Meeting a Sonos speaker is like meeting a social media influencer you’ve always only seen on the gram or in hipster studio apartments. Hopefully, things might change for the OG wireless speaker in India soon and the Move could be a product to kickstart it all.
Admittedly, I haven’t had too much exposure to Sonos barring a few chance meetings, only as an acquaintance. So when I unboxed the Move, it didn’t feel like part of the revolutionary ecosystem Sonos once was, but rewind to a time before AirPlay, Alexa or Google Home and Sonos was the only one bearing the burden of making multiroom music easy to distribute without making your home look like a loudspeaker lab. Having honed its own wireless protocols and app over the years, it has reached a stage of maturity that is hard to ignore, even with the influx of HomePod and Echo devices in our lives. Even after being around for more than a decade, Move is Sonos’ first portable product that will compete with a sea of lesser options. I say lesser because the Move “feels” substantial in weight and build, but might also be the most expensive portable speaker of its kind!
Drive to move
With all-new drivers, the 2-way Sonos Move is more conventional in its speaker layout compared to traditional “smart” speakers that have multiple high-frequency drivers firing in different directions for wider coverage. The Move on the other hand uses a single downward-firing tweeter that propagates its output via a waveguide to increase the soundstage width while a front-facing mid-woofer handles the bass and mids. Both drivers get their own Class-D amplifier which provides enough juice and optimises their performance, which is especially noteworthy since the Move now gets an even more advanced version of Sonos’ Trueplay auto-calibration. In earlier versions, you would need the help of your phone’s microphones to analyse and correct the response of the Sonos speakers but the Move uses its own array of four far-field mics to constantly monitor its ambient acoustic conditions and applies DSP on the fly. It takes a few seconds after you move the Move around from one location to another for it to settle down and get into its groove, and even then Sonos says, it will keep striving to improve the sound as it collects more information. It’s really smart and really works!
Touch control buttons on the top panel perform the usual playback functions along with a mic button and everything from the various system chimes to the feel of the buttons screams premium.
Song for everyone
As is the Sonos way, you get a wide variety of music services integrated into the Sonos app, which is the gateway to unlock its legendary multiroom abilities. It is indeed easy to pair, group and change the virtual location of multiple speakers via the app, but you cannot use the Move (or a pair of Moves) as surround speakers in a Sonos-based 5.1 system. In terms of musical democracy though, you do get in excess of 25 services to choose from and while I cannot report on their efficacy for the Indian subcontinent, there are the popular ones that do appeal to our audience - Saavn, Gaana, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Spotify and Audible to name a few, along with Hindi and regional RadioCity online stations. There’s Sonos’ own radio network too, but I stuck to Apple Music for most of this test and for a third-party app, the experience is kept clean and uncluttered.
Set-up is as elegant as expected from a company that’s built its reputation on multiroom, multi-speaker systems. The rear panel of the Move just has three buttons, power on, BT pairing and Network connect. Following the app-based process is simple enough and you’ll be up and singing in a couple of minutes. For India, the voice assistants still aren’t functional so you’ll have to give Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant a complete skip for now. Although the Move is primarily designed as a Wi-Fi speaker, it can be used in Bluetooth mode if you take it out on the road, patio or wherever you have to without your internet connection following you. Some of the functionality gets dropped in BT mode though, mind you and the biggest one of them is the Trueplay auto-calibration. Sound quality is audibly inferior in BT mode and there is no support for Apt-X HD either, so Bluetooth should strictly be considered as Plan B, especially if you’re using the Move in and around the house where you DO have Wi-Fi available. What will help outdoors though, is its IP56 rating which should allow it to take some tropical rain splashes and hinterland dust. Its metal grille, rubber base and robust build all aid in inspiring confidence to tag it along for a camping weekend.
No sonic boom
In Wi-Fi mode though, the Move is instantly impressive with its weight and balance. Starting with the rigidly built enclosure that has a rubberised bottom quarter, it doesn’t move about ironically, and that’s a good thing! The Trueplay calibration works wonders and whether I kept it on a dedicated bookshelf speaker stand in the middle of the room or tucked away into a corner shelf, it always performed brilliantly, never overcooking the bass. Peace by Piece by Jordan Mackampa is an uptempo track with a vocal-heavy mix and the Move always maintained clarity and focus while keeping the bass line articulate. The only thing it gives up compared to the Apple HomePod is coverage when sitting off-axis. The tweeter is designed to work with the waveguide and spread its sound over a larger area but it can’t match the multiple tweeter approach. Having said that, pairing two of these in a stereo mode would definitely come closer to having a great sounding bookshelf speaker alternative compared to HomePods or Echos. The Move’s more directional sound aids in greater intelligibility, tauter bass and sharper imaging...virtues that audiophiles value more than 360 degree sound. There is basic EQ provided for altering the Trueplay algorithm but I rarely felt the need to use it. If you like loud and clear, the Move ticks those boxes, especially with electronic music. It never sounds strained or on the edge of distortion, hinting at perfect optimisation between the electronics and the drive units. With timely software updates, the performance can only be bettered and Sonos has pushed out a recent update that increases battery life by about an hour!
Charging is an elegant affair too, which just involves leaving the Move on the charging ring base for about 3hrs to top it up. There’s a USB-C port too if you wish to be old-schoolish about it. You can also swap out the battery if and when the need arises so the Move could also be more economical in the longer run. The brilliantly integrated grab handle on the back adds much to the allure and idea of actually moving the Move around from one to the other is testament to Sonos’ research into wireless audio. It might be an ergonomic addition, but one that opens up musical possibilities in areas of the home you never had the opportunity earlier! Battery life, claimed to be about 11 hours does last long enough to host a successful soiree without having charge anxiety and I typically got about 8-10hrs of use without switching it off manually ever. The Move will switch itself off after a few minutes of no incoming signal. Waking itself up though happens only in Wi-Fi mode.
Due to various limitations, until Sonos sets up “officially” in India, the price for the Move varies between ₹70,000 to ₹85,000, depending on the retailer and location. Does it justify this inflated price tag? No. But for even around ₹40,000, this could very well be the best wireless/BT speaker I’ve heard. The lack of voice assistant support currently and the strange omission of a higher-quality Bluetooth transmission protocol robs it of a few points, besides its high price tag but for its talents and convenience factor, I’d say it will find its buyers. Over the years, the brand has attracted its tribe of customers who tend to remain loyalists and even if you’ve never owned one, chances are you’ve heard positive things about it. Well, the Move just adds to that repertoire with its dynamic and agile sound that is perfect for outdoor or indoor use.