The Sonos Amp isn’t a piece of gear everyone needs. For starters, its $649 price is bound to turn some people off. Even if you can get past the price, it’s really a puzzle piece that serves a specific need in the Sonos realm: It allows you to connect preexisting home audio sources, like a stereo receiver or even in-wall/in-ceiling speakers, and stream their audio to other Sonos speakers in your home. And as the name implies, it can power passive speakers, allowing you to send Sonos audio to wired speakers you already own. So while it is undoubtedly niche, it is also just the right piece of equipment some Sonos users are looking for.
The Sonos Amp is a minimalist black box with a semi-matte surface, measuring 2.5 by 8.5 by 8.5 inches (HWD) and weighing a hefty 4.6 pounds. Internally, there’s a class-D amplifier delivering 125 watts per channel, with two banana plug connections for passive stereo speakers.
In terms of compatibility, the Amp will work with speakers with power ratings of either at least 125W (8-ohm speakers), or at least 200W (4-ohm speakers). Speakers that are rated at less than 4 ohms shouldn’t be used with the Amp.
The top panel features a circular vented area with the Sonos logo in the middle. The front face houses touch-sensitive controls—a central play/pause button and two multifunction buttons that are labeled with four small dots. Tapping the left dot lowers volume and tapping the right raises it; a right swipe from one to the other skips forward a track; and a left swipe navigates back a track. The front panel also houses an IR sensor for control by a universal remote (the Amp has no remote control of its own).
The back panel houses various connections (in addition to the banana plugs) for speakers. There’s a subwoofer output, an HDMI input (for ARC connections on TVs), two Ethernet ports (for connecting directly to a network or directly to a Sonos speaker), and a left/right RCA input. Below the Join button for connecting to a preexisting Sonos network is a connection for the power cable.
The Amp is also AirPlay 2 compatible, so you can stream audio from your iOS device directly to your Sonos system.
The Sonos app walks you through the setup process, which doesn’t take long, particularly if you have an existing Sonos system. You’ll need your Wi-Fi network password handy, but other than that, the app sets up just about everything for you. Once you’re connected, the app will automatically download and install any applicable firmware updates, after which you’re ready to stream audio.
What’s missing? The lack of an optical connection is puzzling. You can use an adapter to connect gear that is optical only, but this is a bit frustrating. More than two speaker connections would be nice, but would likely significantly raise the price. And while the inclusion of banana plug adapters is welcome, actual speaker cables would have been thoughtful, though none of these exclusions are deal breakers.
The best thing about the Amp is how it bridges Sonos setups and non-Sonos gear. Technically, you don’t need a single Sonos speaker to use the Amp and gain access to the Sonos app and its excellent streaming abilities and controls. You can use the speaker connections for passive bookshelf speakers that meet the power rating requirements, and connect the output of a stereo receiver or component to the RCA inputs, as well as the TV ARC connection to the HDMI port. With all of these connected, you can have TV audio running through your Amp to your bookshelf speakers, along with a stereo component (or multiple components, if you connect a receiver with multiple components feeding through it). And of course, you can stream from the Amp to Sonos speakers, so whatever you have feeding the receiver can play through a wireless Sonos speaker in a different room.
We found the system easy to operate, both through the app and with the Amp’s font panel, where the touch-sensitive controls are quite responsive.
Using the Amp, we were able to enjoy clean and reliable signals through MartinLogan electrostatic floorstanding speakers. Whether we were listening to music through the app’s streaming radio stations or a direct connection from a McIntosh stereo receiver, the audio sounded excellent.
As mentioned, sending a receiver output to the Amp gives you the most versatility, allowing you to use your receiver as the hub for gear that requires cabling to connect. Thus, we had a single output feeding the Amp that allowed us to play audio from a turntable, a cassette deck, and a Blu-ray/CD player. Obviously, you can’t control playback on a turntable via the app, but you can adjust volume, and the Amp can stream this audio to any Sonos speaker in your home.
The Sonos Amp is admittedly niche. But it brings Sonos streaming to your existing home setup with ease, and allows you to stream audio from non-Sonos gear to any Sonos speakers you own, like the Move or the One (Gen 2). If you’re looking to spend less, the $400 Sonos Port allows for more or less the same streaming and connection capabilities, but it won’t power passive speakers and it doesn’t have a dedicated subwoofer connection. At $650, the Amp is pricey, but if you have a need for it, chances are you have gear worth enough that its price doesn’t seem out of the question. And with one, it can make your home audio setup feel truly connected.