The Roberts R1 is the classic DAB radio maker’s alternative to the Sonos Play:1. It’s a wireless speaker that looks a little like the entry-level Sonos box in some respects.
Sound quality is slightly more problematic, but it’s far more open; it's able to stream audio from any app and can be plugged into non-wireless sources.
If you’re willing to spend some time tweaking the sound to your taste then the Roberts R1 is a fair choice.
Related: Best Portable Speakers
The Roberts R1 is decked out in this season’s colours: a silver grille and a white body.
It’s a neat look, much like the R100 I reviewed recently, but without so many buttons on the top. It also features a cute leather strap, which lets you to carry the speaker around with ease.
One of the minor hardware disappointments of the Roberts R1 is that it doesn’t have a battery. It is possible to buy a cell that slots into the speaker, but it will cost you can extra £40 – at almost 25% of the base cost, it’s a hefty upgrade.
With the R1, Roberts prioritises practicality over design perfection in a few areas. Where the Sonos Play:1 looks great because it’s virtually button-free, the Roberts R1 has a bunch of control buttons on its top, and three status LEDs.
It looks fine – the buttons don’t feel cheap and they offer the direct control that some may welcome – but it also smacks of “first wave” design. When a single, multi-colour LED can used be to relay multiple statuses, is a trio really necessary? And do they need to be labelled quite so obviously?
Nevertheless, the main benefit of the Roberts R1 over the Sonos Play:1 is that it isn't locked into a closed system. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and an aux input, letting you stream music from any source, any app. Unlike the Roberts R100, there’s no radio tuner, although through the Undok app you can browse the thousands of internet radio stations.
Undok is necessary to control the R1 beyond what’s offered by those top buttons. You don’t need it if you’re just going to use Bluetooth or Spotify Direct, which is the only streaming service with its own mode, but it’s a must if you want to use multi-room or internet radio.
Undok isn't made by Roberts; it’s a third-party software package that a number of smaller audio brands use. Making your own streaming software is expensive, and making it good costs even more money and a lot more time, so we’re glad Roberts has used an off-the-shelf alternative.
While a little no-frills in its approach compared to Sonos, which supports many services within its walls, Undok works very well. It’s quick, the layout is decent and the multi-room functionality is easy to setup and use.
One part of the app lets you check out all the compatible speakers in range, and then arrange them into groups. A switch on the rear of the Roberts R1 lets you choose whether to play the left or right channel too, or both, so stereo pairing is quite simple.
Through the use of the USB socket on the back of the Roberts R1 you'll be able to play files stored on a USB stick, or you can stream them from shared storage on a NAS drive or laptop.
All the basics are covered, although the hardcore Deezer, Amazon Music and Napster fans might feel more at home with Sonos. With the R1 you're required to use Bluetooth to stream these services from your phone, while they’re built into the Sonos app.
The Roberts R1 sound quality is similar to that of the R100 I reviewed recently. Using two tweeters, a larger bass driver and a bass radiator, it's able to reach good volumes and offers excellent bass for its size.
First impressions aren't so good though. Its default sound mode is very sharp-sounding, trying too hard to make the speaker sound lively and dynamic. It tips all the way over into sibilance, the highest treble registers crystallised into shapes that will tickle/irritate your eardrums.
In order to "fix" the Roberts R1 sound simply head into the Equalisation part of the Settings menu and choose one of the other presets, or make your own. For some reason, Roberts has made "Normal" the least accessible preset of the lot.
I’ve been carefully comparing the Sonos Play:1 to the Roberts R1 in terms of sound, and once the EQ has been tweaked. I'm happy with how well the Roberts keeps up with Sonos.
The Play:1 has fairly soft treble, which is in part the reason behind its sound being so ultra-accessible. Even with the treble tamed, the Roberts has more top-end zing, offering greater clarity.
The scale of the bass is similar, with power that may even be good enough to act as your main music source, so long as you’re not replacing floor-standing speakers.
As is so often the case when comparing the Sonos Play:1 to rival speakers, the Roberts R1 has less mid-range definition and substance. This makes the Sonos sound more solid, and lends vocals greater presence.
In A/B test, vocals on the Roberts R1 sound more nasal, or at least thinner, than they are through the Play:1. The Sonos is an outlier here, though, and the Roberts still sounds good.
While I’d like to see some improvements in the company’s DSP (digital signal processing), the driver choice is spot on, getting you powerful sound. However, music with strong bass played at louder volumes can result in an unfortunate distortion in the bass port, seemingly caused by the intense rush of air causing a full-on physical rattle. This isn't something I noticed in the R100.
The Roberts R1 is a solid attempt at a multi-room speaker. However, a few problems hold me back from giving it a full-on recommendation in what has become a crowded market over the last year or two.
Without tweaking the EQ the Roberts R1 sounds a little too sharp, and the bass port design can cause some distortion at higher volumes.
Otherwise, sound quality is good, and the offers decent flexibility by way of a wired input and Bluetooth wireless as well as Wi-Fi. However, it isn't as compelling a package as the Sonos Play:1, and rivals such as the Ministry of Sound M present fewer sound niggles – even if the Roberts R1 can sound better in certain conditions.
A promising multi-room speaker that's held back by a few sound issues.