The Sonos One is a powerful and neat audio player that slots neatly into an existing Sonos setup, giving you the full multi-room capabilities. At launch, it had Amazon Alexa built in, but you can now alternate and choose to have the Google Assistant instead, opening up the options and satisfying those that bought Google Home devices rather than Echo speakers. As such, this isn't just a great music player but the most flexible smart speaker, too.
- Great sound
- Small and convenient
- Proper Alexa integration
- Supports Google Assistant
- Alexa not fully compatible with Spotify at launch
- Review Price: £199
- Sonos multiroom audio
- Trueplay room calibration
- Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility
What is the Sonos One?
The smart speaker market is getting ever more crowded with each passing month – but the Sonos One offers a great balance of audio performance, price and smarts.
That’s because Sonos takes an agnostic approach to home automation and music streaming. It’s compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can choose from a selection of voice assistants. No matter which smart system you’ve gone for, you’ll be able to add Sonos’ multi-room goodness and control it via your voice.
In the Sonos One, the company has essentially added a brain to the excellent Sonos Play:1. If audio quality is of importance, and you’re interested in the hands-free assistance of the Amazon Echo, the Sonos One is a match made in silicon heaven. Its closest rival is the Apple Homepod, which sounds better – but that costs a lot more and isn’t great to use.
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Sonos One design — Most of the changes are under the hood
The Sonos One is a tweaked version of the now discontinued 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 The only real difference is the top panel, where physical keys have been replaced by very responsive touch-sensitive controls.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. The speaker has an array of six microphones, which make use of echo-cancellation technology to make sure the voice assistant 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 sticks to its typically minimalist approach and isn’t interested in offline auxiliary sources.
The Sonos One was initially launched in black or white, although since launch it’s been made available in red, green and yellow options – perfect for the style-conscious. Sonos says it’s meant 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 have the minimalist feel.
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Sonos One features — You clever smart speaker
The headline feature of the One is support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Essentially, you can treat this device as an Amazon Echo/Google Home speaker, albeit one with 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 Alexa will be able to control those services with basic commands, such as pausing and skipping tracks. I used Tidal, Spotify and Amazon music, and the Sonos One responded flawlessly.
Out of the box, the Sonos One had full Alexa support with Amazon Music, but since then Spotify has been added and works seamlessly.
Not an Amazon Alexa user? That’s fine, because Google Assistant support is available so you can treat the Sonos One like a Google Home and by saying, “Hey Google” or “Ok Google”. You can do pretty much everything on the Sonos One that you can do on a Google Home, including getting a calendar update, finding out what the weather is like and controlling your smart home devices. The only feature that’s still missing is the ability to make free voice calls to mobiles and landlines, with the Sonos One saying it can’t do so at the moment.
Set your default music service in Google Assistant, and you can ask the speaker to play a track and it will do so it from your chosen service. When you say “Hey, Google”, the Sonos One ducks its sound down so that the Google Assistant can hear. This only works if you speak to the Sonos One: talk to another Google device, such as the Google Home, and your Sonos players will stay at the same volume even if you’ve put them in the same room in the Google Home app.
The Amazon Alexa integration is a bit neater in this respect and when you talk to an Echo speaker it ducks the sound on any Sonos speakers that you’ve put in the same group.
There’s a second way to control the Sonos One, by using a Google Nest Hub or other smart display. Either by asking Google to play music on your Sonos device, or by selecting it in the Media menu using the touchscreen, you can use the on-screen controls to play/pause, skip tracks and adjust volume. There’s no similar feature for the Amazon Echo Show.
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Neatly, you can run different smart assistants on different Sonos One speakers. For example, you could have Google Assistant in the bedroom and Alexa in the living room. Why you’d want to do this I’m not sure, but there’s the option of doing so if you fancy trying out both smart assistants.
The Sonos One also plays nice with Apple. There’s no Siri integration as such, but it does support Apple AirPlay 2. You can 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 or Beam soundbar.
Sonos One performance — Class-leading audio for its price
Smart speakers generally don’t sound particularly good. That’s because they were conceived as assistants first, speakers second. Sonos has taken a different approach to this problem, taking an already they good-sounding speaker and making it smarter. A smart speaker with proper audio performance was the big idea behind the Apple Homepod, but Sonos beat 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.
Overall it’s a great sound, and although the Apple Homepod sounds better, with a clearer and more spacious presentation, not to mention a magical ability to re-calibrate itself depending on its surroundings – the Sonos One requires the TruePlay feature on the app each time it’s moved. If you want to tinker with the sound, the app lets you manually adjust the EQ with treble and bass settings.
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 appears to be limited to devices of the same type – each Sonos One wants to be paired with another – 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 was quickly fixed and now the Sonos One does everything my Amazon Echo does, on top of playing music better. She’s also better at picking up my voice while the music is playing.
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Should I buy the Sonos One?
The Sonos One sounds great. It gives you access to a tried-and-tested multi-room ecosystem, and it is impressively integrated with either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. If you crave AI convenience and aren’t willing to sacrifice sound quality, this is what you need.
The fact that this speaker is agnostic when it comes to smart services isn’t just a good thing; it’s completely necessary. As speakers get smarter, the only way to keep everyone happy is to run an open platform, and Sonos is currently the only brand in the market doing that.