The smart speaker market is getting more crowded every day, but the Sonos One may be the most intelligent of them all.
That’s because Sonos is taking an agnostic approach to home automation and music streaming. It will work with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. No matter which smart system you’ve chosen, you’ll be able to add Sonos’ multiroom goodness and control it by voice.
The Sonos One is easily the best-sounding smart speaker I’ve tested so far. The company has essentially added a brain to the excellent Sonos Play:1. If audio quality is important to you, and you like the hands-free assistance of the Amazon Echo, this is a match made in silicon heaven.
Basically, the Sonos One is a tweaked version of the existing Sonos Play:1, a 16cm tall speaker that will fit on a bookshelf or bedside table. The only real difference is the top panel, where physical keys have been replaced by some very responsive touch-sensitive controls.
You tap to change volume, play or pause, and swipe to change tracks. You can also tap to mute the voice assistant, in case you don’t want Alexa listening. There is an array of six microphones, which use echo-cancellation technology to make sure Alexa can hear you call even when music is playing.
At the back is an Ethernet socket, and a button for setup replaces the Play:1’s screw thread (designed for mounting). That’s your lot – Sonos is sticking to its typically minimalist approach and isn’t interested in offline auxiliary sources.
As with the rest of the range, the Sonos One is available in black or white. Sonos says it’s supposed to blend in with your décor, not stick out as a design statement. The Sonos One even gets rid of the gunmetal grille of the Play:1 – I feel like we could have kept that and still done the minimalist thing.
Sonos One – Features
The headline feature of the Sonos One is support for Alexa. Essentially, you’re supposed to treat this device as an Amazon Echo, albeit one that has serious audio components.
Alexa can do everything she can do on Amazon’s official Echo devices on the Sonos One. She can set alarms, adjust your thermostat, turn your lights off and on, tell you bad jokes and play music, of course.
The Sonos One works with all the key streaming services that Sonos already supports, such as Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, TuneIn Radio and Amazon Music. Load them manually with the Sonos app, and then Alexa will be able to control all of those services with basic commands, such as pausing and skipping tracks. I used Tidal, Spotify and Amazon music, and the Sonos One responded flawlessly.
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Full Alexa support, which includes the ability to call up specific tracks and playlists, is another matter. Out of the box, the Sonos One has full Alexa support with Amazon Music, with Spotify confirmed to be coming soon. For now, you’ll still need your phone close to hand.
Not an Amazon Alexa user? That’s fine, because Google Assistant support is coming via an update in 2018. You’ll be able to treat the Sonos One like a Google Home and activate it by saying, “Hey Google.”
The Sonos One will also play nice with Apple. There’s no Siri integration, but there is support for Apple AirPlay 2. You’ll be able to watch a film on your iPad or Apple TV 4K, and stream the audio to the Sonos One.
That’s on top of Sonos’ famous multiroom system. You can play different music through different Sonos speakers, or play the same thing through all of them. The app lets you group or deselect speakers very easily.
You also can pair two Sonos One units and use them in stereo configuration, or use them as surrounds in a home cinema setup with a Sonos Playbase.
Sonos One – Performance
Smart speakers generally don’t sound very good. That’s because they were conceived as assistants first, speakers second. Sonos has gone about this differently, as they already had a good-sounding speaker and their job was to make it smarter. A smart speaker with proper audio performance was the big idea behind the Apple Homepod, and it seems Sonos has beaten Apple to the punch.
Sonos tuned the Sonos One to be acoustically similar to the Play:1. You get the same twin Class D amplifiers. You also get the same two-driver setup – a mid/bass driver and a tweeter, which is the same arrangement found in most traditional bookshelf speakers.
I was sent a Sonos One and a Sonos Play:1, and I can confirm they sound pretty much the same. That is, the Sonos One offers class-leading audio performance for its size.
This thing sounds a lot bigger than it looks. The sound is wide and tall – the Sonos One looks like a bedside device, but I had it as the centrepiece of an open-plan kitchen/living room, and it didn’t have problems filling that.
Despite its size, it offers a full-range sound, and you won’t be missing any of the treble, midrange or bass. The treble can be a little soft, but that’s preferable to hissy sibilance. The bass is impressively deep and nicely controlled. It’s also plenty loud – I usually listen to the Sonos One set to half volume, maybe 70% if I’m feeling boisterous. Full volume will get your neighbours knocking.
If you want to tinker with the sound, the app lets you manually adjust the EQ with treble and bass settings. The iOS app goes a little further, with the Trueplay feature calibrating your speaker’s sound according to its surroundings.
Pair two Sonos One units together and it’s a proper stereo performance, with excellent left-right separation, and an even wider soundstage. Unfortunately this seems limited be limited to devices of the same type – each Sonos One wants to be paired with another Sonos One – it wouldn’t do the stereo handshake with my Play:1.
As for the smart element, Alexa is very well implemented. You need to go through both Sonos and Alexa apps to make sure you’ve ticked all the right boxes, but that’s sorted in minutes. I had a couple of days where she was slow to respond, and alarms didn’t work – standard beta testing woes. But that quickly got fixed and now my Sonos One does everything my Amazon Echo does, on top of playing music better. She’s also better at picking up my voice (and trigger word) while the music is playing. You don’t need to shout.
The Sonos One sounds great, it gives you access to a tried-and-tested multiroom ecosystem, and it is beautifully integrated with the super-useful Amazon Alexa assistant. If you crave AI convenience and you’re not willing to sacrifice sound quality, this is what you need. Especially when the Sonos One costs the same as the standard Sonos Play:1. If you’re already looking at one of those, this is a no-brainer.
Then there’s the upcoming Google Assistant compatibility, which caters for a whole other crowd. The fact that this speaker is agnostic when it comes to smart services isn’t just a good thing; it’s entirely necessary. As speakers seem to be getting smarter, the only way to keep everyone happy is to run an open platform, and Sonos is currently the only one doing that.
Should you upgrade if you already own a Sonos Play:1? That will depend how strongly you feel about the smart element, because the Sonos One offers no sonic upgrades – just one of intelligence. You could probably hold off on upgrading and instead buy an Amazon Echo Dot. The Sonos skill in the Alexa app lets you voice-control existing Sonos devices.