This week, we tested the Sonos Amp, the new multi-room connected amplifier from the American manufacturer, sold in Son-Vidéo.com stores. Quotes are also available by contacting an agent via the Son-Vidéo.com contact page. It is a compact stereo Class D amplifier with 2 x 125 Watts of power at 8 Ohms. It is therefore able to drive both compact and floorstanding speakers.
The 2019 Sonos Amp takes over from the Sonos Connect:Amp which has been in their catalogue for around 12 years. That is a record for this type of product, whose regular and continuous updates have guaranteed its surprising longevity.
The Sonos Amp made an impact during its presentation organized by the Fédération Française de Domotique at the beginning of 2019. Two Sonos Amps were used for the occasion, associated with a pair of Elipson prestige Facet 14F speakers at the front and a pair of Elipson Prestige Facet 8B speakers at the back. This ensemble made it possible to evaluate the abilities of the latest connected Sonos amp in 4 channel stereo playback and during a home theater demo with the last Mission: Impossible movie.
Just how good is the new Sonos amp priced at 699 euros and labeled by the American manufacturer as their best connected amplifier?
Sonos Amp: the brand
A pioneer of multi-room audio, the American company Sonos has excelled in offering effective and easy to use products with consistently meticulous designs since 2005. Extremely easy to use and install, Sonos speakers and amps allow you to listen to the same song – or different songs – in every room of your home via the home network. Sonos devices are configured and operated via a user-friendly and highly intuitive application for smartphones and tablets.
One of Sonos’ greatest strengths is the regular support and updates it offers for all of their products, which optimizes their lifespan. Another advantage of Sonos products is that they are compatible with a huge amount of online music services, some of which, like Deezer, Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal and Google Play Music, are very well known, and others that are more intimate or specialist, such as Calm Radio, hotelradio.fm or The Music Manager for hotels, restaurants and shops.
Sonos has teamed up with Ikea to add a multi-room product to the Swedish furniture and homeware giant’s catalogue: the Symfonsik speaker. Even though the speaker isn’t commercialized yet, it has already received a Red Dot Design Award, a distinction recognizing the quality of its design.
Sonos has also partnered with the in-wall speaker manufacturer Sonance who provides some models that are compatible with the Sonos True Play sound calibration system.
Sonos Amp: packaging and accessories
The Sonos Amp connected amplifier comes in a brown cardboard box, and is completely protected in an inner cardboard holder, designed to absorb impacts during transport. It is also placed in a synthetic fabric pouch. It comes with a power cable and two pairs of speaker terminals that can be inserted into the dedicated connectors if you decide not to use banana plugs. There is also a small cardboard envelope which contains a brief start-up guide in several languages, as well as legal information and the warranty.
Sonos Amp: presentation
Meant to replace the Sonos Connect:Amp, the Sonos Amp is characterized by its appearance which is more in line with the brand’s recent creations, such as the Sonos Beam soundbar, the Sonos One wireless speaker and the Sonos Playbase soundbase. The Sonos Amp shares the “Works with Alexa” certification with the Sonos Playbase. This allows you to control the amp vocally if you own an Amazon Echo speaker or any device that includes the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. Like all Sonos devices, it can also be controlled via the Sonos app for iOS and Android smartphones. The Sonos Amp also has a touch-sensitive interface on its front panel.
In addition to a revamped design, the Sonos Amp differs from its predecessor in several other ways:
- Higher amplification power: 2 x 125 Watts at 8 Ohms, compared to only 2 x 55 Watts for the Sonos Connect:Amp,
- The integration of an HDMI ARC port to receive sound from a compatible TV (the HDMI connector can be used to link the optical SPDIF output of a TV that doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port, using an adapter that is sold separately),
- Surround sound support when the Sonos Amp is paired with two Sonos speakers or a second Sonos Amp powering two speakers, to reproduce the surround sound effects of a movie or video game.
The Sonos Amp is just 22cm wide, half the size of a traditional amplifier, 6cm high, and weighs 2.1kg. Its size makes it possible to stack multiple amps in a rack; two Sonos Amps positioned side by side are the same width as a classic amp.
Viewed from above, this mini latest-generation Sonos amplifier is square with a circle at its center. The designers at Sonos chose this shape in reference to music, particularly vinyl records and CDs. Its matte black plastic casing is sturdy and instills confidence thanks to a rigorous construction. It is a shame, however, that it attracts so much dust…
On the front, the tactile controls allow you to adjust the volume (left button = volume -, right button = volume +), pause playback (middle button) and skip to the previous track (horizontal swipe from right to left) or the next track (horizontal swipe from left to right). Each action is confirmed by a quiet beep and the activation of an indicator light (white LED).
Elegant and pleasant to look at, the Sonos Amp is at home on a hi-fi or TV stand, beside a turntable with an integrated phono preamp or a CD/SA-CD player for example. Its compact size allows you to add multiple Sonos Amps in a rack to amplify several pairs of speakers situated in different rooms in your home. It is also possible to stack them without any risk of overheating. Cooling vents at the base and on the top facilitate air circulation inside the casing by natural convection.
The Sonos Amp amplifier has an aluminum chassis and black circuit boards to optimize thermal dissipation. It features Class D amplification with direct digital feedback technology. This technology uses the same principle as the feedback circuits in analog amplifiers, adapting it to digital amplification. It provides real-time correction of the amplified signal in relation to the entering signal, to reduce distortion and improve linearity. The output stages of the Sonos Amp use discrete components which help to effectively reduce background noise.
With an amplification power of 2 x 125 Watts at 8 Ohms, the Sonos Amp can easily power the vast majority of compact and floorstanding speakers on the market. We were able to confirm this during this test by pairing the device with our reference speakers.
The Sonos Amp’s connectors include two Ethernet ports, an HDMI ARC port, a stereo RCA audio input, an auto-detecting mono RCA subwoofer output (low pass filter that is adjustable from 50 to 110 Hz) and stereo speaker terminals for banana plugs, with two removable adaptors that feature binding posts (one per speaker). Note that these speaker outputs can deliver both mono and stereo sound.
Sonos Amp: home theater setup
With its HDMI input, the Sonos Amp goes beyond what its predecessor offered and provides surround sound support on four channels, plus a subwoofer if necessary. Consequently, it is possible to create a 4.0 or 4.1 Sonos home theater system, with a pair of speakers and a subwoofer handled by the Sonos Amp at the front, and a pair of surround speakers at the back.
For the speakers, several options are available. You can choose a pair of Sonos One speakers, a pair of Sonos Play:1 speakers, a pair of Sonos Play:3 speakers or a pair of Sonos Play:5 speakers. Or you can even use a second Sonos Amp to power a pair of compact or in-wall speakers. The Sonos Sub subwoofer is naturally a good choice, with the benefits of a wireless connection, but it is possible to connect any subwoofer to the Sonos Amp’s Sub output.
The Sonos Amp really impressed us when we connected it to the HDMI ARC output of our LG OLED65B6 OLED TV and paired it with Klipsch RP-8000F speakers. Despite our stereo configuration, spatialization is excellent with the Mad Max: Fury Road Blu-ray. The restitution of sound effects from the Dolby Atmos track is beautifully extended, in terms of both width and depth. During the opening scene, the sound of the vehicles chasing the protagonist fills our 20m² room effortlessly. Moreover, the dialogues are expertly handled: the Sonos Amp manages to create a convincing “phantom” center speaker.
With Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman, we were carried away by the subdued and heady soundtrack composed by Antonio Sánchez (DD+ in 5.1) while enjoying Michael Keaton and Edward Norton’s acting performance. The Sonos Amp is particularly good at accurately positioning the voices of both actors as they move around the stage. There’s no need for a center speaker in this case, even with a second Sonos Amp powering a pair of surround speakers.
Sonos Amp: Sonos app
Like all Sonos devices, the Sonos Amp must be connected to the home network and to the internet to be used. An Android or iOS smartphone or tablet with the free Sonos Controller app is also necessary. The app is used for the amp’s initial setup and also handles audio playback, access to different streaming services and files shared on the home network.
Sonos app: setting up the Sonos Amp
Once the smartphone is connected to the home network, the Sonos application can be launched. It guides the user step by step in activating the amp and only takes a few minutes. It is necessary to create a Sonos account with a valid email address beforehand to receive a verification link. Following the rest of the process, we linked the Sonos Amp to our local network via WiFi, using the signal generated by the Orbi WiFi satellite from our Netgear Orbi RBK50 pack.
Once the amplifier is connected to the home network and to the internet, it is possible to listen to almost all online music services available, music shared over the home network, web radios and a multitude of podcasts.
One of the major advantages of the Sonos multi-room system is that it is compatible with a myriad of streaming services, directly integrated into the Sonos app. Therefore, you can easily switch from one service to another without having to juggle with several apps. The interface of the Sonos app is also extremely user-friendly and is so easy to use that it could make many rival apps green with envy.
Lastly, we were also able to experiment with the Apple AirPlay connection via a Mac Mini and an iPhone 6 connected to the same network as the Sonos Amp.
TuneIn web radios
The rather conventional TuneIn web radio interface integrated into the Sonos app provides access to thousands of radio stations categorized according to various criteria: local radio stations, TuneIn recommendations, music genre, news, sports, talk shows, trending and by country. Playback of the chosen station is pretty much instantaneous. It is possible to save your favorite radio stations and access a multitude of different podcasts.
Though the Sonos interface is simpler – it uses icons whereas the Deezer app uses album artwork – Deezer fans won’t be lost with the Sonos app version. Once they have entered their username and password, users will find their Flow, a personalized mix tailored to their musical tastes. The Trending tab provides quick access to current songs, albums and artists, as well as new releases that are also accessible via the genre menu.
The My Music tab gives you access to your Playlists, saved artists, albums and favorite mixes, as well as your playback history. Top favorites have a dedicated tab accessible directly on the Deezer homepage. Like the original Deezer app, you can like or dislike a track, add it to your playlist, share it or access information about the album. Hats off to the Sonos app developers for this truly successful integration!
The Qobuz app has also been expertly integrated. Like Deezer, the interface does away with the bells and whistles of the original app, but it is still easy to find your playlists, purchased songs and favorites. The Discover tab provides access to songs by genre, with a selection of new releases, a Qobuz playlist, top sales and more for each one. Once playback has started, it is possible to add the played track to your favorites or to one of your playlists, and share it.
Sonos Amp: listening impressions
For our test, we connected the Sonos Amp to three different pairs of speakers: the Davis Acoustics Courbet N°3 compact speakers, the Elipson Prestige Facet 8B model and the Klipsch RP-8000F floorstanding speakers. We decided to use the Viard Audio Silver HD12 HP speaker cables mounted with banana plugs to connect each pair of speakers to the amp.
We listened to different web radios via TuneIn as well as the online music services Deezer (Family account, streaming in mp3 quality at 320 kbps) and Qobuz (studio subscription, streaming in studio quality up to 24 bits/192 kHz). Our Panasonic DMP-UB900 UHD 4K Blu-ray player also served as a source for playing audio CDs using its high quality stereo RCA output, connected to the Sonos Amp’s stereo input using NorStone Jura RCA cables.
Sonos Amp + Davis Acoustics Courbet N°3
The Davis Acoustics Courbet N°3 compact speaker adopts a two-way bass-reflex design. It features a 5” low/midrange driver with a Kevlar cone and a 1” tweeter with a flexible dome. This little French speaker has a frequency response ranging from 55 Hz to 25 kHz. Its sensitivity rating reaches 90 dB, and its has a power handling capacity of 80 Watts. For this test, we placed them on their dedicated stand, the Davis Acoustics Stand Courbet, positioning them so that they formed an isosceles triangle with our listening position at the summit.
From the very first notes, the Sonos Amp proves to be dynamic, well-served by the liveliness of the little Courbet N°3s. The attacks are bold, the sense of rhythm obvious. Though not very deep, the lows produced by the Davis Acoustics’ Kevlar cone are punchy, substantial and tight.
The tweeter provides outstanding clarity and enough detail to define a soundstage that is as wide as it is deep. This is done gently, without any strain, even though the highs and upper mids seem slightly too present. This is primarily due to a lack of extension in the lows, a result of the low-mid driver’s modest size (only 5 inches).
That said, the Sonos Amp cleverly takes advantage of the Davis Acoustics Courbet N°3’s qualities: the outlines of instruments are clearly defined, vocals benefit from a strong presence, percussions have clout.
With a subwoofer connected to the Sub output on the Sonos Amp, the restitution is fuller and more balanced. This was confirmed by associating these speakers with the amplified subwoofer of the Audio Pro Drumfire connected speaker that we have waiting to be tested…
Sonos Amp + Elipson Prestige Facet 8B
There is no need to introduce the Elipson Prestige Facet 8B compact speaker, crowned with a Diapason D’Or and the Choc Classica HiFi label from the moment it was released. This two-way bass-reflex speaker stands out thanks to the faceted ring that surrounds each of its drivers and gives its name to the Elipson Prestige Facet range.
The Prestige Facet 8 features a 6.6” low-mid driver with a bullet phase plug at its center, accompanied by a 1” tweeter with a flexible dome. This speaker has a frequency response from 47Hz to 25 kHz, features a sensitivity rating of 91 dB, an impedance of 6 Ohms and a power handling capacity of 85 W RMS.
With the Sonos Amp as a conductor, the Elipson speakers’ performance is wonderful. The Sonos’ powerful Class D amplification exploits the 6.6” driver’s qualities fully. The latter provides opaque and generous lows, that have presence but aren’t excessive. Vocals are velvety, nuanced and believable. The highs are both soft and precise. Music is restituted with balance, naturally and seamlessly.
Sonos Amp + Klipsch RP-8000F
With 125 Watts of amplification power per channel, the Sonos Amp is capable of driving floorstanding speakers such as the Klipsch RP-8000F, at least on paper. Will it be able to tame the American speaker’s two 8” Cerametallic drivers? The high sensitivity rating – 98 dB – of this floorstanding bass-reflex speaker should help, as well as the efficiency of the amp’s Class D amplification, which is a lot higher than that of a class A/B amp, for example.
In practice, the Sonos Amp isn’t intimidated by the formidable Klipsch column, which it keeps under control. The expressiveness of this large speaker is fully revealed, with powerful and deep lows. The mids and highs are just as impressive. Expertly amplified by the Tractrix horn, they are effervescent and materialize in front of the listener. Not as nuanced and more punchy than with the Elipson speakers, the soundscape restituted by the Sonos-Klipsch team is particularly suitable for the soundtracks of movies and TV series.
Sonos Amp: conclusion
It is never easy for a company to renew one of their flagship products. Especially when starting from scratch like the American manufacturer did with the Sonos Amp. Taking into account the feedback from its user community, Sonos has successfully developed the concept of its Sonos Connect:Amp to fit today’s digital entertainment needs.
The 2019 Sonos Amp stands out by the amount of power it delivers (2 x 125 W), which is very useful for driving speakers with large drivers and for restituting all of the dynamics of soundtracks from video games, movies and TV series. Nevertheless, it retains the DNA of Sonos products with its exceptional ease of use, its intuitive and user-friendly app, and hoard of compatible music services, all housed in a sleek and elegant box.
We were impressed by all of these aspects, but also by the musicality that this amp offered. Its strength and sense of rhythm were particularly appealing. Be careful, however, to pair it with balanced speakers that aren’t too expressive at the upper end of the spectrum, otherwise the restitution may become too analytical.
During the test, it was the Sonos Amp and Elipson Prestige Facet 8B combination with its overall sense of balance that charmed us the most. We also recommend pairing the amp with the Davis Acoustics speakers, provided that you add a subwoofer, even a relatively small one, to bring more depth to the restitution. In our opinion, the association with the Klipsch speakers is slightly too expressive for music, but is perfectly suited to blockbusters!
What we liked:
- The dynamic and bold listening experience with this amp.
- The compact and elegant design.
- The control app.
- The impressive number of compatible music services.
What we would have liked:
- A price tag in line with that of the Sonos Connect:Amp.
- The box to attract less dust.
- A true optical input.