A Future-Proof Smart Speaker
Sonos One Review: Great Sound, Almost-Great Alexa Voice Control
One prevailing question in tech has been, “When will I be able to control my Sonos speakers with Alexa?” The answer is: now. Last week, Sonos rolled out a beta program allowing anybody with Echo device and Sonos speaker to control those speakers with music. (For set up instructions, click here.) More excitingly, the company announced the Sonos One ($199), Sonos’s first smart speaker with voice control. It looks very similar to a Sonos Play:1, yet you can interact with Alexa in mostly the same way you would with your Amazon Echo or Echo Dot.
The Good: The Sonos One sounds great and seamlessly integrates with your existing Sonos speakers. If controlling Sonos with your voice has always been your dream, you can wake up now.
Who They’re For: If you already have a Sonos system and subscribe to Spotify Amazon Music, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM or iHeartRadio, the Sonos One promises to be a near-perfect fit.
Watch Out For: The Sonos One doesn’t support voice commands from Apple Music or Tidal, yet, and from what we’re hearing, they’re not expected to come soon.
Alternatives: If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, I’d wait to see what Apple’s HomePod is like. If multi-room functionality is more important to you than sound quality, all Echo smart speakers now support multi-room audio. Also, Google just announced the Google Home Max ($399), which is a direct competitor to Sonos. For more multi-room speakers, click here.
Update: Since this article was originally published, voice commands for Spotify Premium members have been added.
Review: Sonos’s unofficial slogan over the years has been: “It just works.” In addition to great sound quality, Sonos’s multi-room speaker systems have been adored for their simplicity: you just open the app and play music. The Alexa integration adds a third party to the mix — traditionally, you just need the Sonos app and a music app, like Spotify or Apple Music — so the inevitable question is: does the addition of Alexa complicate the experience? The answer is, admittedly, yes, but that’s to be expected.
Before going any further, it’s important to note that I’ve been testing the Sonos One in beta, so there were wrinkles in the app that Sonos is still ironing out. The other thing is that, while I own a Sonos system (consisting of a Play:1 and Playbar), testing it with the Sonos One was a new experience because I didn’t use my preferred streaming service, Spotify. At launch, Alexa only works with Amazon Music, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM and iHeartRadio. Voice control for Spotify is expected to come very soon, while voice commands for Apple Music and Tidal are expected to come…not so soon. I tested the Sonos One primarily with Amazon Music.
Setting up the Sonos One requires a little more patience than a typical Sonos speaker. You need to download the Alexa app (if you don’t already have it) to enable Alexa functions for Sonos and designate a default music player, which is all pretty straightforward. Once connected, the novelty kicks in. You can now tell your Sonos One to play music in the various Sonos rooms you’ve set up — and it works.
The Play:1 (back) has a gray speaker grille on the white and black models. The Sonos One (front), on the other hand, is all one color. The black model is all black and the white model is all white.
The sound quality is just as good as you’d expect from the Play:1, since the Sonos One pretty much has the same innards. The difference is that the Sonos One has a six-mic array atop its body, which is less than the seven-mic array of the original Echo and Echo Dot. The difference is noticeable; I use an Echo Dot every day for weather updates and to set alarms, and the Sonos One didn’t hear me say “Alexa” in situations where I knew for a fact my Echo Dot would. This will likely get better with software updates, but, still.
The Sonos One has mostly the same skill sets as any of Amazon’s smart speakers, like turning my smart lights off and on, ordering pizza, telling jokes and keeping me updated on the Yankees playoff scores. Yet, it doesn’t support multi-room functionality with Amazon Echo devices, which they all now support. The Sonos One will support Sonos’s Trueplay tuning, but I wasn’t able to test it using the beta software.
Sonos will continue selling its Play:1 speaker, even though the Sonos One and Play:1 are very similar and cost the same ($199). Not every music lover wants an always-listening speaker in their house, after all (though you can turn the mics off with a button on the back of the speaker). In general, the Sonos One and Play:1 speaker work in the same way: you can connect the Sonos One to an existing Sonos system, turn off the microphone, and the two speakers are the same.
Also, even though the Sonos One doesn’t support voice commands at launch from Spotify and Apple Music, the Sonos app does understand them; I couldn’t say “Alexa play Florence and the Machine from Spotify,” but if I played Florence and the Machine on Spotify and told the speaker basic commands, like “play next song” or “pause,” it would work. Loopholes aside, the Sonos One is more than an Amazon Echo in a Play:1 shell. Sometime in early 2018, the smart speaker is also planned to work with Google Assistant and Apple AirPlay 2 (and, therefore, Siri), which means you’ll be able to control your Sonos with your pick of smart assistants.
Verdict: Should you buy the Sonos One? With tech, I’ve realized that it has to work for you. If you have an iPhone, don’t get a Samsung smartwatch, even if you like the features more than the Apple Watch. With this in mind, I’d say that if you subscribe to Amazon Music, Pandora or TuneIn, the Sonos One makes sense to buy right now. Or, if you’re planning on buying a smart speaker in the future, the Sonos One is kind of a fail-safe, as it’ll work with everything eventually. But if you’re a Spotify or Apple Music subscriber, I think it’s worth waiting until the Sonos One begins to support those voice commands — or until we see what Apple’s HomePod is really like this December.
You can preorder the Sonos One now. It officially goes on sale October 24.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The Sonos One can do most everything Alexa can do, but it can’t do everything Sonos can do. So, when you ask it to play music, the Alexa living inside the One can only summon streams from the services Alexa supports.” — Michael Calore, Wired
• “The Sonos One 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.” — Ty Pendlebury, CNET
• “You’ve got the ever-improving Alexa on the one hand, and on the other you’ve got Sonos with its own multi-room smarts. The one downside is that it’s launching without Spotify voice support, but this has been promised before the end of the year. If you’re prepared to pay the price premium over Amazon’s own Echo speaker, however, the One is a very capable device.” — Jon Porter, TechRadar
Audio: two Class-D digital amplifiers, tweeter, mid-woofer
Voice-Enabled Streaming Servies: Amazon Music, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM and iHeartRadio (out of the box); Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal (eventually)
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