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Sonos One: How You Do a Smart Speaker Right

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The Amazon Echo ushered in a new age of smart speakers. Since then, the market has exploded with speakers from pretty much everyone running Alexa or Google Assistant. There’s also the Siri-running HomePod. Both of these ecosystems have gained support for Multi-Room audio as will Apple’s future AirPlay 2 implementation whenever its released. Its only fitting that with all the smart speakers gunning for Multi-room giant Sonos, that Sonos would respond with its own Smart Speaker, the Sonos One

Newsflash, they did it the right way.

First of a New Generation of Sonos

While the Sonos One is certainly a big deal, it takes the Play:1’s place as the lineup’s entry level $199 speaker, though the Play:1 is sticking around at a lower price point. Above it are the Play:3, Play:5, The Playbar and Playbase soundbar options, and the Connect and Connect:Amp for connecting your own powered and underpowered speakers to your Sonos ecosystem. Sonos also just announced a medium sized Soudbar called the Beam. The Beam incorporates much of the technology pioneered in the One.

The Sonos One can be used three different ways: As a mono single speaker, as a pair for stereo, or as the rear speakers in a 5.1 setup when used with the Playbar, Playbase, or Beam. The previous Play:1 did the same thing.

At this point its sounding like the Sonos One is more of the same, which it is, but it is also so much more. What makes the One a game changer for Sonos is the Six-Microphone Far Field array system paired with Digital assistant software. As shipped that takes the form of Amazon Alexa, but as I indicated in the previous paragraph, that is not where Sonos is stopping. More voice assistants are on the way. But enough about what it is, lets see what it can do.

Sonos Brought Its A-Game.

I will start this paragraph by once again prefacing that the Sonos One is the bottom of the line Speaker for Sonos. Its ever so slightly larger than an Amazon Echo, but close to twice as heavy for twice as much. It feels substantial and well built. While voice is its primary line of control, it has a full set of touch manual controls on top.

The voice control is top notch. Its responsive, clear, and the microphones were able to hear me in the living room to my bedroom where the speaker is located. Commands were acted upon over 50ft away. All in all, I found the Sonos One outperformed the 7-Mic array system in the 2nd generation Echo Dot. In fact, the One will quite frankly be the one that picks up my voice and relays the commands to the Dot. For a self contained unit, this is the best Alexa speaker currently on the market.

Not the Right Speaker for Large Rooms

Like the HomePod, it uses its processing power to tailor itself to the room by using sonic mapping performed during setup. I don’t know how much of a difference this truly makes, but I can say that in a bedroom or a study, the Sonos One sounds great. Its nice and rich where the little details coming out of the music. That doesn’t hold up when used in a larger open area. Using two Sonos Ones in stereo helps some, but it just doesn’t have the volume for a large room. AB-ing it against my 38” soundbar with five 2.75” full range drivers, the single 3.5” tweeter and micro woofer, could not keep up in volume or definition. For any speaker, you need to know the use case and large rooms just aren’t the Sonos One’s jam. Sonos understands this and accordingly following up the One with the afore mentioned Beam.

Alexa Functionality and Music

While Alexa functionality can do nearly everything the Echo-series can do it, it can’t perform every task the SONOS is capable of. The Sonos app can integrate with, well, basically every music service on Earth including Apple Music and Google Play Music. Alexa is compatible with Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Tunein, Deezer, GimmeRadio, and SiriusXM. The integration with each particular service varies, but Sonos gives you multi-room for your provider of choice. That’s something that the HomePod, Echo Series, and Google Home cannot offer, at least at this time.

Interesting aspect of that, is that Alexa voice commands work on whatever is playing. So, yes if are playing a song from Apple Music, you can control it with Alexa. However, you cannot initiate every music service using Alexa, only those with are already compatible with the Amazon.

Limitations of the Sonos One

What’s not so great? The Sonos One is strictly a network speaker. It cannot be used as a local audio source for your phone or computer. If you want want a little boost to watching video on a tablet or computer, you will need a separate bluetooth speaker, which nothing in the Sonos line has. The app is also far less intuitive than many of the first party solutions.

That said, solutions may be on the way for a couple of those issues.

Sonos, AirPlay, Google, and Amazon Multi-room

The One is a great device as shipped, but Sonos designed it be even better. Sonos envisioned the device as being as platform agnostic as it is with music services. To that effect, Sonos has already announced future support for Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Assistant Support.

The big upgrade and at this time the most imminent is Apple Air Play 2. For many of Apple users, this could solve many of the Sonos One’s drawbacks. While Sonos’s own multi-room system cannot do local audio, AirPlay can. That’s right you will be able to select your Sonos One as an audio source from your Mac, iPhone, or iPod, or iPad. AirPlay will also allow you to mix and match audio devices from different manufacturers for multi-room audio.

There are a couple limitations still. First not all Sonos speakers are AirPlay 2 compatible. At this point, just the One, Play: 5 Gen 2, Playbase, and the Beam. If you have any of these speakers grouped with older Sonos speakers, they act as a master device and essentially bring AirPlay 2 to connected speakers. You’ll also be able to control your Sonos via Siri, but unlike Alexa this appears to require an Apple device with Siri. AirPlay 2 will come via a firmware update in July and we’ll put it through the paces once it arrives.

Also coming is Google Assistant. Unlike Airplay, we don’t know much at this point beyond the fact that Sonos is promising it sometime in 2018. If you are big into Google’s ecosystem this is something to watch as well.

Pricing

At $199 the Sonos One is very nicely priced at the bottom end of the premium multi-room spectrum. You’ll get a better speaker than rivals at this price point. Its also worth the extra money for those looking at a Google Home, Echo Plus, or the rapidly expanding $130-$150 range.

Pros:

  • Good sound
  • Extremely well
  • Flexible within Sonos ecosystem
    Works with nearly every music service known to man.
  • Competitively priced

Cons:

  • Not loud enough to be primary speaker in a large or even medium sized room.
  • Cannot be used as a local audio source

Final Word

If you are looking for an Alexa smart speaker with multi-room capability, you cannot go wrong with the Sonos One. Its great right now and will only get better. Unless you are tied to a specific ecosystem, the Sonos One is a fantastic choice. The Google Home Max and Apple HomePod, may be your option if you’re tied to a specific Ecosystem or need a larger speaker for a larger room. Don’t be surprised if Sonos soon fills that gap with a Sonos Three and or Five. For now, I consider this the best small room speaker on the market.

Published in Review

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