Sonos and Ikea’s Symfonisk collaboration took a lot of people by surprise when it was announced earlier this year, but the match up is less unlikely than it might appear at first glance. Ikea’s entire mission has been delivering practical, quality design concepts at price points that are more broadly accessible – and that’s exactly what it’s done with its collaboration with Sonos, albeit with sound instead of furniture. The new $ 99 Symfonisk WiFi bookshelf speaker, and the new $ 179 Symfonisk table lamp with WiFi speaker both deliver the excellent performance and sound quality that’s expected from the Sonos brand, in beguilingly practical everyday designs created by Ikea.
Symfonisk bookshelf speaker
The descriptor “bookshelf speaker” in this case means more than it usually does – Ikea has designed these to either blend seamlessly in with hour actual book collection on existing shelf units, or to actually act as shelves themselves, using a simple add-on accessory kit that includes a flush wall mount and a rubber matt to protect its top surface while holding your gear (up to 6.6 lbs). They can also rail-mount on Ikea’s kitchen rail products for convenient kitchen installation, or they have rubberized pads on both the bottom and side surfaces for either horizontal or vertical surface mounting. Each speaker has two channels for cables to exit both vertically and horizontally for flush mounting, and there’s an Ethernet port on each and a cable in the box for hardwired connections to your home network.
At $ 99, they’re the new most affordable way to get into the Sonos system, undercutting the Play:1 by $ 50. Leaving aside their utility as free-floating shelves (with a decent 12″ x 6″ surface area, likely suitable for bedside tables for many), they’re a perfect introduction to the Sonos ecosystem for anyone who’s felt that Sonos hardware is too expensive. And they’re almost tailor-made to act as rear speakers in a Sonos surround sound home theater configuration. I paired mine with my existing Sonos Beam sounder and Sonos Sub, and they delivered to the point where you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Symfonisk bookshelves and the Play:1 operating in that capacity.
That said, you do notice a difference between the Symfonisk bookshelf and the Play:1, or the Sonos One, when it comes to sound quality when they’re used on their own as individual or stereo-paired speakers. The bookshelf speakers contain entirely new internal speaker designs, since the form factor is nothing like any existing Sonos hardware on the market, and that means you end up with a different sound profile vs. the more squat, rotund Sonos One and Play:1.
To my ears, the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker sounds slightly worse when compared to the Sonos One and Play:1. This is not that surprising – those Sonos speakers are more expensive, for one, and they really out punch their weight class when it comes to overall sound quality. And even if the Symfonisk shelves are not quite up to par, they’re still excellent sounding wireless speakers for their price – without a doubt I would opt to pick these up in place of Play:1s for parts of my house where I don’t need the built-in Alexa or Google Assistant of the Sonos One, but want high-fidelity sound. In stereo pair configuration, the difference is even less noticeable.
The Symonisk shelf speaker design seems mostly focused on practicality, but it’s a good looking speaker (available in both black, as tested, and white). The rectangular box look is a bit harder to integrate as flexibly with your decor when compared to the Sonos One, in my opinion, but on the other hand there are some settings where the Symfonisk shelf fits far more seamlessly, like when wall mounted behind a couch to act as rears, or when acting as bookend on an existing bookshelf. The fabric speaker grill is removable, and you can expect Sonos to look at aesthetic updates to potentially change the look in future, too.
Because these are wireless speakers, there’s another aspect of performance that’s important: connectivity. Symfonisk’s speakers (both these and the table lamp, which I’ll talk more about later on) worked flawlessly during my multiple days of testing in this regard, with zero drop-outs that I noticed when it came to music playback, and flawless integration with my existing Sonos network of speakers. I’m also likely one of Sonos’ outlier customers in terms of the number of speakers I’m using – I have 14 active currently, including the Symfonisk speakers, all operating fully wireless and without the included Ethernet connection, and wireless playback has been rock solid during tests of this new Ikea line.
Set up is also a breeze, whether you’re new to Sonos or an existing user, and is handled via the Sonos app (Ikea will also eventually add it to its own smart home control software, the company tells me, and you’ll be able to control it from both). Once added to your app, you can also use them via Alexa or Google Assistant if you have those linked to your Sonos system, and they show up as AirPlay 2 speaker for iOS and macOS users, too.
Symfonisk table lamp speaker
Like the bookshelf speaker, the Symfonisk table lamp is incredibly easy to setup and manage using the Sonos app, and works with Alexa/Google Assistant and AirPlay 2. It was also outstanding in terms of performance with wireless connection and working with other speakers, and you can use Sonos’ TruePlay sound tuning feature to ensure that it provides the right sound profile for your space with a quick adjustment process using your phone’s microphone (this also works with the shelf speakers, by the way, and I recommend it for any Sonos equipment).
The table lamp really impresses in two ways, including sound quality and – this might seem obvious – by virtue of it also being a great lamp as well as a speaker. The base of the lamp is where the speaker resides, and it’s wrapped in a removable fabric cover that looks great from afar and up close. The shade is a single piece of handcrafted opaque glass, which provides a very pleasant glow when lit from within, and which uses a bayonet mount to lock into place.
This mount and shade choice are not just about looks – Sonos and Ikea evaluated different options and found that this was easily the best when it came to minimizing reverb and rattle for a lamp that’s also capable of outputting a lot of high-volume sound. The choice appears to have been the good one – in testing, I never noticed anything that suggested there was anything rattling or shaking around as a result of even loud music being played through the Symfonisk lamp speaker.
As mentioned, the looks benefit from this design decision, too. This table lamp at first struck me as maybe a bit too modern in photos, but in situ it looks great and is easily now a favorite item among my overall home decor. I do have a few small complaints, like that the large dial on the side is actually a simple on/off switch, rather than a dimmer or a volume knob like I assumed it would be. The controls are on the front of the saucer-like base instead, which is a clever way to make the lamp look less like a gadget and more like furniture.
The light itself supports bulbs with E12-style threaded connectors and a max of 7 watts of energy consumption, which are more commonly seen in chandeliers. Ikea sent over one of its Tradfri smart bulbs, with wireless connectivity and adjustable white spectrum temperature control. It’s the perfect complement to the lamp, and I was even able to quickly connect it to my existing Philips Hue hub for control without an Ikea smart bridge. With a smart bulb, the Symfonisk speaker lamp offers voice-control for both the lightning and the speaker component.
Where the Symfonisk shelf speaker differs from its Sonos brethren a bit in sound profile, the Symfonisk lamp speaker is surprisingly similar to the Play:1 ($ 149) and Sonos One ($ 199) and sits right in between both at $ 179. The internals are largely leveraged from those devices, according to Sonos, which makes sense given its industrial design is also basically a somewhat squat cylinder. Regardless of how, the result is terrific – it’s a lamp that’s actually a fantastic speaker, and you can definitely pull a trick at parties of asking guests to try to figure out the source of your high-quality, room filling sound if you pick one or more of these up. As rears, they blend away seamlessly with the decor, solving the age-old problem of having to choose between quality surround sound and having a living room that doesn’t look like a Hi-Fi audio shop.
The Symfonisk lamp is big, however – it’s about two inches taller than a Sonos One without the shade, and wider both in terms of the base and the saucer-like bottom. The look, while appealing to me, also isn’t necessarily for everyone (though there are black and white versions depending on your preference) so that might be another reason to opt for other offerings in the Sonos line vs. this one. But this particular light/Sonos speaker combo is unique in the market, and definitely a strong value proposition.
With the Symfonisk line, Ikea and Sonos have really pulled off something fairly amazing – creating practical, smart decor that’s also great audio equipment. It’s a blending of two worlds that results in very few compromises, and stands as a true example of what’s possible when two companies with a focus on human-centric design get together and really focus on establishing a partnership that’s much deeper than two names on a label.
Sonos and Ikea’s team-up isn’t just a limited collection, either – it’s a long-term partnership, so you can expect more from both down the road. For now, however, the Symfonisk bookshelf and Symfonisk table lamp speakers go on sale starting August 1 at Ikea.com and Ikea’s stores, and are very good options if you’re in the market for a smart speaker.
Gadgets – TechCrunch