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Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

Ikea and Sonos are back with the latest product in their collaborative Symfonisk series. The lineup’s purpose is to make technology — in this case, wireless speakers — fit in better with home decor and furnishings. After releasing a table lamp and bookshelf speaker two years ago, the companies have come up with a third act that doesn’t require any table, shelf, or floor space at all — because it hangs on your wall. The new $200 Symfonisk “picture frame with Wi-Fi speaker” will be available at Ikea’s stores on July 15th.

The name is a bit of a misnomer since you can’t actually put any of your own pictures or posters inside this frame. “Wall art speaker” would be more accurate, but the end result is another attempt to camouflage gadgets with a more pleasant design that blends in with the rest of your home.

The picture frame is designed for mounting and comes with all of the hardware (bracket, screws, etc.) required for that. But you can also just prop it up against a wall and use it that way; Ikea includes silicone feet for this purpose, and there are preinstalled felt pads to keep the frame from causing any wall damage. Whether you hang it up or just stand it up on a shelf, it can be oriented horizontally or vertically. The majority of the product is made from plastic, but the front panel with the artwork is a polyester fabric. Three physical buttons for play / pause and track controls are located behind the left edge of the frame; the Ikea and Sonos branding is a visual cue for where to reach, and they’re easy to feel for after a while.

Ikea’s default art design on the mesh fabric isn’t going to be for everyone. Artist Jennifer Idrizi has said that it’s inspired by the “structure” of music — the fade in and fade out. But on Twitter, the look has been mocked as something that’d be at home in a chain hotel, dentist’s office, or kitschy Airbnb. I don’t envy the challenge of making art that appeals to a wide audience.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

If you don’t like the default art, you can buy other prints to replace it with.

Ikea plans to sell a range of different art prints for $20 each; swapping between them is as easy as pushing out the panel through the eight cutouts at the frame’s back corners. Some people aren’t going to love any of the selections, and I really wish you could order custom designs of your own photos. Unfortunately, that’s not something Ikea is offering, but the company says it will release new designs regularly. If the Symfonisk frame proves popular, maybe an aftermarket of prints will emerge on Etsy.

Another aspect of the picture frame speaker that people have quibbled about is the power cord. A piece of artwork with a cable running down the wall?! I can only speak for myself, but it really hasn’t bothered me in the slightest. The fabric-covered white cord — even the black frame comes with a white cable — is 11.5 feet long, so you’ve got plenty of slack for reaching the nearest outlet. If you don’t need all that length, there’s a little storage nook on the back of the frame where you can wrap up and store unneeded cable (with a Velcro strap to keep everything tidy).

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

The visible power cord bothers some, but I didn’t mind it.

Ikea and Sonos have put a lot of consideration into the frame’s design, and one of my favorite little touches is that there are several different cord routing paths that lead out of the frame, so you can have the power cable come down from the left or right side if dead center doesn’t work for you. It’s also possible to daisy-chain two of the wall speakers together with a cable (sold separately) if you want to keep things looking cleaner and spare a second outlet.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

The controls are located behind the frame’s left edge and easy to feel for.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

The back of the frame has built-in cord management.

Since they cost the same, you might be wondering how the picture frame speaker compares to the Sonos One speaker in terms of sound quality. They’re actually remarkably close in performance. It feels like that’s the measuring stick Sonos uses for the Symfonisk line. The bookshelf speaker was 80 percent of the way there (for much less money), but the frame speaker is basically on par with the One — despite the latter having more depth to work with. There’s enough bass to give music the oomph it needs, but your walls aren’t going to be rattling at normal volume levels.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

If you don’t have much desk space to spare, AirPlay 2 support makes the Symfonisk frame a good speaker for any Mac.

Much like the One, the picture frame speaker is a rung or two above your average smart speaker (like the Amazon Echo or Apple’s HomePod Mini) in terms of audio quality. Sonos put a waveguide in front of the tweeter to help evenly distribute high-frequency sounds around a room, and in general, the hardware here is sufficient for filling most average-sized spaces. You can also use Sonos’ Trueplay feature in the iOS app to tune the speaker’s output for a particular room’s acoustics. There are no built-in microphones on the picture frame speaker, which is in keeping with previous Symfonisk products.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

Setup is done with the Sonos app.

If you buy two of the Symfonisk wall speakers, they can be used as surrounds for a Sonos Arc or Beam soundbar. Ikea sent me a pair so I could test out how they perform at home theater duty, and I came away impressed. Once you set up the second speaker, the Sonos app automatically asks whether you want to use them for surround purposes with whatever Arc or Beam is already part of your system. Tap a button, and the three devices are grouped together for both TV audio and music. (For music in this setup, you can choose whether the picture frames output a subtle mix — letting the soundbar take the lead — or something more full and substantial.)

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

It does stick out from the wall quite a bit, but at least you’re getting good sound in exchange.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

Sonos added a waveguide to the tweeter to more evenly fill a room with sound.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

Ikea includes an 11.5-foot cord that should be enough to reach an outlet.

Having a picture frame speaker handle surround sound is quite different from a Sonos One; the latter can be placed basically anywhere in your TV room on a shelf or stand for ideal immersion. If you’ve got the right wall situation for two Symfonisk frames behind your couch, you’re probably fine; other layouts might need some experimentation with placement and volume. They sounded great in my bedroom paired with an Arc and my LG CX OLED. There are settings in the Sonos app where you can input how far from you the surround speakers are, and you can also crank up their audio (separate from the soundbar’s volume) if they’re farther back in a room than surrounds ordinarily would be. The sound quality doesn’t disappoint, but you might have to tinker around with settings for the most satisfying results.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

In terms of sound, the picture frame speaker is very close to a Sonos One.

The Symfonisk picture frame is fundamentally a Sonos speaker; you can play virtually any music streaming service on it through the Sonos app. It also supports AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect — though there’s no Bluetooth present, nor any 3.5 auxiliary input. You can group it with other Sonos speakers and play different music in each room, or have your whole system play the same thing in tandem.

In terms of functionality and what it does, nothing about the latest joint effort from Ikea and Sonos is new or unique. And unlike the previous two Symfonisk products, this one isn’t a particularly cheap way into the Sonos ecosystem. It’s purely about the form factor and aesthetic. If there’s a section of your house where a normal speaker just won’t work — or if you live with someone who’s not fond of having very obvious gadgets in every room, maybe this will do the trick. If you immediately jumped at the idea of wall speakers for home theater surround, the picture frame speaker won’t disappoint. You’d just better hope you and Ikea have similar taste in art.

Ikea and Sonos picture frame speaker review: wall of sound

The fundamental goal is for it to blend into your home like tech rarely does.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

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