and iOS and will give you access to everything you need to start using your music services.

From there, Sonos will walk you through the process of setting up your speakers. As long as your phone is connected to your Wi-Fi network, press the assigned buttons on your respective Sonos speaker, and wait for it to connect. Follow the same procedure for all of the other speakers you have.

Sonos TruePlay and Auto Trueplay

Sonos Move

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

To get the best audio quality, you also need to tune the speakers to the room they're in. A feature called Trueplay that modifies the acoustic output of the speakers. After you launch Trueplay, your Sonos speaker will start emitting a series of tones for about 45 seconds.

During this time, you must hold your iOS device (this particular feature does not work with Android phones) upside down and walk slowly around the room the speakers are in, waving your phone up and down. The app records what it hears through your iPhone's microphones and, based on that, changes how the speakers produce sound.

The Sonos Move battery-powered smart speaker introduced new Auto TruePlay technology for Sonos speakers that eliminates the process of manual tuning. Rather, it uses its internal microphones to adjust audio output for the surrounds. Expect this to be a standard feature of Sonos smart speakers going forward. 

How does Sonos work?

Sonos uses your wireless network to allow all of its speakers to communicate with one another and your controller.

First, you need to connect a single Sonos speaker to the same Wi-Fi network as your smartphone or computer. Once that connection is established (it takes only a few minutes), you'll be able to play your music and other content on the device.

But it's when you add another speaker that Sonos becomes a special experience. Sonos creates a secure mesh network that connects all of the speakers in your home. The network, called SonosNet, is an extension of your existing Wi-Fi. 

When you have multiple speakers connected, data is transmitted over that mesh network to tell one speaker to play, for example, Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling," in the kitchen and Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning" in the family room. And when you want one track to sync across all of the speakers in your home, again, that data is transferred over the mesh network.

Sonos' network is proprietary to the company and, therefore, delivers an experience you won't see replicated anywhere else.

Setting up SonosNet

Sonos Boost

Sonos Boost

To set up SonosNet, you have a few options.

Most Sonos users stick to the "Standard" setup that relies on a Wi-Fi network and mesh network to ensure all your Sonos players are synced, can be controlled from your app and give you access to your content sources, like Spotify and Apple Music.

If you buy a Sonos Boost, however, the technology is slightly different.

The Sonos Boost connects directly to your Wi-Fi router and creates a proprietary network for your speakers. The Standard and Boost setups use the same SonosNet mesh network, but the latter is a bridge that better prioritizes communication.

So which is best? Both get the job done, but Sonos recommends using a Boost if you have a "tougher wireless environment" with a slew of devices connected to your network. In those cases, offloading your Sonos speakers to a separate Boost network might make for a better Sonos experience.

One other note: Your controller app runs over your network whether you have a Standard or a Boost configuration. Your phone will never connect directly to SonosNet.

What kinds of speakers does Sonos sell?

(Image credit: Sonos)

Looking to buy one or more Sonos speakers? Here's a quick rundown:

  • Sonos One ($199): A smart speaker that works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
  • Sonos Move ($399): A great-sounding portable offering that works with Alexa and Google Assistant. It's pretty durable, too. 
  • Play:1 ($149): A "mini" speaker designed to play music in smaller spaces.
  • Play:3 ($249): A "midsize" speaker that offers stereo sound and, like the Play:1, can be integrated into a wireless surround-sound system with other Sonos speakers.
  • Play:5 ($499): The biggest home speaker Sonos sells, and the loudest of the Play models.
  • Playbase ($699): A soundbar of sorts that sits under your TV and delivers wide-ranging sound, and can be placed under a TV to save room. 
  • Playbar ($699): A full-fledged soundbar for the home that, like the Playbase, can connect to your TV and play programming, as well as the sound you pick from your Sonos app.
  • Sub ($699): A subwoofer to add some bass to your Sonos surround-sound setup.
  • Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf ($99): A modest home speaker that packs Sonos sound for under $100. The Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf is only available at Ikea. 
  • Ikea Symfonisk Table Lamp ($179): A Sonos speaker and lamp all-in-one. The Ikea Symfonisk Table Lamp is only available at Ikea. 

How do you add Sonos to another room?

Adding Sonos speakers to an existing setup is a cinch.

When you get your new Sonos speaker, simply remove it from the box and plug it in. Once it's booted up, load the Sonos app and choose to "Add a player or Sub." The app will take you through the process of setting up the device, including pressing buttons on the unit to get it to communicate with your other units.

Once your speaker is found, just give it a name, and you're all set to control it from the app. You can also use Trueplay for this speaker, too.

How does Alexa and Google Assistant work with Sonos?

Amazon Echo and Sonos Play:1

Amazon Echo and Sonos Play:1

If you're looking to bring a smart assistant into your home via Sonos, it's quite easy. After setting up your Sonos One or Sonos Move, connect it to your Amazon account or Google Home account from within the Sonos app and start issuing voice commands around the home. You can use voice commands when you're near your Sonos One or control music with help from the Sonos app.

You can also connect your Sonos speaker, like the Play:5, to an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. The two devices will link up, and you'll be able to call out commands to Alexa or Google Assistant to take control over your Sonos speakers and play what you want.

Which streaming services work with Sonos?

Sonos is one of the most appealing agnostic options on the market and is compatible with some of the most popular streaming services. Here are some of the top services it offers. Check out the complete list on Sonos' website.

  • Apple Music
  • Pandora
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • Google Play Music
  • SiriusXM
  • SoundCloud
  • TuneIn
  • Tidal
  • Napster
  • iHeartRadio
  • Audiobooks.com
  • Bandcamp
  • Calm Radio
  • Classical Archives
  • Concert Vault
  • FitRadio
  • Focus@Will
  • HotelRadio.fm
  • Hype Machine
  • MLB.com Gameday Audio
  • Radio Disney
  • Rockbot
  • Slacker Radio
  • Stitcher
  • YouTube Music

What is Sonos Trade Up program?

The Sonos Trade Up program is a sustainable way to upgrade your current Sonos system with fresher devices. When you a recycle an older, eligible speaker, you'll get 30% off any new one. You can upgrade through Sonos.com, a participating retailer, or with an authorized Sonos installer.