When the internet goes down it sometimes feels like the world is coming to an end. No Netflix, no Twitter, no Facebook — but what about music? If you’ve got a Sonos system in your home you may be curious if all those fancy speakers can work when internet access is cut? Since they utilize your Wi-Fi connection it may seem like all is lost, but the truth might surprise you.
When the internet is out, Sonos speakers connected to the same Wi-Fi network can still play locally stored content and can utilize AirPlay. If there’s no Wi-Fi either, then Sonos soundbars and Sonos Amp are usable as long as they are connected via HDMI or Digital Optical. The Sonos Roam and Move utilize Bluetooth and can work when there’s no internet or WiFi.
Wi-Fi can seem complicated. Knowing what devices connect to what and who needs what network for operation is not something your average Sonos owner understands or ever has to deal with, and that’s okay. As we look at some specific cases, just keep in mind that not all solutions will work for everyone.
How Sonos Works with Wi-Fi
So when we talk about your internet going out, what is really happening? Okay, so it might not be the Sonos question you wanted answered, but it will help us discover what the issue is. You may have experienced internet outages but still have access to your Wi-Fi network. So it follows that the two are not the same.
There are usually three components to what we refer to off-hand as a “Wi-Fi Internet Connection”:
- A internet ready device (i.e a computer, or in this case a smart speaker)
- A network (this would be the internet that’s hardwired into your home into a device typically called the “modem”)
- An access point (this is the hard-wired connection or, indeed, Wi-Fi signal offered up by a wireless router)
So when people say “the Wi-Fi is down”, they really mean that access to the internet is down. The actual Wi-Fi network coming from the router still exists, you just won’t be able to do anything other than connect to it.
When your Sonos speakers connect to your Wi-Fi network, they don’t necessarily need access to the internet. While you will need internet access to stream content, the communication between devices that utilize your Wi-Fi network will still continue.
This is how the Sonos speakers work. It’s certainly not anything new; in fact, many smart devices use this method to connect to each other without the need for a smart bridge.
So can you listen to music? Well, if you only rely on streamed content, you’re out of luck. But, if you happen to have local music stored on your phone, you might be in luck. You see, as long as your router is still broadcasting the Wi-Fi network, you should be able to connect and utilize the network to stream locally, from your device to the speakers through the Wi-Fi network.
What Can Sonos Speakers Do Without Internet?
Okay, so by this point, you know the difference between Wi-Fi and internet access. We’ve also learned about how your Sonos speakers communicate with each other and with other devices. So when the internet goes down, what can you do?
Well, as we touched on earlier, you’ll need to have locally stored content. That means songs and albums are saved directly to your phone or other devices. That means if you rely solely on streaming music from Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music (etc.) then you’re out of luck. If you have a Spotify playlist saved – that content is on your device, so in that case, you can still listen to it!
A quick note about Spotify: while the app does feature a download feature, you won’t be able to stream those tracks over to your Sonos speakers. This has to do with DRM restrictions that prevent the downloaded content from playing from Sonos or other similar devices.
It can be a pain, so make sure you aren’t relying on the feature for all your offline music needs. You can sidestep that DRM if you use iOS AirPlay to stream from your phone to the speakers, but on Android, where the streaming content has to go through the Sonos App on your phone, the DRM will kick in and keep even downloaded playlists from working.
So when it comes to using your Sonos speakers without internet access, local content is what you need. If you have local content and an existing Wi-Fi network (even though it has no internet access), you can connect your phone as a controller and stream music that is locally available via your phone’s music player. If you have an iPhone, choose songs from the “on this iPhone” section.
Another tactic that is often employed when the internet goes down is utilizing a hotspot for a connection. As long as your mobile router broadcasts a Wi-Fi network, your Sonos should be able to connect. Keep in mind that you may find some difficulty with setup, so it may not be worth it in the end.
What Can Sonos Speakers Do Without Wi-Fi?
Another great question. While it may seem like you would get the same answer as the previous question, we’ve learned that Wi-Fi and internet access are completely different things.
Although they work off each other to provide devices access to the web, having one and not the other can pose significantly different problems.
Without a Wi-Fi network, your Sonos speakers just won’t work the same. These speakers require a network to bridge the connection not only between speakers but also between the control device and the speaker network.
Without this connection, the speakers can only operate as standalone devices. It takes away all of the great features that come packed into the Sonos system.
- Spotify integration
- Surround sound
- Voice control
- Multi-room listening
- Connection to a Sonos subwoofer
All of these functions are essentially non-existent when there is no Wi-Fi connection for the Sonos system to connect to. But before you start thinking that the speaker is dead in the water, you may still connect to the device directly with a hard-line connection.
This will depend on which type of Sonos speakers system you own. Unfortunately, since the speakers rely on Wi-Fi, direct connections are not universal. Here is a table to help you determine whether your speaker can connect via a hard connection:
|Suitable Device||Required Cable|
|Playbar or Playbase||Optical|
|Play:5 or Five||3.5mm|
|Beam or Arc||HDMI or Optical|
|Connect or Connect: Amp||RCA to 3.5mm|
As you can see, there is quite a variety of required cables. Sonos designs its products to work with Wi-Fi networks. The devices you see that have other connections usually do so for home theatre connections, where higher data transfer speeds determine whether a wireless connection is suitable.
While a direct connection will allow you to play local music via your speakers, you won’t get any of the features the Sonos system is famous for. If you are dying for tunes, then yes, this is a suitable fix. But it’s only temporary. If you are looking for a system designed for offline listening, you’d be better off with a traditional speaker setup.
When it comes to using your Sonos speaker system when your Wi-Fi network is down, you have some options. If you still have a Wi-Fi network available and can connect with no internet access, you can still broadcast over the network and play locally downloaded files fairly easily. With this solution, you can still enjoy a lot of the Sonos features like surround sound and multi-room listening.
If, however, no network exists, you’ll have a bit of a challenge to get things working. You can try to use a mobile hotspot, but this can cause issues. Your best bet is to utilize a direct connection from the speaker to your control device.
While this does give you access to the speaker, you’ll be quite limited on what features you can utilize. Additionally, no universal direct input solution exists across all Sonos products. That means you’ll have to do some research on your particular Sonos speaker to see what you can do.
Overall, the Sonos system is built to work on a Wi-Fi network. The features that make the system so appealing are directly linked to that connection. Take it away and you just have a regular speaker.