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Saturday, November 12, 2022

Ikea Symfonisk review: a good Sonos wifi speaker hiding in a lamp | Digital music and audio

The second generation of Ikea’s novel Sonos-powered wifi speaker lamp looks a little sleeker than the first, sounds a bit better and comes in new shapes, materials and colour combinations.

The idea is the same as for the rest of the Symfonisk range: hide a speaker in a piece of stylish furniture. In true Ikea fashion, the £179 ($169) lamp comes flat-packed, although thankfully only in three parts: the base, the plug and the shade.

The separated lampshade and base side by side
It takes about two minutes to screw the shade on, insert a bulb (not included) and plug in the lamp. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The base of the lamp is an 18cm-wide fabric-covered cylinder, available in grey/white or black. This contains the speaker. The shade is available in either grey or black and in two styles: fabric, as photographed, or glass, similar to the lamp’s predecessor.

The shade and base can be bought separately and mixed and matched. The top of the base has standard lamp fittings. It takes an E27 bulb (not included) and will fit other shades with a 4cm-diameter ring if you don’t like Ikea’s options.

Simple setup using your phone

The bottom of the lamp base, showing the silicone feet and plug and ethernet sockets
There’s a power lead and an ethernet socket in the bottom, and small silicone feet keep the lamp stable. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The lamp is as easy to set up as the Symfonisk Picture Frame. Download the Sonos app on your Android or iPhone, run the setup routine, tap your phone on the back of the lamp when instructed and connect it to wifi.

It operates like any other Sonos speaker, streaming music over wifi – not Bluetooth – from your choice of music service. The system supports practically every major service, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and BBC Sounds, plus Apple’s AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.

The lamp can be used on its own or paired with another for stereo sound. It can also be linked with Sonos’s soundbars for surround sound, or grouped with other Ikea or Sonos speakers for easy multi-room audio. It does not have microphones for Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, but the speaker can be controlled with all major voice assistants via another smart speaker or your phone.

Specifications

  • Base dimensions: 18 x 18 x 28cm

  • Base weight: 2.39kg

  • Connectivity: Wifi, ethernet, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect

  • Cord length: 200cm

  • Light socket: E27 (screw)

  • Shade ring: 4cm diameter

Good sound below 70% volume

Back of the base of the Symfonisk lamp, showing the pause/play and volume buttons
A small power LED and standard pause/play and volume buttons are on the back of the base. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The second-gen lamp sounds slightly better than its predecessor and similar to the Symfonisk picture frame. But it projects its audio 180 degrees around its base, making it sound less directional than other speakers. Place it against a wall in the middle of a room and it’ll sound the same regardless of where you’re sitting in front of it.

Thanks to Sonos’s audio engineering the speaker is well balanced, with a rounded sound that is significantly better than many simpler Bluetooth speakers. Up to about 70% volume it has punchy bass, warm treble and nicely detailed highs. But crank up the volume further and it starts to struggle, with failing bass and over-accentuated treble.

It sounds best at 50% or lower, which is more than loud enough for small or medium-sized rooms. But its wide, less directional sound struggles to project the music deeper into big rooms and can’t match the Sonos One or larger speakers.

It is compatible with Sonos’s Trueplay auto-tuning system using an iPhone or iPad and has bass, treble and loudness settings to customise the sound manually, too.

Sustainability

The lamp base without a lampshade attached
The base’s top unscrews to attach a lampshade and the E27 socket fits standard LED or smart bulbs. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Ikea does not offer a repair service but replacement cords (£7) and other parts are available. It does not contain any recycled material, nor does Ikea publish individual environmental impact assessments. But it offers a recycling scheme for its products and publishes an annual sustainability report.

Sonos commits to supporting feature updates through software on its own products for at least five years after it stops selling them, but has a track record of doing so for much longer, including bug and security fixes for its legacy products. The Symfonisk range will receive similar levels of support.

Price

The Ikea Symfonisk speaker lamp costs £179 ($169.99) with a fabric shade or £199 ($189.99) with a glass shade.

For comparison, the Symfonisk wifi bookshelf speaker costs £99, the Symfonisk picture frame costs £199, the Sonos One SL speaker costs £149 and the Sonos One costs £199.

Verdict

The second-generation Symfonisk speaker lamp is still a good idea well executed: good Sonos sound hidden in a sleeker and better-looking light.

With a greater number of colour and shade combinations to pick from, it is even easier to blend the lamp into your decor, as long as you like a the look of a slightly chunky, black or grey fabric-covered lamp base.

Sonos’s audio system continues to shine. It’s easy to control, compatible with almost every music streaming service and regularly updated, supported and expanded so your speakers aren’t left outdated.

It is a slight shame the audio quality falters at high volume, but for small- or medium-sized rooms it should be loud enough for most at under 70% maximum volume. The light part of the unit is a standard E27 fitting with a manual push-button switch on the base, but you can fit a smart bulb such as Philips Hue for dimming or remote control.

If you want a speaker that is less a piece of technology and more an item of functional furniture, the second-gen Ikea Symfonisk speaker lamp is great.

Pros: great sound, good-looking, with a range of colour and shade options, easy set up, Sonos control, wide support for music services, can be paired up, optional ethernet, standard E27 bulb socket.

Cons: base is quite large for a table lamp, no smart speaker mics, no Bluetooth or line in, no bulb included, can’t maintain music quality above about 70% volume.

The lamp with the light off
The speaker works whether the light is on or off. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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