IKEA Symfonisk photo frame review: art is in the ear of the beholder
For a while, the collaboration between IKEA and Sonos’ Symfonisk seemed to have stalled, but the new Symfonisk photo frame reminds us that, like works of art, creating unusual techniques can take time. Will do it. By wrapping the connected Sonos speakers in a piece of wall art, it bypasses the traditional aesthetic associated with home audio and, depending on the decor, is more or less secret than anything else in the Sonos line-up.
At $ 199, this is the most expensive model in the Symfonisk line: Bookshelf speakers are as simple as $ 99, Table lamp speaker is $ 189. This means that it also straddles some models in the Sonos range. The Sonos One costs $ 199, while the Sonos SL is basically the same, except it doesn’t have a smart speaker assistant feature, but at $ 179. The SonosRoam portable speaker costs $ 169.
But all three sound like speakers, but that’s not what you say about Symfonisk photo frames. The IKEA design here is thoughtful and full of a clean touch. The speaker can be mounted horizontally or vertically using a magnetically mounted hook bracket on the rear. Alternatively, you can clip on the included rubber feet and lean against the wall instead. The felt cushion on the back helps prevent scratches in both directions.
The supplied cable is long, over 11 feet long and covered with fabric. Whether you are using white or black speakers, the cord is white, but I don’t think that’s unpleasant to hang. If you want to pre-wire the wall, connect it with a standard connector. Several different cable guides provide different places to route the cords so that they exit the back of the Symfonisk, and the rest can be bundled and stored in a Velcro-attached compartment.
If you want to use a wired connection and AC outlet instead of WiFi, there is also an Ethernet port. An optional cable allows you to daisy-chain two Symfonisk photo frame speakers instead of hanging two cords.
Physical controls are limited to normal play / pause and volume buttons. You can also double-tap or triple-tap to skip tracks in either direction. They’re tucked away on the back, but the Sonos and IKEA logos on the sides indicate where to look until muscle memory begins. Unlike SonosOne, it doesn’t have built-in support for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. You can control playback on another smart speaker by signing in to your Sonos account.
The setup is the same as for any other modern Sonos speaker. Find a new speaker, tap the NFC-enabled phone on the patch identified by the green LED, link the photo frame in the Sonos app, set the room you’re in, and then set Trueplay. Please note that you will need the Sonos S2 app.
Like most Sonos speakers – Move and Roam By the way, there’s no Bluetooth for pairing directly with a smartphone, laptop, or other device. There is also no auxiliary input for 3.5mm cables. You can use Apple AirPlay 2 for wireless streaming, but there is no Google Chromecast casting. Instead, you really expect it to use a Sonos app or a third-party app that directly controls Sonos, such as Spotify.
You can bundle Symfonisk photo frames with other Sonos speakers (whether or not IKEA models) and include them throughout the reading area, or you can wirelessly link the two speakers in the photo frame as a stereo pair. This pair can also be used as a back channel for surround sound setups using any of the Sonos soundbars such as Arc and Beam.
As with any Sonos speaker, you can only pair the same model. Two executives, yes. Photo frame and Sonos One, no.
My expectations for sound quality were pretty low. After all, it’s on the relatively inexpensive end of the Sonos speaker scale, and the wall-mounted design doesn’t exactly leave a lot of room for the driver. So I was happy and surprised to see that the new symphonic was doing really well.
There are woofers and tweeters. The latter is covered with a finned plastic cone which promises to diffuse the sound more widely in the room. It does an impressive job, especially if it takes a few minutes to tune Trueplay. To my ears this sounds better than the Symfonisk Bookshelf speaker and is pretty much the same as the Sonos One. The latter has a bit more bass, yes, but the photo frame speakers aren’t particularly lacking there until you hit a louder volume.
More importantly, it seems balanced. Considering the 2.36-inch depth that Sonos and IKEA must have used, it’s fair to predict the high end rather than the low end here. In reality, those looking for deep and particularly precise bass may miss out on a real low-end punch, but the new Symfonisk is suitable for most genres. I only played one, but it was fine for regular listening in a medium sized room.
IKEA sells two versions of Symfonisk photo frames. One has a white finish and the other is black. The artwork itself is by Jennifer Idrizi and is comfortable in a common and unpleasant way. Exchangeable panels of various arts are available for $ 19.99 each, and IKEA says there are new seasonal options.
But if you don’t like IKEA artwork, you’re out of luck right now. This is not a “photo frame” in the traditional sense, so you cannot remove the included illustration and replace it with your own print. I don’t see IKEA offering a personalized printing service. Sonos typically takes an approach that stretches Symfonisk’s reach, so it’s up to the third party to do so. Yes, there are companies that print on special acoustic fabrics, but if you do that and find a way to attach it to the donor frame, you will see more than the cost of the speaker itself.
There is no doubt that the Symfonisk Photo Frame is less subtle in the room than a regular speaker, at least still, as there is no obvious choice. Of course, this might not immediately be recognized as part of the technology, but I think it’s more noticeable.
IKEA Symfonisk picture frame verdict
To be fair, the Symfonisk Photo Frame wasn’t where I thought IKEA would go next. The first two models in the series emphasized affordability compared to the Sonos line. In contrast, this third iteration focuses on aesthetics. This is where things get tricky, as designs tend to be more subjective.
In fact, if you are not a fan of the artistic IKEA style, the Symfonisk Photo Frame is probably not for you. There I found myself. I like the idea of hanging Sonos audio on the wall and subtly bringing it into the room, but if you can’t use the artwork you want, you’ll probably spend $ 179 on Sonos SL in place. It sounds a bit better than IKEA speakers, and frankly, it blends more easily into the room.
The good news is that IKEA could face it when it releases a new panel. SymfoniskPictureFrame makes it easy to replace panels. The basic product behind the art is solid, and I continue to find it fascinating to see this interpretation of music technology through IKEA’s eccentric eyes. If your main complaint about smart speakers is that they are too close to technology, this is certainly not a criticism that can be leveled at the Symfonisk photo frame.