Do you have a Sonos Beam or Playbar? Have you been dreaming for a while to expand your system with rear speakers? Then Ikea Symfonisk might offer a way to do that cheaply. But does it sound?
Sonos with IKEA Symfonisk
One of the more unique features of a Sonos soundbar is that you can expand it with other Sonos speakers to build a surround setup. Extending your Playbar, Playbase or Beam with two channels at the back can be a nice step when it comes to watching films and TV series. But it also costs something. The cheapest option at Sonos itself is a set of Sonos One SL speakers, for 199 euros each. So you spend almost 400 euros to bring your Sonos soundbar to a surround setup. That is something. But thanks to the collaboration with furniture giant and manufacturer-of-household-gadgets-who-you-didn't-know-that-you-ever-needed-it-Ikea could do it much cheaper.
The Symfonisk bookshelf speaker can also be used as a rear speaker at a cost of 198 euros for a set of two. Financially that sounds interesting, but does it also sound? We put it to the test and buy two Symfonisk bookshelf speakers and link it to a Sonos Playbar. In this review, we do not delve deeper into the benefits of the Sonos ecosystem in general. In short, Sonos' assets are an excellent app, enormously broad support for streaming services, smooth multiroom operation, Trueplay, good support, and (on new speakers) support for AirPlay 2 . You can read more about this in the many Sonos reviews that we have previously published.
Surround with Sonos
For our test we use a Sonos Playbar . You can also build a surround setup with additional wireless speakers in the same way with a Sonos Beam or a Sonos Playbase. The three devices are quite different but share a goal: improve your TV sound. You can add a Sonos Sub to the whole, a wireless subwoofer with a relatively hefty price of 799 euros, to get a full 5.1 experience.
The new Sonos Amp with HDMI input can also be expanded with two wireless rear speakers. We tested that at the time when we had the Amp, but the test device has already left. We are therefore not entirely sure that you can also use the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker for this – but we think so. For the Amp, use two passive speakers that are connected to the amplifier with cables for the two front stereo channels and two Sonos or Symfonisk speakers for the rear channels in the surround mix.
For the rear channels in a Sonos surround setup you can in principle use any Sonos speaker, ranging from a set of Sonos Ones to – why not – two Play: 5s. The latter would be a total overkill and take up a lot of space. But it is also possible with the two cheap Symfonisk speakers that have been released to date. In this test we use the bookshelf speaker: that is the cheapest model and is easy to hang or place. It just seems more logical to use two of these devices instead of a pair of Symfonisk lamps. But it is possible with the Ikea lamps, if you wish.
In the context of a living room and surround, the Symfonisk bookshelf speakers have another advantage. They are available in black or white, and especially the latter version can be arranged discreetly in many modern interiors. The Symfonisk speaker is pretty nicely finished, with a hip Scandinavian fabric at the front that makes the device look less technical-futuristic. Set it straight and you will quickly think of a book. You can also purchase a cheaper accessory from Ikea to hang the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker invisibly on the wall. The power cord remains a thing to hide, but it looks surprisingly net.
All this makes the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker much more subtle to hide in your living room than a set of Sonos speakers. Especially if you have to mount those Sonos speakers on the wall with more rugged suspension systems or at the right height via striking stands.
Setting for surround
Setting up a Symfonisk speaker is the same as for a regular Sonos speaker. If a Playbar, Beam or Playbase is already present, you can immediately connect the bookshelf speakers to the soundbar when configuring. As we are used to from Sonos, it is very quick and easy. A step-by-step plan in the app shows everything clearly and clearly explains what to do.
In an ideal world, place the two Symfonisk speakers at the same distance from the seat, directly to the left and right of you . Preferably also at the height of your ears, if you are looking at the screen in the sofa, that is. When setting you will be asked to set the distance separately for the left and right speakers. Asymmetrical setups are therefore possible, but the choices are not really fine-meshed: you can specify whether a speaker is less than 60 cm (insanely closed!), 60 to 300 cm (a huge range), and more than 3 meters. Afterwards you can adjust the volume level of the rear speakers separately from the soundbar, something that we often find a necessity. Practically, you can set the volume level separately for TV sound and when listening to music.
There are few other options in the settings. For example, you can choose whether the rear speakers spread some ambient sound when playing music or play the music completely. It is also possible to temporarily switch off the speakers.
There are now more soundbars that you can expand with optional rear speakers – just think of the Samsung HW- Q90R or the Harman Kardon Citation Bar that we have recently tested – but Sonos has some unique strengths. To start with, you have a choice of different speakers that you can use for the rear channels. Moreover, at Sonos you can also use the speakers at other times to listen to music. So you can even choose to expand the soundbar with extra speakers only during a movie night and at other times take the two Sonos or Symfonisk speakers elsewhere in your home and use them for music. The only downside is that connecting and disconnecting the rear speakers with the Sonos soundbar takes a few minutes.
Unique for Sonos is Trueplay, which allows you to adjust the sound to your room. It is a powerful function and relevant, because the shape and layout of the room and the placement of the speakers strongly influence the sound quality. You can use Trueplay in a surround setup with Symfonisk, but you do need an iOS device. With that iPhone or iPad, you have to flutter for a minute while you walk through the room and play test tones from the speakers. We have done it many times, but it remains something funny to do. We have also reset Trueplay for this test;
Stereo or surround
What can you actually expect by expanding your Sonos soundbar with extra rear speakers? To begin with, we should first look at what comes out of your TV. When watching TV, you often listen to a stereo track that is upgraded by the Playbar and co to a kind of pseudo-surround. The sound bars can handle Dolby Digital 5.1, as supplied by TV apps from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Video. But since sound on TVs can never be a simple story, this does include a “but”. If you stream from the same services via an external device, for example via a Chromecast Ultra, chances are that they will deliver Dolby Digital Plus. Unless your television can first convert this signal to regular DD, the Sonos soundbars cannot process this. A stereo signal is then used that is upgraded to 5.1. This is why exactly the same movie via the same service can still sound better via the app on the TV than via casting. Do you already have a headache?
To get some clarity this handy tip: in the Sonos app you can tap on the “About my system” option in settings. At the soundbar you can see which signal it is receiving. Handy – we would like to be able to request that information from other sound bars as well.
The reason why we dive into this subject for a moment is that we immediately find the Sonos Playbar with two Symfonisk speakers to sound a lot better. a true 5.1 signal is supplied. If you just watch TV on a typical program, those two extra Symfonisk speakers do not really make a big contribution. It depends on the content; if there is a lot of music in it, then those rear speakers are used more actively than with video with a lot of speech and sound effects.
The blood-spanning bridge scene from 'Sicario', with an oppressive soundtrack by Johan Johansson, perfectly illustrates how surround playback contributes to a film experience . Even before the firefight erupts, you will be immersed in the nervous atmosphere thanks to sound effects coming from the rear speakers. The barking dog that you first see in front of you comes from the left channel in the next shot, one of the many sound elements that help you get an “I am there” feeling. At this point we really miss nothing compared to the two Sonos One speakers that are usually used as rear channels. Perhaps there is a little more detail with the Ones, but the Symfonisk bookshelf speakers are not to be missed. This also has to do with the type of audio content that is sent to the rear channels. If you place the Sonos One and the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker next to each other and listen to music, the gap is relatively large. In this situation, the difference is noticeably less, simply because less is played through those channels. Sometimes the difference is more noticeable, such as when in Gravity dialogs are played in the rear channels to let you experience a first-person perspective. But still, even “Roma” with the many micro-details and city sounds that are in the mix, sounds very grand and atmospheric with the Symfonisk. At the same time, this film shows the limitations of 5.1 with Sonos. This spectacular soundtrack on a discrete 5.1.4 setup is breathtakingly handsome. But that is a completely different story.
The difference between the Sonos Ones and the Symphoniks becomes even smaller when we also add the Sonos Sub to the whole. The Sub is quite a criticism – it is expensive and sometimes plays relatively high notes – but it is powerful and relieves both the Playbar and the two Symfonisk speakers. The trio suddenly no longer has to produce lower frequencies, so that they can better serve the rest of the frequency range.
Do you own a Sonos Playbar, Playbase or Beam? Then the purchase of a set of Symfonisk bookshelf speakers is highly recommended, especially if you watch Dolby Digital 5.1 films via Netflix or another service. The low price of 99 euros per speaker and the optional hanging system are very convincing. In terms of design, the bookshelf speakers also fit more subtly in most living rooms than the Sonos speakers – and without really performing worse in their role as rear speakers. You will get the best performance if you also add the Sonos Sub, which unfortunately is a very expensive upgrade. At the Playbar, a Sub is just a little more recommended than at the other two Sonos sound bars. In many ways the best configuration for a modal living room is therefore a Sonos Beam with two Symfonisks.
Also read our review of the IKEA Symfonisk table lamp-speaker .