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

Sonos has become a leader in home audio, thanks in no small part to its high-quality speakers that can stream sound around your home. And Sonos now offers a smart speaker in the Sonos One that works with digital assistants, like Amazon's Alexa. (Siri and Google Assistant support are coming later this year.)

But what really makes Sonos stand out is that it is music-service-agnostic, meaning it supports everything from Spotify and Pandora to Apple Music and Tidal. Sonos is also the company that, in many ways, has perfected the whole-home audio experience, by adding 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 has found a way to be successful by giving customers choice, 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

The first thing you'll want to do is decide what you want to use Sonos for. It can be a simple option for playing sound in one room, when the Play:1 or Play:3 might come in handy. If you want better sound for bigger rooms, consider the Play:5. If you're looking for something to augment your TV's audio, the Sonos Playbase and Playbar are some of the best.

Once your speakers are set up, you'll need to download the Sonos app. 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.

The best part of the Sonos experience is the ability to 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.

MORE: Best Bluetooth Speakers for Home or On-the-Go

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.

Ultimately, you'll find that Sonos delivers a fully wireless experience and far more control over what you play and when you play it than many other options on the market.

How does Sonos work?

On the technology side, 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.

A secure connection between the Sonos speakers and the controller is created, allowing for communication between both. 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 then creates a secure mesh network that connects all of the speakers in your home. The network, called SonosNet, is separate from your Wi-Fi network (even though it relies on your Wi-Fi to send content back and forth). Essentially, your Sonos devices communicate with one another and with your controller on their own little highway of wireless signals flowing around your home.

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 Counting Crows' "A Long December" 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.

To set up that mesh network, you have some options.

The vast majority of 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 an entirely different network on which your speakers are connected. So, rather than relying on your Wi-Fi network as in the Standard setup, when you buy a Boost, you'll get the same experience but on an entirely separate network designed solely for Sonos speakers.

But the Standard and Boost setups use the same SonosNet mesh network.

Sonos Boost

Sonos Boost

So, which is best? Both Standard and Boost can get the job done. However, Sonos recommends you choose Boost when 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?

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 soon, other virtual personal assistants. See Sonos One review.
  • 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. See Play:5 review.
  • 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. See Playbase review.
  • 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. See Playbar review.
  • Sub ($699): A subwoofer to add some bass to your Sonos surround-sound setup.

How do you set up Sonos?

If you've decided on a Sonos speaker and want to set it up, the process will take you a bit of time but should be 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 where they have a clear line of sight to where you'll most likely be in the room. And try not to place them behind obstacles that could disrupt your sound quality.

Now that 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 access your music services.

Boot up the app, and choose the option to "Set up new system." Select the Standard option.

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 to your network and the app. Follow the same procedure for all of the other speakers you have.

To get the best audio quality, you also need to tune the speakers to the room they're in. Within the Sonos app is 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 iOS devices you can use with Trueplay include the iPhone 4s or later; the iPad mini 1, 2, 3 and 4; the iPad Air 1 and 2; the iPad 2, 3, 4 and 5; the iPad Pro and the iPod touch (5th generation or later).

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

Now that you're set there, try accessing some of the Sonos-compatible apps, including Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora. When you're required to, input your credentials into the app so you can access your content.

If all of your services are set up, there's only one thing left to do: listen to music. Access the apps from your Sonos app, and start playing them over your speakers. If you have a Sonos One or an Amazon Echo or Dot connected to your system, try using some voice commands to turn on music and control other devices around the home.

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 work with Sonos?

If you're looking to bring Amazon Alexa into your home via Sonos, it's quite easy.

Amazon Echo and Sonos Play:1

Amazon Echo and Sonos Play:1

After buying a Sonos One, you can simply turn it on, connect it to your Amazon 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.

If that's not the ideal solution, you can also connect your Sonos speaker, like the Play:5, to an Amazon Echo or Dot.

From your Amazon Alexa app, search for the Sonos skill. Then, authenticate both your Amazon and Sonos accounts. You can then choose Smart Home from your Alexa app and have it try to "discover" Sonos devices.

Once you're done, the two devices will link up, and you'll be able to call out commands to Alexa, which will then take control over your Sonos speakers and play what you want.

Setting up Spotify to play on your Sonos speaker.

Setting up Spotify to play on your Sonos speaker.

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's a rundown:

  • Apple Music
  • Pandora
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • Google Play Music
  • SiriusXM
  • SoundCloud
  • Deezer
  • TuneIn
  • Tidal
  • Napster
  • iHeartRadio
  • NTS
  • 7digital
  • AccuRadio
  • Anghami
  • Bandcamp
  • Calm Radio
  • CBC Music
  • Classical Archives
  • Concert Vault
  • Custom Channels
  • Record Radio
  • Daytrotter
  • Deliver.Media
  • FitRadio
  • Focus@Will
  • Hearts of Space
  • Hype Machine
  • LivePhish
  • Mixcloud
  • Gameday Audio
  • Mood:Mix
  • Murfie
  • Pocket Casts
  • Radio Disney
  • Radionomy
  • radioPup
  • RauteMusik
  • Red Bull Radio
  • Rockbot
  • RUSC
  • Saavn
  • Slacker Radio
  • SoundMachine
  • Spreaker
  • Stingray Music
  • Stitcher
  • storePlay
  • Sveriges Radio
  • Tribe of Noise
  • Wolfgang's

Update (11/8/2018): iHeartRadio users can now control playback through Sonos speakers directly via the iHeartRadio app; previously, you had to open the Sonos app to perform this function.

Credit: Sonos