Sonos One Review

18 October 2017

Sonos One
Sonos One: The Verdict

While most smart speakers focus on the "smart" to the detriment of the speaker, the Sonos One delivers genuinely great sound quality and a seamless wireless multiroom experience. Smart functionality is currently missing in Australia, but if you're not in a rush to talk to your tech, it will be a nice added bonus when the updates roll around.

What we love
  • Great sound quality
  • Seamless setup and usability
  • Should be supported with software updates for yonks
What could be improved
  • No official smart speaker functionality at launch in Australia
  • Voice controls for music are quite limited right now
  • Microphones can be hit and miss when you're playing music loud
RRP: $299

What's Sonos One?

The One is Sonos' first smart speaker. On top of being pitched as a "smart speaker for music lovers", the Sonos One is notable thanks to being the first smart speaker (think the virtual assistant from your phone in a box) to support multiple AIs. Rather than building its own AI, the Sonos One runs Amazon Alexa at launch (albeit not in Australia yet) and will support Google Assistant next year.

For those not familiar with the brand, Sonos builds speakers that connect to your home wireless network. This allows you to control multiple speakers from a companion app on either your smartphone or PC. Multiple speakers can be grouped to play the same song, or alternatively, each speaker can play a different track at the same time. It's kind of like Bluetooth on steroids.

The catch is the speakers rely on the controller app - there's no direct control over Bluetooth - but Sonos has been gradually opening up the ways in you can beam music to your multiroom setup. The Spotify app now hooks into Sonos, voice is the big new addition with Sonos One, and Apple AirPlay 2 support is coming next year for iOS devices.

While there's plenty of manufacturers fighting for a slice of the connected audio pie, Sonos stands out due to tight integration between hardware and software, simple setup, and the extensive list of third party streaming services it integrates with.

Back of Sonos One

What's good about Sonos One?

Sonos isn't kidding when it calls the One a speaker for music lovers; it sounds seriously good. Especially for the size.

I'd describe the profile as open and balanced; the Sonos One doesn't suffer from compressed, tinny sound that often afflicts smaller speakers. There's no noticeable distortion when you crank it, and the Sonos One can easily go "noise complaint" loud, at least for those living the apartment life.

Whether I've been listening to Carley Rae Jepsen's saccharine synth pop, Chance The Rapper's jazz-tinged hip hop, or Opeth's intricate progressive death metal, I haven't found a track the Sonos One hasn't done justice to.

Despite the lack of a subwoofer, the Sonos One still pumps out clear, punchy basslines. It's not going to replace a dedicated sub, but it's impressive for its size. Bass heavy tracks like Kendrick Lamar's "DNA" and Run the Jewel's "Legend Has It" still sound great, but you do lose a bit of the visceral impact of big sub-bass hits.

The Sonos One is a mono speaker, although given the small size, any stereo separation would be almost unnoticeable. This does however mean you'd need to spring for two if you want true stereo sound.

While the Sonos One's sound quality isn't hugely different to the 2012 Play:1, there a couple of small differences. The Sonos One is a touch quieter at maximum volume in exchange for a little extra clarity. I found this most noticeable in the low end, which made it easier to follow densely layer metal tracks where there's a lot going on with lower end frequencies, such as Cormorant's "Scavenger's Feast" and Mastodon's "The Motherload".

On one hand, it would have been nice to see Sonos push the One's sound quality further, given the Play:1 is about five years old now. On the other, the Play:1 easily out classed the vast majority of speakers in its price range we've tested over the last couple of years, and it's hard to imagine what the Sonos One could do better, especially given the physical constraints of its size.

The Sonos One also reuses the same rounded rectangle design we saw with the Play:1, but it comes in either a flat matte black or matte white finish. The move to flat colours gives it a bit more of a modern vibe, and makes it just a touch cleaner. In fact, the only real physical difference (that you can see, apparently the inside has been redesigned entirely) is a new top panel with a six microphone array. These are pretty good at picking up your voice over decent distances, but they occasionally had trouble detecting me over my music.

As is the norm with Sonos speakers, the One is incredible simple to setup. Plug it in, open the app on your phone or PC, press a button on the back of the speaker, and run a short software update. The entire process takes a matter of minutes.

Sonos is responsible for the most seamless wireless speaker experience I've tested, and the One doesn't change this. It just works, which is exactly what you want when it comes to a multiroom setup.

It's also worth noting that Sonos has had a great track record when it comes to supporting older devices with new software updates; even speakers it released in 2009 are still getting new features.

Top of the Sonos One

What's not so good about Sonos One?

If you're buying a Sonos One in Australia, you're not really getting a smart speaker at launch. Since Amazon hasn't officially launched here, Alexa functionality won't be available on day one. Sonos says it will update the speaker with Alexa functionality as soon as Amazon brings its virtual assistant to Australia, but there's no date for that yet (although there is speculation that Amazon will setup shop in time for Christmas). For most people, the Sonos One will just be a very future-proof speaker.

If you're happy to jump through a couple of hoops, it is however possible to get Alexa setup on the Sonos One despite the lack of local availability. This requires changing the location of your Sonos account to America, downloading Alexa APKs on Android, or creating an American iTunes account on iPhone. It's not an insurmountable task, but it takes a bit of effort.

If the main reason you want Alexa on your Sonos is voice control for your speakers, you might be a little disappointed by how limited the integration is. At present, you're only able to use voice to play songs from select music streaming services, the majority of which aren't available in Australia. Spotify support is coming shortly, but Sonos has yet to say anything about services like Google Play Music or Apple Music.

There's also currently no way to use voice control to playback tunes that are part of a local music library. That being said, you can still use commands like "play", "pause", and "skip track" regardless of your music source, you're just not able to request specific songs.

While Sonos One is only the smart speaker in the family to date, it can be used to issue commands to your entire multiroom setup.

Alexa is nifty otherwise and is faster than Google Home's Assistant in my experience. However, there are quite a few limitations what Amazon's voice assistant can do in Australia given that it's not officially available. It won't hook into local services like Uber, and you'll need to explicitly ask queries like "what's the weather in Sydney", as there's currently no way to set Alexa to an Australian address. Functionality like smart home integrations, reminders, timers, and alarms will all work though.

Unlike Sonos' high-end Play:5, the Sonos One doesn't support line-in audio.

Sonos One

Who's Sonos One for?

Much like the Play:1 before it, the Sonos One is a perfect entry point into the world of wireless multiroom audio. It's a great sounding speaker that won't break the bank, and should keep getting updated for years to come.

Smart speaker functionality is icing on the cake, even if it's not available at launch locally. While Amazon Echo and Google Home definitely feel like "smart" first, "speaker" second products, Sonos One flips this. At its best, Sonos One' smart functionality can be a bit of a taste of a future. But if you pick one up and you decide talking to your tech isn't for you, you're still left with a fantastic product.

Thanks to a $299 price, the Sonos One is pricier gamble than an Echo or a Google Home, but if you're also after a speaker that sounds good, it's a much safer bet, even if there's a bit of a wait for the "smarts". 

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