Sonos One: bringing Alexa to the multiroom speaker party
The multiroom specialists Sonos are back with with a brand new speaker that improves on the already awesome Play:1 with a new look, excellent sound and Alexa.
When the Sonos Play:1 was first released onto the market it set the bar for how good small speakers could sound, and even better, it worked seamlessly with any other Sonos you had just laying about the house. Three years later it gets a much deserved update, with a new name, the Sonos One, and it’s bringing a friend, Amazon’s Alexa. But is this the One for us?
The new Sonos One retains the same shape and size of the the original Play:1 but this time is completely white instead of having a grey grille, which, along with the muted logo makes the new unit look just that little bit classier and will stand out a little less in your minimalist home. The top surface is now flat rather than recessed to make way for the microphones, making it less prone to gather dust (or paper clips if it’s on your desk like mine), and instead of buttons is touch sensitive. The lack of buttons isn’t such a problem ultimately as 99 per cent of the time you’ll change the volume with the app, and for pairing there is a dedicated button on the back, although this is at the expense of a threaded mount to stick it to the wall for your surround setup, but that might not be an issue (more on that later). Other than that, this is is the same small speaker you know and love.
What’s to like?
So, let’s get this out the way first - the new Sonos One has Alexa built in from the start, making it a direct rival to the Amazon Echo. But Sonos also expects Google Assistant to land sometime in 2018, as well as adding support for AirPlay 2, which will make it a personal assistant powerhouse! How they’ll actually all work together is another thing, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get there. The signs are good though for the One to replace your current Amazon device as the six far-field microphone array works just as well at picking up your voice, even in a noisy environment. What you can command Alexa to do is another thing altogether, throwing instructions to play Beck in the kitchen or Fleetwood Mac in the bedroom worked with ease, although if you give your rooms unique names it struggles.
But Alexa alone isn’t the reason why you’d £100 more than an Echo on the One, it’s because it’s a Sonos, and as expected it sounds gooooooood. Compared directly to the Play:1, the sound is pretty much the same, with maybe the top end a little brighter and bass hitting that little bit harder, although you’re still going to struggle to get much out Metallica’s One other than kick drum. The reverb on Ed Sheeran’s guitar in One (you can see where i’m going with this) sounded airy and warm, and One More Time by Daft Punk packs a punch when the beat kicks in. You’re always going to lose some of the subtleties on a single speaker but the Sonos One does a much better job than any of its rivals at this size. One, erm One, isn’t going to be enough to replace your main sound system (although a stereo pair would probably do a fine job at it), but would be perfect in a smaller room like a bedroom or kitchen, handily also the places you're most likely to reap the rewards of having Alexa.
What’s not so good?
There is a lot to like about the new Sonos One but there are a few things that let it down, the most significant of which is the new app. The previous version of the app, while not the most sexy of things out there worked pretty well, and never proved problematic with a multiroom setup. That’s all gone though - the new interface just doesn’t make sense. I’ve spent longer trying to find the settings than i have had trying to decide what to watch on Netflix, and attempting to play two things in different rooms involves careful and well-timed checking of boxes. It’s not the fault of the speaker here, it just makes the whole experience less intuitive, so having Alexa at hand is more of a necessity than a nice-to-have.
It's also limited to Alexa-supported music libraries at this time too, so even though I know I have a monstrous collection of Prince albums on my network and in Google Play, Amazon Music would insist in playing only previews (Update 21/11: Spotify and Tidal have now been integrated, so my dreams of listening to 1999 on repeat over and over again have been fulfilled).
One of the groovy things you could do with the old Play:1s was have them set up as satellite speakers for your surround system, which again you can do with the Ones, but then why would you want to have two Alexa-enabled devices in such a spot? Presumably they’ll both work together, or you switch Alexa off on one (or both if you don’t want the TV to troll you), but it seems a bit of an unnecessary space for them. Either way, without the mounting threads they’re not so easy to put up anyway. Who knows, maybe Sonos have something else up their sleeves in the future for your home cinema system.
199 £149 from Black Friday, www.sonos.com
Colours: White with white matte grille or black with black matte grille.
Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g, 2.4 GHz
Speakers: Two Class-D digital amplifiers, one tweeter and one mid-woofer
Size: 161.45 x 119.7 x 119.7 mm
It’s hard not to recommend the new Sonos One, the sound is fantastic, it looks effortlessly cool and the features work really well, and if you need a personal assistant in your home, either Alexa now or Google Assistant in the future then yes, definitely. It is more expensive than the Amazon Echo, but it’s not tied into one system, and if you already are plugged into the Sonos ecosystem it’s a no-brainer. Should you upgrade to the new Sonos One from the Play:1s? Well that depends what you want to do with them. As a straight replacement for the originals, that’s up to you - they are both terrific speakers that will do a marvellous job whatever you want to do with them, but if you aren’t bothered by having a PA save up your pennies for a Play:5.