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Sonos One review – CNET

Ever since the release of the original Amazon Echo, the smart speaker has been more smart than speaker. Being able to ask Alexa — or, on Home speakers, Google — for a weather report or a timer is great, but the number one use for these speakers for most people is playing music. And until now they’ve all sounded mediocre when asked to belt out the tunes.

The Sonos One ($199.00 at Sonos, Inc.) is the first smart speaker I’ve heard that actually sounds great with music. Based on the company’s Play:1, a 4-year-old multiroom speaker that still outperforms pretty much anything at its price, the Sonos One sounds even better. It can join an existing Sonos whole-home audio system or serve as the beginning of one. And with Alexa built right in, the Sonos One can do almost everything an Echo can. And her voice sounds more natural than ever.

Amazon’s assistant is just the beginning. Sonos is the first company to promise compatibility with both Alexa and Google Assistant, the other major home voice control system. Sometime in 2018 the One will work just like a Google Home speaker. Also coming to Sonos is Apple’s AirPlay 2, allowing control of the speaker from any Siri-enabled devices like iPhones and iPads.

Even without these future additions, the Sonos One is a great smart speaker today. Of course it also costs twice as much as the new Echo, and Amazon has multiroom audio support too. Soon the higher-end Apple HomePod and Google Home Max speakers will hit the market too, promising improved audio quality of their own. We haven’t tested those speakers or the Amazon Echo Plus yet so we can’t say how well they compare to Sonos. 

Either way the Sonos One offers an awesome combination of versatility, sound quality and affordability right now. If you’ve been looking to jump on the smart speaker bandwagon, but been put off by poor sound quality, there’s no more reason to hesitate. 

The Sonos One is available starting Oct. 24, 2017 for $199, £199 or AU $299.

Sonos One

Sarah Tew/CNET

4 things Amazon Echo can do that Sonos One can’t (yet)

The Sonos One behaves pretty much exactly like an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot speaker, but at launch it lacks a few of the capabilities of those speakers. Here’s a rundown.

  • Spotify (coming soon): Subscribers to the most popular streaming music service can have an Echo play from Spotify by default, but Sonos can’t. For now it defaults to Amazon Music, which lacks the size of Spotify’s catalog, so when you ask for a song you’ll often get “playing a sample of…” instead of the full version. Sonos says that the Spotify feature will be available by the end of 2017. In the meantime you’ll have to access Spotify using your phone via the Sonos app or Spotify Connect, not your voice.
  • Set Sonos as default: If you have more than one Echo in the home, Amazon uses a system called Echo Spatial Perception to determine which speaker you are talking to and which to then play back for you, a feature Sonos says it has adapted into its speaker. However, when you use the One as part of an Echo system, there is no current way to default to the Sonos when playing music — even if it’s the closest to you. Instead, if you also have one or more Echos you will need to say something like “play on the Sonos” each time. This isn’t an issue if you only have Sonos speakers.
  • Alexa Calling: Echo speakers can call other Echos and most phones within Northern America for free. Sonos is not able to do this. In fact, requesting it hilariously causes the speaker to say “Alexa,” which sets the unit back into listening mode again. A Sonos representative said it is something the company is looking into.
  • Zigbee: The new Amazon Echo Plus allows for users with Philips smart bulbs and other Zigbee-based devices to operate without the need for an external hub. Of course Sonos can control all of the smart home devices that a standard Echo or Dot speaker can.

Familiar design

Sonos One

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sonos speakers have been around for 15 years and we’ve liked pretty much all of them. The One looks almost exactly like the Play:1, and retains the same dimensions: shorter and wider than the tall, slim original Echo. Sonos’ top panel has a completely flush surface with a cluster of touch-sensitive buttons, lights and a dotted ring. Above the central light is a “mic” button that lets you mute the onboard microphone array of that dotted ring.

Just like the Play:1, the Sonos One is available in white or black (pictured, though the black color scheme is different than that of the Play:1).

Sonos One

The Play:1 (left, in white) and the One.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The dedicated Sonos app incorporates dozens of streaming music services, from Spotify to iHeartMusic to Google Play Music. It enables you to use the speaker in a whole-home, multiroom Sonos setup, as part of stereo pair or as rear speakers for a Playbar or Playbase. The multiroom capabilities of the Google Home and Chromecast Audio come close, but Sonos is still the king of whole-home audio.

If you’re an existing Play:1 owner I have some bad news. Right now the One cannot form a stereo pair with a Play:1, so if you already own a Play:1 you can’t just buy a One to get the wider soundstage of stereo. To pair the One up for stereo listening you’ll have to buy a second One speaker. Sonos wouldn’t tell me if they’ll eventually add One-Play:1 pairing capability.

Sonos One

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the reinvention of the Sonos speaker comes a redesign of the Sonos app, and current users will have a lot of unlearning to do. Compared to its predecessor, I think this latest version is a step back in terms of usability and transparency. The ability to add “favorites” to the first screen is nice but too many common controls, such as adding new streaming services or adjusting the EQ, are hidden behind the “…” button. Until now Sonos was my favorite interface for newbies, but that has now been surpassed in my eyes by the (admittedly niche and more costly) multiroom system Roon.

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