Rethinking Whole-House Audio: IKEA Symfonisk Wi-Fi Bookshelf Speakers

Posted on January 20, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos, Smart Home, Sonos with 34 Comments

As you may recall, IKEA and Sonos announced a small lineup of Symfonisk-branded smart speakers in April 2019 and then began selling them at its ubiquitous retail locations in late 2019. (IKEA writes this as SYMFONISK because everything IKEA has to be all-caps, but I’ll just pretend otherwise because it’s tedious.) The firms had actually been working together for two years on this partnership—IKEA teased it vaguely in mid-2017—so it’s reasonable to assume that the two Symfonik-branded smart speakers were developed alongside the Sonos One, which first shipped in 2018 and was then revved with slightly improved internals in early 2019.

We own a Sonos One, and have three of its very similar predecessor, the Sonos:1, and so I’m quite familiar with how these small speakers sound: They’re punchy and loud. And while a pair of Sonos Ones that I quietly bought on sale over the Black Friday/holiday period in November/December of last year failed to rise to the quality of our Edifier bookshelf speakers in the sunroom, I always felt like they would perform well in smaller rooms, like our kitchen or living room.

But as you may know, I’d long ago settled on Google—more specifically Chromecast/Googlecast—for whole-house audio. And so the Sonos Ones were packed up and returned.

That this happened barely over a month ago is interesting, because I probably would have kept them now that I know I’ll be moving away from Google for whole-house audio because of various ongoing issues. I purchased the pair on sale for $300, a savings of $100 over the normal price (where each Sonos One is typically $200). Not inexpensive, to be sure. But not crazy-expensive.

But that may work out in the long run, thanks to IKEA and its Symfonik-branded smart speakers.

If you haven’t done so, and you have an IKEA nearby, I recommend visiting the store and experiencing the quality of these speakers—which include a bookshelf speaker and a fun table lamp with WiFi speaker—for yourself. They’re inexpensive—the bookshelf unit is just $100, about half the price of the similarly-sounding Sonos One, while the table lamp is about $180—and they are both available in black or white versions to suit most environments. More to the point, they sound pretty great.

I purchased two white Symfonisk Wi-Fi bookshelf speakers with the goal of testing and then using them in the kitchen if they passed muster. I was particularly interested in the mounting accessories—IKEA sells a $20 wall bracket for mounting the speaker directly to the wall and a $10 pair of hooks for hanging the speaker on a rail—but those won’t work in our kitchen: We have subway tile under the cabinets that I will not be drilling into, and since the bracket only connects to the back of the bookshelf speaker, I can’t mount them to the bottom of the cabinets as I’d hoped.

But that’s OK. The Symfonisk Wi-Fi bookshelf speakers can just stand directly on a surface like our countertops, and because they can be used vertically or horizontally, you should be able to position them in a way that makes sense for whatever room. I simply placed them vertically on the countertop, with one on either side of the room.

Setup is simple enough even for the non-technical, and is indeed identical to setting up any Sonos smart speaker or component. You use the Sonos mobile app, which will find and configure each speaker, the second of which you can use to make a stereo pair, which I did.

(If you’re using Sonos on iPhone, you can also use its unique Trueplay functionality to automatically tune the sound for the room the speakers are in. It’s a bit silly-feeling to do, since you walk around the room waving the phone like a tuning fork while the speakers play pulsating tones. But what the heck. I’m not sure why this isn’t available on Android—I assume it’s due to discrepancies in handset microphones—but you can at least use the EQ settings to configure bass, treble, and balance on either platform.)

After that, the speakers work just like any other speakers in your Sonos environment: You tie them to a particular room, and can them combine them on the fly to play music, podcasts, or audiobooks from all speakers at once or whichever combination of rooms you prefer. (I actually prefer how Google handles this since you can make discrete, named groups of speakers and then just access them that way.)

And as noted, they sound great, with punchy, crisp, and very loud playback. And while it’s possible that the countertop positioning helps a bit with the bass punch, almost anyone should be happy with the sound, given a bit of EQ tweaking.

And if you’re not familiar with Sonos, you can use these speakers through the Sonos app, of course, which connects to a multitude of services, including Apple Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Audible, PocketCasts, and many more. But you can also use Sonos speakers through compatible apps like Google Play Music and Spotify, which is nice for those who like to stick with their favorite app.

The speakers come with a high-quality power cable and a short (and optional) Ethernet cable

As for the speakers themselves, they also offer on-device controls for Play/Pause, Volume Up, and Volume Down. And they are delightfully free of personal digital assistant integration.

Given the positive experience, I’ll probably purchase another pair of these speakers, this time in black, and place them in the black TV unit that our smart TV sits on (which, yes, is also from IKEA). Longer-term, I will also likely be getting a Sonos Port to bring our Edifier speakers and the sunroom into the system. But given that thing’s price—an obscene $450—it will be a while. And in the meantime, I have some other audio components to experiment with.

More soon.

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