When the Sonos was first released in 2005 (2005!), it was called the Digital Music System. Over the next 10 years it added high-quality wireless music transmission, military grade security and integrated streaming music services.
This year marks its most significant upgrade. Thanks to a new initiative by Amazon to allow third-party users to integrate Alexa, the Sonos is getting clever. By adding the cloud-based, AI-guided voice recognition service, the Sonos ONE can now operate all the devices in your home.
That’s a great boon for it. Amazon has consistently delivered impressive hardware and the Echo’s range has demonstrated it. Yet in all its products, its smart speakers have ranged from mediocre (Echo Dot) to middle of the pile (Echo). The latter is gaining ground, adding multi-room playing and a sturdier bass as well as more refined mids. Yet compared with the Sonos ONE, the difference is clearly noticeable.
The Good Stuff
The best thing about the Sonos ONE is that it works with other older Sonos devices. That means you don’t need to buy 5 new ONEs for your home. Just get a couple (in the US, two Sonos ONEs are currently selling for cheaper than one HomePod) and place them where needed.
What immediately shows is the sound quality difference. Alexa can often sound muffled on Echos and Echo Dots. It also often gets words confused. The Sonos ONE’s array of mics generally hears better than the Echo, and its response is clearer as well. Trebles and bass notes are stunning, probably due to Sonos tuning the speaker for speech-based replies. That, plus the fact that two Sonos ONEs can be arranged into a stereo speaker setup, makes it a great quality performer.
Also, one frustration with the Echo devices is the lack of volume modulation. When you ask for a Flash Briefing, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is loud, while BBC is barely audible. The Sonos ONE does a better job of balancing between these volumes.
Given what most smart homes feature today (lighting, voice-operated entertainment systems, security and essential comms), the Sonos ONE does pretty well one most levels.
Bluetooth, and in a big way. Sonos’ lack of Bluetooth means you can’t connect to Bluetooth-enabled devices for output. It also means it can’t act as a control for Bluetooth LE smart home products. That’s a pity. Compared with the Echo Plus, which also has Zigbee (no Z-wave) communications integrated into it, it cannot act as a hub or control all your other devices. We’re sure that’s in the works for some day, but we doubt it will be a big focus for Sonos anytime. Bluetooth, however, is something it should consider adding. Of course, there are reasons for that missing service. One of which is security. Yet because of that, Sonos does lose a little shine compared with its peers in the industry.
What Needs Fixing
The setup process is, to be frank, a little complicated. We were loaned a trial set from TC Acoustics, the local distributor of the Sonos. We’ve covered how you can configure the Echo and Alexa for local addresses and services through a little simple web config. With the Sonos ONE, we had to first set up the speaker in the Sonos app. Then you need to add in the Voice Control service in the Sonos app.
At this point Sonos prompts you to connect to your Amazon account and directs you to download the Alexa app, which you should already have. But you need to add the Sonos skill as well. Then adjust the default music services to work with Sonos options.
The problem I kept facing was the Sonos randomly disconnecting with my Wi-Fi for no reason, which meant I had to repeat the process over and over. And after that, you still have to configure the address on this instance of Alexa to ensure everything works fine.
It took nearly an hour to set one Sonos ONE up. I had to reboot my router and disconnect and reconnect the Sonos from power over and over again until finally things were right.
(Incidentally, the power connector of the Sonos ONE is really difficult to unplug. I had to use pliers to disconnect it at the end.)
At $329 for one, the Sonos ONE is a well-priced device, if on the premium side. As a speaker alone, we’d already be ready to part of a big part of this sum for its sound performance. It punches way above its compact size. Volume wise, we would not say it’s mind-blowing. But this is a speaker that’s the size of a small box. Alexa’s performance on it is stellar, once you get it working. It sounds better and hears better than the standard Echo or Echo Dot. Think of it as them on steroids. Sure you can’t make calls or control devices, but that’s what the Echo Plus is designed for. The Sonos ONE is a high-fidelity speaker first, a voice assistant second. And that’s why we love it. If we have to choose between music and Alexa, we’d still pick music first.