Ikea’s latest Sonos lamp speaker is still an acquired taste

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The first table lamp speaker from Ikea and Sonos was a little… strange. With its bulbous, mushroom-esque lampshade, fabric-covered speaker, and a plate beneath it all, the original Symfonisk lamp wasn’t exactly a universal fit for home decor. But the concept of a lamp that also doubles as a capable speaker was in itself a good idea — so the companies are back with their second try at it. The new Symfonisk has a more traditional design, fixes the original’s frustratingly limited bulb compatibility, and has a revamped speaker architecture that does a better job spreading sound throughout a room.

Ikea is now selling the base/speaker and lampshade separately; the former costs $140, and you can pick between a glass ($39) or textile ($29) shade. The glass shade — I reviewed the black one — is now open-ended and has a secondary, opaque glass cylinder running up the middle, which encircles the bulb. It’s still not going to be everyone’s taste, but the overall style is a bit more conservative and less likely to stand out for the wrong reasons. That said, if you despised how the original looked, I doubt you’ll reverse course after seeing the new model.

The lamp base has ditched the bottom saucer plate, which was where the controls were located on the older model. It’s noticeably shorter as a result and looks quite similar to Apple’s original HomePod. Ikea also moved away from the looks-like-a-dimmer-but-isn’t knob for turning the lamp on or off. Instead, there’s now a small circular button on the lower front area of the base for powering the light.

Instead of a knob, the new lamp has a simpler power button for the lightbulb.

One downside of this change is that while the old knob could be left to “on,” this simpler button doesn’t preserve the bulb’s state in the event it gets unplugged or if you lose power. That can get annoying if you’re using smart bulbs since you’ll have to walk over to the lamp and toggle the bulb power back on to control them remotely again. Around back are the usual Sonos controls for volume and play / pause. The volume buttons are easy to operate by feel since one is concave, and the other is convex.

The lamp’s controls are around back and easy to use by feel.

The 2019 Symfonisk lamp only supported lightbulbs with an E12 base, which came with a double whammy of being harder to find and outputting lackluster brightness for a table lamp. With the new model, Ikea has switched to the much more common E26 / E27 base. The company includes one of its own LED bulbs in the box, but you’ve got plenty of choices for smart bulbs from Philips Hue, LIFX, and others that will screw into the lamp if you want a dash of color or more flexible ways of controlling the light remotely.

Setting up the lamp speaker is a short process in the Sonos app: plug in the detachable, braided power cord, and it’s automatically detected and added to your whole-home audio system a few moments later. For the final step, you hold your phone near the device to finish linking it to your Sonos account through NFC. After that, the Symfonisk lamp acts like any other Sonos speaker you’ve got. You can group them together to get the same song playing throughout your living space or just have the lamp do its own thing. Like other modern Sonos speakers, the lamp supports Apple’s AirPlay 2, so it’s easy to play audio on it from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. If you buy two of the lamp speakers, they can be used as a stereo pair or serve as rear surrounds for one of Sonos’ soundbars. Assuming the design is to your taste, it’s a more subtle solution for surrounds than putting speakers on stands or wall-mounting them.

Ikea is selling two different styles of lampshades for the Symfonisk lamp.

None of the Symfonisk products so far have come with built-in microphones, and that remains true with the second-gen lamp. To add voice controls to your Sonos system, you’ll either need one of the company’s voice-enabled speakers or to set up Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant if you already own a compatible device.

Ikea and Sonos say the second-generation Symfonisk lamp has a totally redesigned acoustic architecture. The most significant addition is a waveguide that’s meant to better disperse and spread the speaker’s sound around a room. (There’s a similar waveguide in the picture frame speaker.) This means you won’t have to worry about a narrow “sweet spot” when finding a spot for the lamp; it should sound consistent regardless of where you place it in a room. But the re-engineered guts have changed the overall sound enough that the Symfonisk doesn’t sound as close to a Sonos One as the original did.

For its size, there’s a very satisfying level of bass, and vocals come through with good clarity. But other parts of the mix can sound less detailed compared to most Sonos speakers, and some instrumentation falls deeper into the background than I’d like. Listening to Kacey Musgraves’ new album Star-Crossed, this speaker noticeably lacked some brightness and definition on her vocals and acoustic guitars on a song like “Hookup Scene.” There are EQ adjustments for treble and bass in the Sonos app, and you can also run TruePlay (if you have an iOS device) to further optimize the sound. But there’s always a slight muddiness to the speaker, though it’s not as present or obvious depending on what you’re listening to. That’s the tradeoff you’re making for the wider sound dispersion.

If you’re looking for a decent speaker for a bedroom or office — and you really want it to double as a lamp — the new Symfonisk makes good on that hybrid functionality. But to me, the $99 bookshelf speaker remains the best value and most practical device in the Symfonisk lineup, especially when you put two of them together.

When it comes to the wall art speaker or the lamp, they are less versatile. You’re either looking for this very specific dual-purpose thing, or you’re probably not interested at all. If you are interested, the second-generation Symfonisk lamp fixes a lot of what Ikea got wrong the first time. It looks (slightly) more conventional, supports an easier-to-source bulb, and gets a wider audio spread out of the drivers inside. The notion of cloaking technology inside other, more inviting household appliances will definitely be a big plus for some. But if you’re already set on lamps and okay with displaying speakers that don’t hide their true purpose, you can do better for the money.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

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