The Ikea Symfonisk line of Sonos speakers has had quite the year. It started with the first new speaker in two years with the Picture Frame, which I found to be its best speaker yet, and now the2021 table lamp speaker that launched with the Symfonisk brand has been updated as well.
The upgrade here is quite dramatic for $169 or $179, depending on which lampshade you want. The original Symfonisk table lamp was a decent speaker but wasn’t a great lamp. It had a confusing dial that implied it was a dimmer or maybe a volume knob, but was just an on/off switch. It also only worked with the less common E12 bulb socket for light bulbs instead of the standard E26 base. That upgrade alone makes the new table lamp speaker an easier sell for prospective buyers. If you like the new design, the new table lamp speaker is going to fit into your world much more easily. I like to use smart bulbs in my lamps and I was able to pop one into the table lamp speaker no issue. I literally could not do that with the prior model.
The second thing you should consider is how you want this speaker to fit into your life. I’ll give the game away a bit and just say that the new table lamp speaker is not a Hi-Fi product like other Sonos speakers, or even the Picture Frame speaker. Despite that, I still think the audio design choices made here result in a very compelling speaker for lots of people who may not care about flawless audio quality.
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Ikea’s flagship Symfonisk gets a design upgrade that fixes the original's shortcomings.
I like the new Symfonisk lamp design much more than the original. That old design was too slender and felt cheap. The base that housed the speaker controls had a mushy feel to the buttons, and the power knob wasn’t very satisfying to turn. The fabric mesh housing was also not well-sewn and you could literally move it around with a little bit of work.
The new design addresses all of those issues.
To start, Ikea is now selling the speaker base and the lampshade as separate pieces. There’s a fabric design for $29 and a glass version for $39, and each comes in black or white. The speaker base itself costs $139. I reviewed the white glass shade with the white speaker base. This glass is opaque all around, but the black glass, with its transparent smokey look would also interest me. Ikea does package the lamps with all of the color-matched shades, but you’re now free to put a black shade on a white base, or vice-versa when checking out.
Whether you like the new lampshades or not is going to determine if the new Symfonisk lamp is for you or not.
The redesigned speaker base is quite neutral looking, which is good. It’s now an even, wide cylinder, about six inches in diameter and eight inches tall. The fabric mesh feels much more premium and the base is super sturdy and well built. While the base still doesn’t include a dimmer, there’s no more confusion with the power button. It’s an on/off button with a satisfying click to it located at the bottom of the speaker’s front. The light socket has a maximum output of 15W, so incandescent bulbs are off the table here (good). That’s not really an issue since 15W LED bulbs output around 1400-1600 lumens of brightness depending on color temperature. That’s on par with 100W incandescent bulbs. Most smart bulbs need less than 10W of power.
My one problem with the new speaker base is the location of the playback controls. They’re tucked behind the speaker and are pretty hard to reach from my bedside. For a speaker without any voice controls, you’ll be relying on your phone for controlling audio or learning to live with stretching for playback. I’m not sure why the volume buttons weren’t put upfront except to help the speaker blend in better as a normal lamp.
Two downsides to note. First, Ikea packs a pretty dim bulb in the box, a 450 lumen Ryet LED bulb that it sells for $1. Eight hundred lumens is the minimum I’d expect, and Ikea’s own LEDARE bulb only costs $4, so it’s odd the company didn’t eat that in the margin. The second downside is that the lamp doesn’t maintain power states when power is lost. This means that you can’t use the Symfonisk on a switched outlet that’s controlled by your wall. This is the biggest reason I’d recommend using the Symfonisk lamp with a smart bulb.
Better, not greater
Despite its cylindrical design, the original Symfonisk table lamp speaker was a forward-firing design. It worked better on a table or dresser in your room instead of on your bedside. The 2021 table lamp speaker uses an audio waveguide alongside upgraded audio internals to better fill a room wherever the speaker is placed.
In my experience I found that to be the case with one very important caveat.The difference Trueplay makes cannot be overstated.
While forward-firing speakers like the Sonos One or Sonos Five do sound terrific out of the box, Sonos’ Trueplay tuning can make a 5 to 10 percent difference in audio quality depending on the room they’re placed in. As long as you’re sitting in front of your speakers, they’re going to sound great, but tuning them to your room's unique acoustics is always nice. However, when you’re out of that direct audio field, forward-firing speakers don’t sound the best.
The new Symfonisk table lamp speaker has those tradeoffs in reverse. I was not impressed by its sound before I applied Trueplay tuning. Audio was muddy and clarity wasn’t the best. I had the speaker on my bedside table but I really didn’t enjoy listening to the lamp from anywhere in my bedroom. To get Ikea’s promised “great sound experience, from any angle,” you need to Trueplay tune this thing. Much like the Sonos Beam (Gen 2), this is another Sonos speaker that requires Trueplay tuning to get great sound out of. And just like every other speaker Sonos sells, you’re out of luck if you use an Android phone; calibration only works with an iPhone.
The difference Trueplay makes cannot be overstated. Just knowing there’s a wall behind one side allowed the speaker to better control where sound was bouncing. I have a reading area on the opposite side of the room from the lamp speaker, and where I sit is not an ideal angle for a forward-firing speaker to reach. Songs and podcasts I played on the lamp sounded pretty good both lying next to the speaker or doing some work in the reading area. The EQ here is still firmly Sonos’ EQ. It’s balanced and lets every part of a track shine for the most part.
The issue here is that the waveguide sacrifices dynamic range and some clarity to get an even dispersion of sound around a room. This is the case with any speaker that tries to fill a whole room instead of a single sweet spot. While Trueplay helped a lot in my testing, audiophiles are still going to want a Sonos One or Sonos Five over the Symfonisk table lamp speaker. Even if this lamp speaker is a worse directional speaker than its predecessor, the other upgrades here make it a much easier product to recommend. I think the sacrifice of dynamic range for room-filling sound is a choice that makes sense for a speaker that’s also pulling double duty as furniture. This is not something I’d say about a dedicated speaker like the Sonos One.
Finding a place
As someone who likes the new design of the new Symfonisk table lamp speaker, this is a product I can recommend to people who have similar taste to mine. Both of the lampshade designs certainly appeal to a specific aesthetic, so this may not fit into your home, but if the design works for you then you no longer have to worry about the dumb socket limitation on the original model. This new Symfonisk table lamp speaker is a functioning lamp, which is what it always should have been.You no longer have to worry about the dumb socket limitation.
Of course, you also need to have a place for it to use for music to justify the price tag, and for that it is a bit limited. For a room you find yourself needing music in, but not necessarily one you dedicate to music listening sessions, the Symfonisk table lamp speaker works great. This will be perfect for dining rooms and living areas for hosting parties, or bedrooms where you’d like a light to sit on your bedside or dresser.
The Picture Frame was the first Symfonisk to work as a great speaker, but the new table lamp speaker is the first Symfonisk that actually blends in to work as audio gear and furniture. Replace a lamp in your house with this one and visitors will be none the wiser, and you’ll now be able to fill the room with music in an instant.