The Sonos One: (Almost) Smart Multi-Room Goodness On a Budget

Image: Sonos

Sonos has been, arguably, the leader when it comes to high quality, multi-room sound. And while a lot of their kit costs a pretty penny, they have always justified their high prices by offering awesome sound quality. But the Sonos One is a new frontier for the Santa Barbara-based company. As well as delivering great sound, it's the company's first foray into the world of smart speakers. I've been road testing the Sonos One for a couple of weeks. Here's what I've learned.

Setup

I've already got a couple of Sonos speakers in place at home - the original Play:5 and the new version of that flagship speaker. As I've had the Sonos gear for some time, I also have a Sonos ZoneBridge, which used to be required but is now not mandatory. The ZoneBridge creates a separate network for the Sonos speakers.

But you can connect them over your home wi-fi network without using a bridge. If you've got some existing Sonos kit and have a bridge, then use it. But if you're new to the world of Sonos it's not required as long as you have a robust WiFI network at home.

Sonos' set up process is straightforward. Once you're in the Sonos app, pop into Settings and tap the Add a Player or SUB option. From there, it's simply a matter of following the bouncing ball through the set up process. From there, or by popping back into Room Settings (each speaker is named by the room it's placed in) you can launch into TruePlay Tuning. This is Sonos' way of tuning the speaker according to the acoustics of the room.

The process talks about a minute and involves the speaker playing a pattern of sounds (Pro tip: cats don't seem to like it!) and you walking around the room and waving your phone around. The process uses your phone's microphone to "listen" to the sounds and the software in the speaker adjusts what the two amplifiers, tweeter and mid-woofer do when they're playing back your tunes.

By the way, if you're phone has a case, you'll need to remove it for the tuning process - something I only discovered after running through True Play the first time.

To my ear, I couldn't really tell much difference between the Sonos One before and after True Play but audiophiles might be able to tell the difference.

If you buy two Sonos One speakers, you can link them so they work as a stereo pair. But there's no auxiliary input - this is purely a speaker for streamers.

Music playback

My music listening spans four different media - an iTunes library living on a NAS, the music on my iPhone, Spotify and vinyl.

If you have either a Play:5 or the Connect:Amp, you can hook non-streaming music devices to the Sonos ecosystem. I have my turntable (which is equipped with its own pre-amp) hooked into a Play:5. That way, I can stream my vinyl through the house over the Sonos speakers I have.

The Sonos One (which is a different speaker to the Play:1) did a great job of playing back everything I threw at it. However, the bass response is nowhere as deep or vibrant as the larger Play:5. I also compared it to a smaller Bose SoundLink Mini, which is pitched at a similar price point, and found it to be superior when I listened to a variety of different tunes played either directly from phone of via Spotify (I didn't connect my turntable to the Bose speaker).

While serious audiophiles might prefer a richer sound, they'll need to pay for it.

All the controls you need, including the ability to group speakers in different rooms, skip tracks, switch music sources and control volume are handled from within the Sonos app. But there are play/pause and volume controls on top of the Sonos One.

What's so smart about the Sonos One?

Sonos has pitched the Sonos One as a smart speaker but that capability is MIA for Australians. Initial support will be for Amazon Alexa with the US already supported and Canada getting hooked up just yesterday. That's delivered via an app update and a firmware update to speakers that support the new feature.

So, in other words, this is a "future-ready" speaker, in Sonos' words rather than a smart speaker for today.

Once Alexa support is delivered, which is expected during our Autumn, your voice will be picked up by an array of six microphones.

And, when Apple releases AirPlay 2, which has been delayed, it will also be supported on the Sonos One, as well as some of their other speakers. That means you'll be able to use Siri to tell your phone to direct music to a Sonos speaker. But, it doesn't seem for now, that you'll be able to use Sonos' speakers in the same way as Amazon Alexa.

Recommendation

If you're already in the Sonos ecosystem, then the Sonos One is a good way to expand your network and add a speaker to your home. If you're looking for a smart speaker that's an alternative to Google, Amazon or Apple's offerings, then you'll be better placed to compare its capability in a few weeks, when Alexa support is added.

Price and availability

The Sonos One is available with a retail price of $299.


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