IKEA Symfonisk Picture Frame Review: Art is in the ear of the beholder

Admin1 - Jul 16, 2021, 11:45am CDT
IKEA Symfonisk Picture Frame Review: Art is in the ear of the beholder
Editors' Rating: 8/10
Pros
  • Unusual design looks like no regular speaker
  • Sound quality is decent despite the limited depth
  • Can use all of Sonos' standard features
  • Interchangeable art panels promise future flexibility
Cons
  • IKEA's artwork may not be to your tastes
  • No Bluetooth or aux-in support
  • Price sets it against more traditional speakers from Sonos

For a while it seemed like IKEA and Sonos’ Symfonisk collaboration had stalled, but the new Symfonisk Picture Frame is a reminder that, much like artwork, unusual tech can take time to create. Packaging a connected Sonos speaker into a piece of wall art, it bypasses the traditional aesthetic associated with home audio for something that – depending on your decor – will either be more or less surreptitious than anything else from Sonos’ line-up.

At $199, it’s the most expensive model in the Symfonisk range: the Bookshelf speaker is a $99 no-brainer, while the Table Lamp speaker is $189. That means it overlaps with a few models from Sonos’ range as well. The Sonos One is $199, while the Sonos SL – which is basically the same, aside from having no smart speaker assistant functionality – is $179. A Sonos Roam portable speaker is $169.

All three of those look like, well, speakers however, and that’s not something you’d say about the Symfonisk Picture Frame. IKEA’s design here is thoughtful and full of neat touches. The speaker can be mounted in landscape or portrait orientation, with a magnetically attached hook bracket for the back. Or, you can clip on the included rubber feet, and stand it up against a wall instead. Felt pads on the back help avoid scuffs either way.

The bundled cable is long, more than 11 feet, and fabric covered. Whether you get the white or black speaker, the cord is white, but I think it’s inoffensive dangling down and if you want to pre-wire the wall it plugs in with a standard connector. Multiple different cable guides offer different places to route the cord and have it emerge from the back of the Symfonisk, and the remainder can be bundled up and tucked away in a Velcro-secured compartment.

It’s there you’ll also find an ethernet port, should you want to use a wired connection rather than WiFi, and an AC output. With an optional cable, you can daisy-chain two Symfonisk Picture Frame speakers together, rather than having two cords dangling down.

Physical controls are limited to the usual play/pause and volume buttons; you can also skip forward and back through tracks with double- or triple-taps. They’re hidden on the rear edge, though the Sonos and IKEA logos on the side do give you a hint of where to look until muscle memory kicks in. Unlike a Sonos One there’s no built-in Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant support, though you can control playback with a separate smart speaker if you link that with your Sonos account.

Setup is like any other recent Sonos speaker: search for new speakers, link the Picture Frame in the Sonos app by tapping your NFC-enabled phone against the patch identified with a glowing green LED, set which room it’s in, and then run through the Trueplay tuning. It’s worth noting you’ll need the Sonos S2 app.

Like most Sonos speakers – Move and Roam aside – there’s no Bluetooth for direct pairing with a smartphone, laptop, or another device. Nor is there an aux-in for a 3.5mm cable. You can use Apple AirPlay 2 for wireless streaming, but there’s no Google Chromecast casting. Instead, you’re really expected to use Sonos’ app, or a third-party app that has direct Sonos control like Spotify’s.

You can group the Symfonisk Picture Frame with other Sonos speakers – whether IKEA models or otherwise – to include it in an overall playback zone, or wirelessly link two of the Picture Frame speakers together as a stereo pair. That pair can also be used as the rear channels in a surround sound setup with one of Sonos’ soundbars, like the Arc or Beam.

As with any other Sonos speaker, you can only pair like-models together: two Picture Frames, yes; a Picture Frame and a Sonos One, no.

My expectations for sound quality were fairly low: after all, this is on the relatively inexpensive end of the scale for a Sonos speaker, and the wall-mounted design doesn’t exactly leave much space for the drivers. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover the new Symfonisk actually holds up well.

There’s a woofer and a tweeter – the latter topped with a finned plastic cone that promises to spread the sound more broadly in the room – and they do an impressive job, particularly if you take the couple of minutes that Trueplay tuning requires. It sounds better, to my ears, than a Symfonisk Bookshelf speaker, and roughly on a par with a Sonos One. The latter has a little more bass, yes, but the Picture Frame speaker isn’t especially lacking there until you get to higher volumes.

Most important is that it sounds balanced. You’d be forgiven for predicting more high-end than low here, given the 2.36-inch depth that Sonos and IKEA had to work with. The reality is that, while those looking for deep – and particularly precise – bass may miss a true punch of low-end, the new Symfonisk is fine for most genres. I only had one to play with, but that was fine for regular listening in an average-sized room.

IKEA is selling two versions of the Symfonisk Picture Frame, one with a white finish and the other black. The artwork itself is by Jennifer Idrizi, and is pleasant in a generic, inoffensive way. Interchangeable panels with different art are available for $19.99 each, and IKEA says it’ll have new options each season.

If you don’t like IKEA’s artwork, though, right now you’re out of luck. Since this isn’t a “picture frame” in the traditional sense, you can’t simply take out the included artwork and swap in a print of your own. I can’t see IKEA offering a custom printing service, and Sonos generally takes a hands-off approach to the Symfonisk range, and so it’ll be down to third parties as to whether that happens. Yes, there are companies which will print onto special acoustic fabric, but I suspect once you’ve done that and figured out a way to mount it to a donor frame you could be looking at more than the speaker itself costs.

Since there’s no plain option, at least not yet, the Symfonisk Picture Frame is arguably less subtle in a room than a regular speaker. It may not be instantly recognizable as a piece of tech, true, but I’d say it’s more noticeable.

IKEA Symfonisk Picture Frame Verdict

Honestly, the Symfonisk Picture Frame was not where I would’ve expected IKEA to go next. Its first two models in the series emphasized their affordability in comparison to Sonos’ line-up; in contrast, this third iteration focuses on aesthetics. That’s where things get tricky, because design tends to be a lot more subjective.

The reality is, if you’re not a fan of IKEA’s art style, then the Symfonisk Picture Frame probably isn’t for you. That’s where I find myself: I like the idea of subtly introducing Sonos audio into a room by hanging it on the wall, but without the ability to use my own choice of artwork I think I’d probably spend $179 on a Sonos SL instead. That sounds a little better than IKEA’s speaker, and quite frankly it blends into a room more readily too.

The good news is that IKEA could end up addressing that as it releases new panels, and the Symfonisk Picture Frame does make the process of swapping them in and out easy. The core product behind that art is solid, and I continue to think it’s fascinating to see this interpretation of music tech through IKEA’s offbeat eyes. If your main complaint with connected speakers is that they look too much like tech, that’s certainly not an accusation that can be leveled at the Symfonisk Picture Frame.


Must Read Bits & Bytes