I’ve had an Amazon Echo for almost a year now and it is brilliant at almost everything. It is now my alarm clock, my meteorologist each morning, and the architect of my smart home. The one problem? It is not a great speaker, and music is the main thing I use it for.
Enter the Sonos One: a Sonos Play:1 with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Or in other words, it’s an Echo that sounds good. Better than than good, actually. It sounds awesome.
In many ways the Sonos One is the smart speaker I’ve been waiting for. Only, having spent a week with the thing, it’s a little rough around the edges - and you can blame Alexa for that. Still, if past Sonos speakers are anything to go by, the One is only going to get better.
Sonos One design: the box is back
Apparently Sonos toyed with lots of designs for the One before landing on the same cute cuboid shape that we’ve already seen in the Play:1. It’s an Apple-like approach to aesthetic consistency, and one that we’re absolutely fine with. The Play:1 was an adorable-looking speaker and the same goes for the Sonos One.
It’s got a fun wrap-around grille that dominates its front, allowing as much space as possible for its array of two Class-D digital amplifiers, one tweeter, and one mid-woofer to blast out their almighty noise. Clasped on that grille’s top and bottom is a matte-coloured black or white shell that’s a tad sleeker than what you got with the Play:1.
Similarly, the One has done away with the physical buttons of its predecessor and gone with touch controls instead. Place your digit on top of the One and you’ll be able to adjust your music’s volume, skip and pause tracks and turn its microphone on and off. Or you could get Alexa to do all of that for you instead.
To get Amazon’s voice assistant working properly Sonos has integrated a six-microphone array into the One. It’s the first Sonos speaker to have this setup bestowed upon it and the only one that’ll work with Alexa straight up. This all makes the Sonos One a unique proposition among smart speakers and a bona fide alternative to the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod.
Worried someone could tune into your everyday mutterings through the speaker’s microphones? Its six-mic array is hard-wired to a light that turns on when they’re in use. There’ll be no snoopers with this Sonos.
Sons One sound: Much better than an echo
Sonos has built the One to have exactly the same ‘sound profile’ as the Play:1, which is a fancy way of saying it should live up to the same audio standards as as its predecessor. Having placed the two speakers side-by-side, that’s exactly the case. The Sonos One doesn’t sound better than the Play:1 but it still ranks as one of the best small speakers you can buy right now. So who really cares?
Crucially, the difference in sound between the Sonos One and Amazon Echo is night and day. I’ve happily stuck on a few tunes with my Echo while frantically getting prepped for work, but I wouldn’t want to sit through the new Alvvays album in its company. It’s too coarse and unrefined for that kind of listening. In essence, the Echo is like the car radio in an old banger - you put up with it because other features are more important.
With the Sonos One, it’s a speaker first and a smart home whizz second. It’s got the power and the detail to do justice to your favourite tunes, even more so when you pair two of the things together for stereo sound. And of course as with all Sonos kit, the One can be paired with another One, or a Play: 3 or 5 or whatever.
You’ll get by just fine with the One in solo mode, though. Whether it was blasting out Brand New, Solange or Vince Staples, everything sounded pretty much spot on considering this speaker’s diminutive size. For that added finesse you’ll want a bigger, dumber model such as the Play:5 or Naim’s Mu-so QB.
A big part of the One’s powerhouse performance is down to Sonos’ TruePlay tuning. Waft your iPhone (the feature isn’t compatible with Android devices) around the same room the One is in while it pumps out some precision-tuned ambient noise, and the speaker will tune itself to your surroundings. The same thing is available in all current Sonos devices, and works just as well as ever now. Want to revert to a neutral sound? It’s easily done in the Sonos app.
Sons One app: easy does it
Sonos cut its teeth as a connected speaker company and, until recently, that’s meant its apps - desktop or mobile - have been the main way you interact with its devices. Well, unless you remember the days when it made a standalone remote.
Over the years, though, the mobile app in particular has grown a little bloated with new features that make it harder to simply find a song and press play. Fortunately, a recent update has seen it drastically streamlined; it’s now a lot more usable and just generally faster, although adjusting to the new layout does take a bit of getting used to.
Not that you necessarily need the app so much these days anyway. Spotify Connect integration last year gave users a much simpler way to control their Sonos setup, and if you mainly use that streaming service then you could easily avoid touching the Sonos app for months. Honestly, I couldn’t remember the last time I opened it before testing the One.
Of course that won’t work for everyone, particularly if you have a load of music stored on a NAS drive (AKA a network-connected hard-drive). Hence why Sonos is seeking to further simplify matters by giving us all voice control.
As ever, setting up a new speaker using the app is supremely easy: you just follow a succession of steps and everything just works. Of course, if Alexa has its way then you’ll be logging into the Sonos app less often than ever before anyway.