Ikea’s Symfonisk wireless bookshelf speaker fully integrates into the Sonos wireless HiFi system, has AirPlay 2 for direct WiFi streaming from Apple devices, and has some Ikea design flourishes that might just be genuinely useful. But the best thing is it costs just a smidge under £100 or $100.
Is this the perfect entry into the world of multi-room speakers. And what about if you already have Sonos speakers – is this a worthwhile addition? I’ll be comparing it to the Symfonisk table lamp, the Sonos One, the Sonos Play:3 and the Anker Soundcore Motion+ that I reviewed recently – a similarly priced portable Bluetooth speaker.
Inside the box you get the speaker itself, an Ethernet cable if you want to go the wired route, a quality braided power cable and a very brief getting started manual – with basically just tells you to plug it and download the Sonos app, no assembly required. There is a user manual too, but that just adds a description of what the three buttons do.
The speaker is available is black and white, and has a contemporary boxy design with slightly curved edges and an attractive, homely fabric mesh over the grille. It’s minimalist but I like it. Its design looks like it could be the successor to the now discontinued Sonos Play:3.
The enclosure is made of matte plastic that feels pretty solid but not as premium as the Sonos One or Play:3. Or the Symfonisk table lamp I’ll be reviewing shortly for that matter.
There’s no IP rating so it shouldn’t be used outside or in the bathroom.
It measures 100mm by 150mm by 310mm and weighs just over 2kg.
The front of the speaker has three physical buttons to control the speaker without using the Sonos app, that I’ll come to shortly. There’s no touch controls like on the Sonos One.
The buttons are also used for setup. And there’s a status light.
Around the back is the ethernet port for a wired connection but I imagine most people buying this will be using it wireless. Then there’s the power socket and cutaways in the casing for the cable depending on whether you use the speaker in portrait or landscape. There’s rubber feet to accommodate both modes.
In portrait, book end mode the speaker unsurprisingly fits well into Ikea shelving systems. In landscape, bookshelf mode, Ikea sells a wall bracket turning it into a bedside table or shelf that supports up to 3kg of weight and they include a silicone mat for protection and to reduce any vibrations. The little rubber bungs at the ends of each side pull out for attaching to the bracket.
There’s also some speaker hooks for hanging on their various kitchen rails, keeping it off the work surface. Of course with both setups you still need to deal with the cable.
The speaker is WiFi or Ethernet only so you’ll need a home or work network with a router – there’s no Bluetooth. This makes setup slightly more complex but the Sonos app does a good job of guiding you through the process.
Download the Sonos app on iOS or Android and follow the steps to create an account or sign in if you already have one. I’m setting the speaker up on iOS here.
Tap on “Set up speakers” and make sure your speaker is plugged in and the status LED is flashing a faint green. Tap on continue and the app should find your speaker. Tap on “Set up this speaker”. For wireless setup we’re configuring here you’ll then be guided through connecting the speaker to your wireless network. After finding your wireless network, tap on next to join the speaker. Then tap on Done. You’ll be prompted to press the Play and Vol+ buttons on the speaker simultaneously with a resulting pleasant chime and the speaker is setup. Tap on Next to choose a room name or type your own. Tap on continue to finish off setup.
If this method fails for any reason you’ll be prompted to use an “Alternative setup” which creates a temporary SONOS wireless network you can connect to. And failing that you can complete the initial setup with the included ethernet cable plugging the speaker directly into your router.
If you already have a Sonos system, it’s super easy to add this additional speaker. Just open the Sonos app, tap More | Add Speakers, then tap Continue a couple of times, again ensuring the status LED is flashing green and the app will find the speaker. Tap on “Set up this speaker”, and again press the Play and Vol+ buttons on the speaker to continue the setup. Confirm whether you want the speaker in a new room or in a home theatre setup. In this case we’re setting it up as a seperate speaker.
If you’re using iOS, you can tune your speaker with Sonos’s Trueplay system, which adjusts them based on their position in the room. Tap on continue and you’ll be prompted to remove any case and walk around the room waving your phone around whilst the speaker emits a tone. In most cases any adjustment is very subtle, so I wouldn’t worry too much if you don’t have an iPhone to configure this feature. They’ve promised the ability to do this on Android for a long time, but the huge variations in microphones on Android devices appears to have made it very complex.
Tap on “Add a music service” to choose from a huge range of supported services including Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.
When Sonos launched years ago, as well as wireless multi-room streaming, their big sell was the ability to play your own high quality, even lossless audio files ripped from CDs, from a network share or your computer. This is slightly hidden away now but still possible if you don’t want to pay for a streaming service. It’s easier to configure from a PC or Mac. Download the Sonos app and choose Manage | Music Library Settings. You can then select of folder on your hard drive – perhaps a local iTunes library, or a network share or NAS. You’ll of course need the computer or network drive to always be on, and ideally connected over a wired ethernet connection for the best reliability.
There’s no built in microphone for voice commands but it’ll work with Amazon Alexa or Google Home if you have one of those. Go to More | Voice Services and add your preferred service. Here I’m adding Amazon Alexa, which will open the Alexa app and prompt you to enable the Sonos skill. You’ll need to sign in with the Sonos account you created or used earlier and give Alexa permission to control your Sonos. Tap done, and then let Alexa discover your Sonos devices. If you’re not using Amazon Music, I’d recommend setting your default Music service in the Alexa app under Settings | Music | Default Services.
Now you could say “Alexa, play Faster Car in the Study”.
If you want Siri control, you can add the speaker via the Apple Home app. Tap on add accessory, “I don’t have a code or cannot scan”, then tap on the Ikea speaker. Then you can activate Siri and say for example: “Play Under the Stars by Squid in the Study”.
WiFi versus Bluetooth
It’s always been a frustration that Sonos products have never included Bluetooth for streaming directly to a speaker. For example, if you want to take a speaker with you on holiday, it’s a hassle and sometimes not possible to configure it where you’re staying.
And in everyday use, if you want sound from a YouTube video say, to come through the speaker you’ll have to find a third party way of doing this, like SonosTube. But this is something that is incredibly simple with Bluetooth.
If you’re using Apple devices this speaker does support Airplay 2 which means you can stream directly over WiFi rom most apps, but Android users are left wanting.
But there are some big advantages to using WiFi over Bluetooth. The main one is your phone, tablet or computer is only a controller for your music. If you walk away from the speaker or even leave the house, the music will continue to play.
And multiple people can control the speaker or group of speakers simultaneously, compared to limited support for multi-pairing with Bluetooth speakers.
Sonos also can support up to 30 speakers, and the sound should be in perfect sync for any group speakers. If you have at least one speaker wired over ethernet to your router, or you purchase the optional Sonos Boost to wire to your router, the speakers form a mesh network allowing the wireless signal to hop across Sonos devices, beyond the reach of your router.
Finally, there’s greater bandwidth available on WiFi, so you can play lossless audio via services like Tidal, not possible over Bluetooth that has to compress your audio to some degree. I don’t think this is an issue on a speaker like this unless you have the most discerning ear.
Still I’d personally love it if this speaker and Sonos generally started offering Bluetooth as well as WiFi on their speakers.
The Sonos app
We’ve already used the Sonos app to setup the speaker, but its main purpose is a fully fledged music player and controller. You can download the app on iOS, Android, PC and Mac.
If you have multiple music services it can search across all of them at once. You can search by artist, song or album. You’ll need to ensure you tap the appropriate search category if no results come up.
You can also browse radio stations. Enter your location and you’ll see you local radio stations, but if you’re brushing up on another language, for example, you can listen to almost any international station there is.
Another feature I use a lot is playing back podcasts. The easiest method is to search under Podcasts and Shows, and tap on Recent episodes.
For quick access in the future to your favourites, tap on the three dots to “Add to My Sonos” for any content. This will then be available from the “My Sonos” tab along the bottom of the app.
All your settings and favourites are accessible through any connected app on that Sonos network. So I can go across to my iPhone and continue control from there.
You can of course play, pause, adjust volume and skip tracks through the app. Or you can use the speaker’s controls. A single press of the play button starts and stops your music, a double press skips forward a track and a triple press skips back. If you have other Sonos speakers, holding down the Play button will add music playing in another room to this speaker, automatically creating a group.
Any tracks you play are added to a queue. When you choose to play more music you either replace the current queue or add music to the end of the queue, by tapping on the three dots. You can view your current queue by tapping the top right Show Queue icon from the room view on a smartphone. On a tablet you can choose to Show Queue with the current track still displaying. You can also save the queue as a Sonos playlist.
Since this speaker might be used as a bedside table, there’s an alarm feature that might come in handy. Tap More | Alarms and choose what you want to wake up to, from the Sonos Chime to a radio station to a track or playlist of your choice.
If you tap Settings under More, and choose Room Settings, you can change the room name, configure Trueplay if you’re on iOS, and adjust EQ settings. This is fairly basic, but enough for most of us. There’s also a Loudness setting. I’ll come back to EQ settings when I talk about sound quality. If you have a second Ikea bookshelf speaker you can create a stereo pair here too. Any two identical speakers from the Sonos range can be paired together apart from their Sub, Playbar and Playbase. You can also use two of these speakers as rear speakers for a wireless home theatre system, if your TV’s connected to a Sonos soundbar namely the Playbar or Playbase. Go to Room Settings for the soundbar to configure.
If you already have other Sonos products or purchase more in the future, the true wonder of a multi-room system like this comes into play. Under Rooms, you can group speakers together. You can individually select what speakers you want to group together, or you can tap Everywhere to play your music through all the speakers together. You can individually control the volume or mute a grouped speaker by tapping on the volume control.
If you do have the Playbar or Playbase for your TV, you can group it with the Ikea speaker and continue listening to Breakfast news for example as you get ready for work.
You could also group the Ikea speaker, which supports Airplay 2 with an older Sonos speaker that doesn’t support Airplay like say the Play:3. There’s a setting in Settings | AirPlay to keep non-AirPlay speakers grouped with speakers that are playing AirPlay. You could even mute the Ikea speaker to only stream to the non-AirPlay speaker. Tap the Airplay icon when playing back any media from you Apple phone, tablet or Mac to stream audio to the Ikea speaker and speakers it’s grouped with.
Sound quality & performance
I had a small Sonos dealership for 10 years and can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed with the sound quality of a Sonos speaker. But I really had no idea what to expect from a speaker at this price point.
The speaker grill is detachable and reveals a 70mm driver just above the controls, a tweeter in the middle and a bass port right at the top. There’s nothing around the back which isn’t surprising since it can be installed flush to the wall on its optional bracket.
The speaker sounds very good across the range with quite heavy bass. The bass can distort at higher volumes, and there’s even some vibration on very bassy tracks. This was less noticeable with the speaker in the landscape orientation, but I generally preferred the sound in portrait mode.
Overall the sound is well balanced and if you’re heard other Sonos speakers it sounds very familiar unsurprisingly. I compared it to the Symfonisk table lamp I’ll be reviewing shortly which costs £149 or $179, a Sonos One speaker that costs £199 or $199 and the more expensive Sonos Play:3 that is now discontinued. I also compared it to the similarly priced, albeit portable Anker Soundcore Motion+ Bluetooth speaker I reviewed recently. You can listen to a sound comparison shortly.
It doesn’t sound quite as rich as the Symfonisk table lamp or Sonos One, but you’d only really notice if you have them side by side. It sounds better than the portable speaker which is no great surprise.
The sound is quite directional so you’ll want to pay some attention to placement.
I think most people would be very impressed with the sound quality for the price. It’s particularly impressive at 80% volume or lower – which is plenty loud enough in most cases.
You can adjust EQ settings and I found bringing the bass down just a notch or two more pleasing to my ear. And helped listening to podcasts which could sound a little boomy.
Setup on WiFi, as long as the speaker was in range of my router, I experienced no issues with dropouts. As I mentioned earlier, since you’re only controlling the speaker from your phone or tablet, even if that loses signal to your WiFi, the music will keep playing. After testing a lot of portable Bluetooth speakers recently, it’s refreshing to test a speaker that you can control remotely, but doesn’t rely on your proximity to it.
But of course this one needs to be plugged in. Sonos have never offered a portable speaker and have never indicated they might release one. But I wish they would.
In the video at the top of the page, I’ve recorded a sound test with binaural microphones that capture stereo sound, to try and provide the closest representation of what I’m hearing. Please listen with headphones for the best experience.
The combination of price, sound quality and features is pretty hard to beat. Even if you’re just after a good quality speaker you can control from your phone it’s worth considering. But if you’ve after a multi-room system and have been sitting on the fence, this is a very affordable entry into the market.
You could just use it for radio and podcasts, or even your own music library. But to get the most out of it, I’d recommend some sort of music subscription. They’s a massive choice and even Prime Music from Amazon which is part of the Prime subscription, works through Sonos.
But it’s not for everyone. With no Bluetooth, if you’re on Android you can’t use Airplay, so you’re forced to use the Sonos app which doesn’t allow you to stream audio from other apps which can be quite limiting.
There’s also no voice assistant built in, so you’ll have to budget on a Google Home or Amazon Alexa device if you don’t already own one and would like voice control. This does mean there’s no microphone built in, which may be an advantage if you’re concerned about privacy.
If you have a little more to spend and don’t need Airplay, the Sonos Play:1 which is basically sounds the same as the newer Sonos One, can be had for only £40 or $40 more on Amazon at the moment and sounds a little better. Or for an extra £50 or $80 you could get the Symfonisk table lamp which also sounds a little better, based around the Play:1 / Sonos One. Take a look at my review of the lamp coming shortly or already linked in the on screen card and down below if it’s already been released.
But the Ikea Symnofisk bookshelf is still the cheapest option by a good margin and has really good sound. With AirPlay support and its clever options for installation I’d highly recommend it. It would also make a great budget alternative to the Apple HomePod for almost a third of the price!
Don’t forget to take a look at my YouTube video at the top of the page, and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I’m releasing videos every week on the latest technology and how to get the most out of it. If you tap the bell icon when you’re subscribe you’ll get a notification as soon as I release a video, and there’ll be a link to my site here for the written article. YouTube is also the best place to leave a comment. I read all of them and respond to as many as I can!
Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf speaker: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/news/symfonisk-collection-pubaafe6500
Sonos Play:1: https://amzn.to/2KFeBiY
Sonos One: https://amzn.to/2MluMnH