Sonos is finally girding itself for the smart speaker wars. With Amazon’s Echo line of speakers proving a surprise hit and the usage of digital assistants growing generally, wireless speaker pioneer Sonos has launched its first voice-enabled speaker, the Sonos One. This $199 device taps in to the same Alexa assistant that Amazon plants in its own hardware; at some point in 2018, Sonos says it will add support for the rival Google Assistant as well.
It is generally accepted that current smart speakers like the Echo and Google Home, the devices for which such assistants are mainly designed, are mediocre when used as speakers. Given Sonos’ reputation for delivering above-average audio quality, the hope is that the One provides the smarts of an Echo (and, eventually, a Home) without skimping on sound.
In many ways, that’s exactly what the Sonos One does. It runs circles around the Echo and Home in the audio department, and it does nearly all of the same "Alexa things" you can do with an Amazon-made device. The One makes sense for someone who has a set of Sonos speakers already and is curious to see how an Echo-like machine would fit into their lifestyle.
At the same time, Spotify users will quickly notice that the One isn’t totally finished at launch. (We detail the issues with Spotify playback below.) And most of what’s good about it also applies to Sonos' Play:1 speaker, which has been around for years. Finally, while Sonos’ approach to speaker control remains easy for anyone to pick up, the company still has a habit of forcing users to do things on its terms.
The Sonos One looks, for the most part, like a mildly redesigned Sonos Play:1. It’s the same size (6.36 x 4.69 x 4.69 in) and weight (4.08 lbs) as its predecessor, and it shares the same squat rectangular shape, its rounded sides blanketed with a large speaker grille. A proprietary power plug sits flush with the bottom of the device, while the back has an Ethernet port and a reset button. It’s not truly a wireless speaker; the One works over Wi-Fi, but it needs to be plugged into an outlet, just like an Echo or any other Sonos speaker before it.
|Specs at a glance: Sonos One|
|Size||6.36 x 4.69 x 4.69 inches|
|Amplifier||Two Class-D digital amplifiers|
|Speakers||One mid-woofer, one tweeter|
|Connectivity||802.11 b/g 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, one 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port|
|Supported Audio Formats||MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV|
|Supported OS||iOS, Android, Mac, Windows|
|Supported Voice Assistants||Amazon Alexa (Google Assistant planned for 2018)|
|Supported Voice-Controlled Music Services||Amazon Music, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM (Spotify planned for late 2017)|
|Price||$199, £199, €229|
|Release Date||October 24|
The whole thing comes in an all-white or all-black finish; both of them feature that understated, mature aesthetic that Sonos has gotten down pat over the years. People will not confuse the One with an air freshener. It feels smooth and solidly constructed, with just the right amount of heft. Style is subjective, of course, but I don't think this will look gaudy or out of place on the typical kitchen counter or nightstand.
My only nitpick is that it’s long past time for Sonos to come out with a speaker built to withstand the elements. For now, the One is strictly an indoor affair. Also, Sonos has confusingly removed the mounting socket that was built into the Play:1. If you’re the type who used that as part of a larger setup, you’ll have to do a little more handiwork.
The biggest physical changes from the Play:1 appear on the top of the device. There are no hard buttons here; instead, Sonos has transplanted the touch controls from newer speakers like the Play:5. There are tappable buttons for pausing and controlling volume, while swiping across the flat matte lid lets you skip tracks. This all works fine.
Also on the top are a microphone toggle and a small LED notification light. Sonos seems keen on avoiding complaints about consumer privacy here, so tapping the mic icon turns the built-in microphones off completely. A small light next to the mic button lets you know its status—if it’s lit up, Alexa is listening; if it’s not lit, it’s not listening. Below that is a thin LED light that blinks whenever you and Alexa interact.
All of this was simple and effective during my two weeks of testing, though the implementation of the LED light seems impractical—whereas the blue light that runs around the edge of an activated Echo can be seen from across a room, you have to stand directly above the Sonos One to see if Alexa is actually listening. Thankfully, the One plays the familiar Alexa chime whenever you call on the assistant, giving you an audio cue.
To ensure that Alexa can actually hear you, the top of the speaker includes a far-field, six-microphone array that’s aided by an “adaptive noise suppression algorithm.” In practice, the One is about as effective at picking up voice commands as a Google Home or an Amazon Echo Dot—not much more, not much less.
If you sit in a quiet room about 10 to 15 feet away from the speaker, you can typically speak at normal volume and be heard. Back away or introduce some background noise—an air conditioner, for instance, or music playing from the speaker itself—and you have to raise your voice. Stand behind a nearby wall or closed door and you have to yell. Like every other voice-enabled speaker, the mic could be stronger, and you’ll inevitably have to repeat yourself every now and then. But it’s adequate.