I tend to avoid speakers as a rule.
Even though I’ve spent the last eight years working as a music journalist, I did most of my listening with headphones or shitty laptop speakers, intimidated by the huge, black boxes that needed to be mounted in corners and strung together with wires. A childhood memory of my dad spending an entire afternoon trying to get our new sound system to work in stereo, and later, checking each bit of wire to see where the short was, intimidated me away from purchasing a set of my own as an adult.
Luckily, the onset of wireless speakers meant that kind of tedious work wouldn’t be an issue when I finally did commit, but the increased technology in speakers almost made it more daunting. Other prohibitive factors were aesthetics and price: a lot of speakers are just ugly, and take up tons of space, or cost several hundred dollars for a pair of decent ones. Whenever I had that kind of disposable income, speakers weren’t the first thing I intuitively turned to.
As someone who moved around a lot in my twenties, the thought of lugging a whole set of speakers always kept me away from investing in them. And I was guilty of my own internalized sexism — speakers felt like a guy thing to me. But settling into a more long term home in Los Angeles over the past few months meant considering a proper way to get good sound in my own living room, not just for parties or entertaining, but for my own convenience. Headphones and car speakers work in a pinch, but not for my favorite albums, and not for those records with layers of intricate sound.
One of my first introductions to speakers I liked, came through Sonos, actually. Working with the brand on activations like their flagship store in New York, it’s easy to see why they’ve become one of the foremost sound companies in the last few years — they care deeply about music, an element that is missing from a lot of tech/sonic companies. This ethos informs how they approach their products, one example being the way they use wifi to carry sound instead bluetooth, a majorly increased quality of sound for wireless speakers. And though Ikea and Sonos announced a partnership a couple years ago, it wasn’t until August that the first of their collaborative speakers finally made their way out into the world.
Since I worked with them before, the brand was gracious enough to send over a stereo pair of their new Symfonisk bookshelf speakers (which, you can probably intuit, translates to “symphony” in Swedish) for review. Regardless, I was immediately surprised at how accessible the price point was: $99. That means getting a pair for my living room would’ve run me $199, which is not what I envision when it comes to setting up a pair of great, high-quality speakers.
The speaker is a sleek, white or black square that’s about the size of a large book itself. It can be placed upright and used vertically, mounted on the wall as a horizontal bedside table or shelf, or tucked alongside books on a preexisting bookshelf. My most recent home improvement project was working on a central art piece for my living room (please see the Earth’s Moon Wall Map I fell in love with at an Airbnb in Nashville and became obsessed with, pictured above), and mounting speakers on either side of it, so I could sit on the couch and listen to music, felt like the best option.
The bookshelf element solved another puzzle I’d been trying to navigate — how to get plants in my living room space. I’m not a handy person, so even something as simple as an Ikea bracket can be very intimidating, but with literally four screws, even I could pull this off. When they were as level as I could get them, I planted succulents in my Celfie vases, and the styling was complete. Unless you’re looking closely at the play buttons on the speakers, it’s not even obvious that’s what the shelves are; they’re totally unobtrusive, and I also love the contemporary feel of the white colorway, which is worlds away from the massively obtrusive dark speakers in the house I grew up in. Speakers don’t always have to be black! Having the choice of color is part of what makes this set so appealing.
I already have a Sonos One, so I’m familiar with the Sonos app, which lets you group speakers together to keep sound consistent in more than one room and pairs easily with any streaming service subscriptions. This features work particularly well for a stereo pair, letting one speaker take on the right hand sounds and letting the other handle the left, just like headphones. The Symfonisk also includes an additional setup option to “tune your room.” Because the speakers can be used horizontally or vertically, Sonos offers the chance to individualize your set up by waving your phone all around the space they’ll be used in, giving them a chance to customize to the acoustics of your space, taking into account factors like size, shape, and layout.
Even given the lower price point, the Symfonisk still delivers a very consistent, rich level of sound that’s miles beyond most other speakers in this price range, and they work especially well if you’re pairing with a Sonos One or already have other Sonos speakers set up. The Symfonisk would be an ideal gift for someone who is just getting into speakers, or trying to get a home stereo setup going. A speaker that doubles as a shelf appeals to me as someone who likes multi use objects, and the aesthetic of the lighter color is pretty enough to shake me out of my “speakers are for guys” mentality.