Hands on: Sonos One review

Making the whole Sonos system that much better

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Sonos One presents a pretty incredible value for those already firmly in the Sonos camp, and is a massive improvement upon the Play:1 speaker. Just remember, though, that Alexa will be available on all Sonos products through a Sonos app update.

For

  • Decent price
  • Hard-wired microphone LED
  • Fully modular

Against

  • Smart speaker voice recognition still generally dodgy

Sonos has at last debuted its Amazon Alexa-powered smart speaker, the Sonos One. It looks quite a bit like the Play:1, but now comes equipped with a six-microphone array that the firm claims can pick up your voice anywhere in the room, no matter how loud the music is playing from its Class-D amplifiers.

The speaker marks an interesting evolution in not only Sonos’s product line, but for Amazon’s Alexa assistant on the whole, with the ability to control audio in any room from the Sonos One speaker. Sonos dubs this level of multi-room control ‘continuity of control.’

That continuity extends beyond voice into touch controls as well as through the existing Sonos app, which will be updated with Alexa capability today, as of this writing. (Yes, this means that all Sonos speakers that aren’t the One will support voice control, but through your phone.)

Price and availability

Sonos is selling its One speaker for $199 or £199, which is largely on par with Amazon and Google’s smart speakers. You can pre-order the Sonos One starting today, as of this writing, on Sonos’s website – all orders ship starting October 24.

If you want truly stereo sound from the Sonos One, however, you’ll have to buy an additional unit and place it in the same room. That said, Sonos One is compatible with every Sonos product to date in terms of joining a given sound system.

So, if you already have a few Sonos speakers or even a Sonos Playbar or Playbase in the house, then you can pick up a Sonos One and add Alexa voice control to that system. That is, of course, specifically through the one or two Sonos One speakers you have.

For existing Sonos customers, the Sonos One presents an impressive value through its compatibility and modularity.

Design

Again, the Sonos One was built on the backbone of the Sonos Play:1 design – so much so that it’s nearly the same speaker, save for a few key differences. Namely, this device includes a six-microphone array that wasn’t there before, which allows for voice control via Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant. 

To give you peace of mind, the One includes a white microphone indicator LED that lets you know when Alexa is listening, and it’s hard-wired to the microphone circuitry.

According to Sonos, this hard-wired LED ensures that the speaker and Alexa cannot listen to your voice without the white light telling you as much.

Now, the second major change: touch control. In replace of the buttons found on the Sonos Play:1, this new speaker employs capacitive touch controls that include a play and pause button as well as support for swiping gestures to skip back and forth between songs.

This change relegates the pairing button to the back of the device, just above the power and Ethernet ports. The Sonos One works over Wi-Fi, too, of course.

The Sonos One includes mounting hardware, so that it can be mounted to walls and ceilings or speaker stands. Sonos also ensured that the One is humidity-resistant, so that it can be hooked up in bathrooms during a shower or outside on the patio without damaging the hardware.

Just like with most of its products, the Sonos One is available in both black and white colors.

Performance

In practice, the Sonos One seems to generally work as expected: mostly spot-on with moments of annoying slip-ups that remind us how far voice recognition technology has left to go. During a demo we were provided, the One flubbed one song request, requiring the demo runner to repeat himself.

But, save for that one annoying mistake, the Sonos One performs admirably. If you have a Sonos Play:1 at home, then you can expect the same incredible depth, volume and nuance from the Sonos One – it uses the exact same audio hardware and software. Only now, we’re told it’s powered by a quad-core processor rather than a single-core in the Play:1.

Of course, this serves the echo cancellation and voice recognition more than anything, and it shows. During the demo, a presenter requested a song change while music was playing at a normal volume, and the speaker responded in kind almost instantly without any need to shout.

As for the stereo audio feature with two Sonos One speakers, this too works admirably, making the audio even truer to the source recording of a given song.

What’s most interesting to us was that the Sonos One can control any Sonos speaker in the house regardless of whether said other speakers are indeed One models. This means that you can tell the Sonos system to play a song in the living room, where perhaps a Sonos Playbar is placed, from your Sonos One in the kitchen.

And, of course, the Sonos One supports all the same functions as an Amazon Echo through Alexa, like telling the time or delivering you the latest news.

Early verdict

We’re genuinely impressed by the Sonos One overall. It’s a massive improvement upon the existing Play:1 hardware, with its powerful six-microphone array and capacitive touch controls.

Voice recognition was a bit dodgy during the demo that was presented to us, but we chalk that up more to user error and the general spottiness of digital assistant voice recognition on the whole than the Sonos One hardware.

For all of the Sonos One’s improvements and compatibility with existing Sonos products, we’d consider this a pretty excellent value, especially for those already in the Sonos camp. Plus, with Google Assistant and Apple AirPlay 2 coming to the platform in 2018, that value proposition will only get stronger.

But, of course, stay tuned for a full review – and remember that much of this functionality will be ready on your existing Sonos system via the Sonos app right about … now.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.