IKEA Symfonisk speakers review: Sonos made sure they sound great, but that Scandi-chic lamp design is polarizing

Both the lamp and the bookshelf speaker can operate independently, as a stereo pair, or as surround speakers with a Sonos soundbar in your home theater.

symfonisk range
IKEA
At a Glance

IKEA’s Symfonisk WiFi speakers—a recent collaboration between the Swedish home furnishings retailer and U.S.-based wireless multi-room audio manufacturer Sonos—are coming to IKEA's online and brick-and-mortar stores on August 1. The Symfonisk (pronounced sim-fawn-isk) bookshelf speaker is a fantastic value. The Symfonisk speaker lamp sounds great, too, but I’m not a fan of its industrial design—and that’s putting it mildly (only the bookshelf speaker scored a TechHive Editors' Choice award). You, of course, might have a very different opinion about its looks.

Both speakers are co-branded with the Sonos and IKEA labels, two of either can be configured as a left/right stereo pair or as left/right rear channels with a Sonos soundbar, and both can operate together with other Sonos speakers on the same network. Pairing can only be accomplished with like speakers, but you can link either speaker to the Sonos Sub (however unlikely that might ever be given the disparity in the price tags of these speakers and the Sub).

Symfonisk speakers incorporate the entire Sonos feature set, including support for Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol, Sonos’ Trueplay speaker-tuning software (which requires an iOS device), and the ability to stream music from the unparalleled collection of music-streaming services that Sonos supports (Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, Qobuz, and on and on).

symfonisk bookshelf 1 IKEA

The Symfonisk bookshelf speakers can operate either vertically or, as shown here, horizontally.

Neither of these models is a smart speaker, but they can be controlled with voice commands if you have an Amazon Alexa- or Google Assistant-compatible device. IKEA says it will introduce a compatible remote control and incorporate support for both speakers into its IKEA Home smart app (currently branded TRÅDFRI and available for Android and iOS) this fall.

Symfonisk WiFi bookshelf speaker

The bookshelf version of the Symfonisk speaker can be oriented either vertically or horizontally. In the latter scenario, it can be hung on a wall (with an optional rail kit) and serve as an actual bookshelf. It measures 12 x 6 x 4 inches (LxWxH) and weighs 4 pounds 12 ounces. The speaker’s front-ported enclosure is fabricated from ABS plastic with silicone rubber feet, and it’s available in either white with a white fabric grill, or black with a black fabric grill (the grills are not removable). If you have the network infrastructure to take advantage of it, you’ll find an RJ45 ethernet port on the back of the speaker (the speaker lamp is also outfitted with an ethernet port).

You’ll find the usual Sonos control buttons near the base of the speaker, from left to right: Volume down, play/pause, and volume up. A double-press on the play/pause button skips to the next track, while a triple-press moves to the previous track in your queue. When the speaker is laid down, these controls are stacked, bottom to top, on the right-hand side.

symfonisk stereo pair Michael Brown / IDG

Both the Symfonisk bookshelf speakers the speaker lamp can be paired for stereo reproduction.

One Class-D amplifier powers the Symfonisk WiFi bookshelf’s tweeter, and a separate Class-D amp drives a mid-woofer (amplifier power and driver size and material are not disclosed). Sonos provided two of the bookshelf speakers, so I was able to evaluate its performance as a single speaker, as a stereo pair, and as a rear surround pair with a Sonos Beam soundbar. I did not try the speakers with the Sonos Sub, as I don’t imagine anyone is going to pair a $99 speaker with a $699 subwoofer (not that you couldn’t).

So how do they sound? The Symfonisk WiFi bookshelf speaker is the most impressive speaker I’ve ever reviewed at this price. Its performance comes very close to matching that of the $199 Sonos One smart speaker; in fact, I had to listen to the two speakers side by side to discern the difference. It’s not an audiophile product by any stretch—only the Sonos Play:5 comes close to that mark, and nothing in the Sonos canon supports high-resolution audio—but the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker is a very strong performer.

Listening to the late Walter Becker’s guitar solo on Steely Dan’s “Jack of Speed,” from the band’s album Two Against Nature, the Sonos One delivered a more energetic rendering, with better definition in the midrange and crisper highs, but it’s not something you’ll notice if you’re not doing an A/B listening test. The bookshelf speaker’s bass response, meanwhile, is fantastic for its size and price tag. In terms of volume (i.e. loudness), the Symfonisk bookshelf was just able to fill my 247-square-foot home theater with sound, with me sitting on a couch 11 feet from the sound stage, but a single speaker probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with a raucous party.

Binding two speakers as a left/right pair, however, was a revelation. You’re doubling the amplifier power, of course, but there’s nothing like experiencing true stereo, especially when listening to well-mastered recordings. The music opens up and becomes more natural, bringing you much closer to the experience of a live performance. That was certainly the case when I played Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble’s live album Live Alive. Vaughn’s raging guitar work on his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Reprise)” nearly sent chills down my spine.

If you’ve ever remotely considered buying into the Sonos ecosystem, but hesitated because the price was a barrier to entry, the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker will blow that impediment away. At $99, they’re practically an impulse buy. At $198 for a pair, Sonos soundbar owners would be crazy not to pick them up as surround channels.

The audio half of my home theater system has been in a state of disarray lately, as I’ve been testing new components. It’s been months since I’ve been able to enjoy my Onkyo A/V receiver and 5.1 speaker system (early Klipsch Reference series speakers, with a Boston Acoustics PV800 subwoofer handling low-frequency effects).

Configuring the bookshelf speakers as rear surrounds and watching the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of Mad Max: Fury Road on a Cambridge Audio CXUHD 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player and a 55-inch Samsung Q7FN 4K QLED TV reminded me what I’ve been missing. A soundbar is no substitute for a true 5.1 system, even with rear surrounds in the mix, but it does immerse you in the action far better than any TV speaker can. And that Sonos speaker configuration (a Sonos Beam up front and a pair of Symfonisk bookshelf speakers in back) will set you back less than $600.

symfonisk bookshelf 3 IKEA

Add an inexpensive mount, and the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker can be a bookshelf.

Symfonisk table lamp with WiFi speaker

As I said up top, I’m not exactly smitten with IKEA’s notion of a table lamp (any more than I was enthused about the weird-in-a-very-different-way C by GE Sol smart lamp). But my disdain is limited to the look of this device. It’s a high-quality product, with a mouth-blown glass shade, an aluminum on/off switch, and a base that’s wrapped in an elegant woven fabric (your choice of white or charcoal).

The lamp measures 9 x 9 x 16 inches (WxDxH) and weighs a hefty 7 pounds 4 ounces, with the glass shade accounting for about 2 pounds 4 ounces of that bulk. The speaker enclosure emerges from a saucer-like platform that renders the entire lamp very stable, but that also hosts the same transport controls you’ll find on the bookshelf speakers. When the lamp is oriented so those buttons are in front of you, it seems odd that the rotary knob for turning the light bulb on and off ends up being on the right-hand side of the base, but you’ll get over it quickly enough.

IKEA’s documentation says the lamp is limited to using a 7-watt LED bulb with an E14 base, which you’ll need to provide, but the company sent me a 7-watt LED bulb with an E12 base to use during my review. There’s a very slight difference in size: E12 bulbs have a 11.5mm base to fit a 12mm socket, while E14 bulbs have a 13.5mm base to fit a 14mm socket. Since the E12 base is smaller, it will fit in an E14 socket; but a bulb with an E14 base will not fit in the smaller E12 socket.

If you and/or your significant other hate the idea of speakers littering your living space—especially if that’s the barrier to having a surround-sound system in your TV-viewing space—and you do like IKEA’s industrial design, the $179 Symfonisk lamp speaker is a good deal. The $5 LED bulb sent along with the lamp produced 600 lumens of brightness, which isn’t quite the same as the 800 lumens a 60-watt incandescent would put out, but it was good enough for atmosphere. A pair of lamps in the back of your room will provide plenty of illumination without taking away from the screen at the front of it.

symfonisk speaker lamp IKEA

I have no complaints about the IKEA Symfonisk table lamp speaker’s audio performance. I just don’t care for its design aesthetic.

Here, however, Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant compatibility is limited to the Sonos component of the lamp. If you want to use voice commands to control the light, you’ll need to spring for a smart LED bulb. IKEA’s Tradfri line is relatively inexpensive, with a wireless remote control that costs $16 and a 600-lumen, tunable-white E12 bulb going for $10. Philips Hue bulbs cost quite a bit more: The dimmable White costs about $15, the Hue White Ambiance (tunable white) goes for $25, and the Hue White and Color Ambiance is priced at $50.

Like the bookshelf speaker, the Symfonisk table lamp features two amplifiers, a mid-woofer, and a tweeter, but the components and tuning are very different; in fact, the speaker lamp’s sound profile is even closer to that of the Sonos One. I had only one lamp speaker, so I wasn’t able to test two in stereo or in a surround configuration with the Sonos Beam, but the speaker sounds great solo, delivering even more bass response than the bookshelf speaker—despite the lamp being a sealed enclosure—and better separation across the frequency spectrum.

The speaker reproduced the rim shots that open Steely Dan’s “Babylon Sisters,” from the band’s album Gaucho, with crisp authority. And the bass player’s laconic lines sounded rich and full coming out of the speaker’s mid-woofer. It’s a very good speaker—I just can’t get over how ugly it is. But like I said, that’s my subjective opinion. Yours might be very different.

A true partnership

These two speakers are the result of an excellent collaborative effort between two very different companies. IKEA has been expanding beyond home furnishings and dabbling in the smart home for a while now. Sonos has been focusing on expanding its multi-room audio offerings at both ends of the spectrum, enabling more consumers to dip their toes into the Sonos ecosystem by lowering the cost of entry-level components while simultaneously introducing higher-end products—including the Sonos Amp and the architectural speakers it developed in concert with Sonance.

You’ll need to visit an IKEA store or visit their website (starting on August 1) if you want to buy either of these speakers, because they won’t be available through any other retailer. Sonos won’t be selling them direct, either. The Symfonisk WiFi bookshelf speaker is practically an impulse buy, whether you’ve always wanted to get into the world of Sonos, you want to add surround speakers to a Sonos soundbar you already have, or you just want to listen to music in a new room in your home.

I like the audio performance of the Symfonisk table lamp with WiFi speaker even more than the bookshelf speaker, and it’s just flexible—it can operate solo, as a stereo pair with another speaker lamp, or as the surrounds complementing a Sonos soundbar. But the $80 difference in price—and for some, that design aesthetic—prompts a more considered purchase decision, especially if you’re considering a pair.

At a Glance
  
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