Sonos Play:5 vs. AirPulse: We Put Two of 2018's Best Speakers Head-to-Head

Two beastly speakers for two different kinds of buyers.

An array of smart speakers, ranging from the Amazon Echo the Google Home have inundated the smart home and entertainment space. These products are compact and provide voice assistant capabilities, but when it comes to delivering studio-quality sound they all fall far short compared to their beefier counterparts.

If you’re looking to level up your home entertainment system for the upcoming holiday parties, you’ll want to pick up one of these heavy hitters. Inverse has got its hands on two beastly audio devices, the Sonos Play:5 ($500 for one) and the AirPulse A300 ($1,100 for two) speaker system. Each packs enough of a punch to rattle your apartment walls, but they’re both distinctly made for two types of people.

Both the Play:5 and A300 will impress any audiophile, meaning your decision will ultimately come down to your living space and musical prowess. Here’s how the speakers stacked up against each other in our hands-on test.

The Basics: Sonos vs AirPulse

The A300 is a bundle of two speakers with two Phil Jones Signature 6.5-inch woofer at its heart. The duo weights 53 pounds making the Play:5 look like a featherweight competitor, though the AirPulse packs a much heavier punch.

AirPulse A300 specs on the left. Sonos Play:5 specs on the right.

AirPulse / Sonos 

The Sonos options comes in at roughly 14 pounds per Play:5, so grouping two of them together would make the entire system 28 pounds total. It’s lighter because instead of one big woofer, these speakers pack three mid-woofers behind their black mesh.

Normally, the larger and heavier speakers will would deliver the richest sound. That’s because the amount of sound they’re able to create is relative to their surface area. Bigger speakers simply move more air, and thus can be expected to slap way harder. It’s science. But don’t count Sonos out just yet.

The Look: Sonos vs. AirPulse

Aesthetic preference is very subjective, and it seems like both of these setups are designed with two very different types of people in mind.

The Play:5 and one of the A300's speakers side-by-side.

Danny Paez
Danny Paez
Danny Paez
Danny Paez

The A300 comes with a cherry wood finish and its speakers are notably taller, wider, and thicker than the Play:5. These two monsters are meant to flank a massive HDTV in your living room or to envelop a music studio computer. In other words, these are meant for the die-hard audiophile that wants to make a statement.

The Play:5 is much more subtle. It comes in a minimalistic black or white, hides its woofers, and can be turned horizontally or vertically depending on where you want it. While it’s much larger that the Sonos Sound Beam it still easily blends into any setting.

Whether you want it as poolside audio system, a stand-alone speaker for your room, or you want to double up for your plasma screen the Play:5 will hold you down. It’s versatility and sleek design gives Sonos the upper hand in the looks department.

The Sound: Sonos vs. AirPulse

The real question is how do they sound? The simply answer is that they both sound great, but there are some slight differences.

Sonos has been making sound equipment since 2002 and have been praised as “bombastic sounding speakers” by Marc Chacksfield from TechRadar. The Play:5 can get insanely loud without distortion. It makes sure more delicate noises like high hats and wind instruments come through crisply and don’t get lost in the base.

However, the A300 still delivers much richer sound. You can hear every tiny pluck and tap of the acoustic guitar in Blackbird by The Beatles, and the pulsating base in Gramatik’s The Unfallen Kingdom vibrated my entire body. The AirPulse option takes this round.

The Simplicity: Sonos vs. AirPulse

Finally, which of these two can you take out of the box and begin blasting tunes without fussing over setup for an hour? They were both fairly easy to test using an AUX connection, but which speaker you’ll want will still hinge largely on how you want to use them.

The A300 comes with a whole box full of cords and a remote control. But while all you really need to do is plug it in to start listening, fully embedding them into your home will take some squinting at the manual and head scratching. It took me a little while to figure it out.

Even just plugging in my phone to the A300's AUX took another adapter on top of my USB-C to 3.5mm dongle.

Danny Paez

Sonos is debatably best-in-class when it comes to syncing multiple speakers together. There are no wires (other than the power cable) involved or Bluetooth for that matter, meaning Sonos speakers can be linked together using your wifi and can be managed using a smartphone as the remote control. No wires or extra gadgets means the Play:5 is simpler to get started with.


Both Sonos and AirPulse are bringing masterclass speakers to the table here. But the Play:5 and A300 are suited for different people.

The A300 is for the music buff that might produce their own music on the weekend and has a Tidal subscription to get that lossless sound quality. They won’t mind a heavier speaker system or that it takes a little bit more time to set up, in fact, they will probably enjoy being able to carefully particularize how the speakers engage with their space and their tech.

The Play:5 is for those who like the Sonos’ simplicity but are looking to level up the sound quality. It definitely won’t turn their home into a music studio, it’s more casual, say, for a house party instead of a recording sesh.

But which ever side you choose to take, both of these will be music to your eardrums.