I’ve had an Amazon Echo for a while now and it’s brilliant at almost everything. It’s my alarm clock, my meteorologist each morning, and the architect of my smart home. The one problem? It’s not a great speaker – and music is the main thing I use it for.
Enter the Sonos One: essentially a Sonos Play:1 with added support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Or in other words, an Echo that sounds good. Better than good, actually. It sounds awesome.
In many ways, the Sonos One is the smart speaker I’ve been waiting for. With support for more music streaming services than ever, plus digital assistants that just keep getting better, Sonos’ first stab at a smart speaker is brilliantly convincing.
What’s new with Gen 2?
In 2019, Sonos released an updated second-gen variant of the One speaker – now the only version that’s available to buy. What’s the difference? Sonos equipped the One (Gen 2) with an updated processor and more memory. In theory, this should improve performance. In reality, it’s pretty much impossible to tell the difference between the two generations: they’re visually and sonically identical. The second-gen device also gained Bluetooth Low Energy tech – although you still can’t connect directly to it using Bluetooth.
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 the best voice assistance possible, Sonos has integrated a six-microphone array into the One. It was the first Sonos speaker to have this setup bestowed upon it – and it makes the Sonos One a bona fide alternative to the Amazon Echo, Nest Audio and Apple HomePod Mini.
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 more 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 necessarily want to sit through a complex album in its company. While the latest Echo sounds better than previous editions, it’s still an unrefined listen. Like a standard car radio, 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 as with all Sonos kit, the One can be paired with another One, or Move, or Roam or whatever.
You’ll get by just fine with the One in solo mode, though. Whether it blasting out Brand New, Solange or Vince Staples, everything sounds pretty much spot on considering this speaker’s diminutive size. For more finesse, you’ll want a bigger, dumber model such as the Sonos Five 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. Thanks to timely updates, the system has moved with the times: the Sonos partner app in 2022 is a slick, streamlined proposition. It’s accessible, easy to use and generally nice and speedy.
Not that you necessarily need the app: from Spotify to Apple Music to Tidal to TuneIn, Sonos now supports more streaming services than ever before. Spotify Connect integration, for example, gives you a much simpler way to control your Sonos setup. And because you can heckle Alexa or Google Assistant to launch your favourite playlist, you might not never need to fire up the Sonos app.
Setting up a new speaker is also supremely easy: you simply follow a succession of steps in the app and everything just works.
Sonos One voice control: more than just Alexa
Really then, the Sonos One is meant to be just like its predecessor only with voice controls, and the first step towards that goal is Amazon Alexa integration. As the most established voice assistant with support for Philips Hue, Nest, Hive and hundreds more smart home platforms that makes total sense. In case your heart belongs to another AI assistant, Sonos has also added Google Assistant support.
So is the Sonos One a complete replacement for your Echo? The answer is complicated. It’s technically capable of doing almost everything an Echo can, but does occasionally succumb to a few head-scratching foibles. For example, you’ll ask it to stick on some Bruce Springsteen and it might forget to repeat The Boss’ name back to you. Or it’ll stop you from setting an alarm if you haven’t set the date and time in the Sonos app – something you’d expect to be done automatically and not have to figure out for yourself.
Alexa now accepts voice commands via the Sonos One for most streaming services – including Spotify – and you can use the assistant to skip, play and pause songs, as well as controlling the volume. But Alexa does seem less responsive on the Sonos One, at least compared to an Echo, meaning you have to speak a little bit louder for it to hear you. Considering my Echo will sometimes pick up an unintended ‘Alexa’ reference while I’m chatting in another room, this probably isn’t as significant a shortcoming as it sounds.
In short, I’ve managed to get Alexa to do almost everything my Echo does. Most of this, including tweaking my thermostat, checking the weather and wallowing in Southampton FC’s humdrum start to the Premier League season, was done first-time without a hitch. As much as I’d expected the One to work perfectly straight out of the box, it still pretty much delivers on its potential so long as you can put up with the odd hiccup and quibble.
Sonos One alternatives
So the Sonos One is best thought of as a sort of Echo Deluxe. It can do all the same stuff as a standard Echo, but with added audio chops. That puts it in a field of its own when it comes to smart speakers.
At £90, the newly updated Echo is a significantly cheaper proposition, albeit one that can’t compete on sound quality. The £190 Echo Studio is a clearer rival to the Sonos One, but it’s significantly heftier and works best for Amazon Music HD subscribers.
Equally, the £90 Nest Audio costs less than the Sonos One and comes with the same detriments as the Echo. Arguably more so given, its smart home skills aren’t quite as advanced in the UK as they are in the US.
Then you’ve got Apple’s HomePod Mini, which costs £100. It’s neat, stylish and comfortably outperforms sonic expectations for something of its diminutive size. But its smart home skills lag behind the competition and is too fussy about where you source your music from.
So the conclusion is pretty clear: if audio quality matters as much as connected skills, the Sonos One is one of the best smart speakers around.
Sonos One verdict
If you care about music and have kitted out your home with at least a smattering of smart kit, then the Sonos One should be teetering close to the top of your smart speaker wishlist right now.
Most of its early inconsistencies have been ironed out by some software updates and, even if it can sometimes be a little hard of hearing compared to Amazon’s Echo, it’s a superb wireless speaker.
Given the One is a carbon copy of the already brilliant Play:1 with a fresh paint job and the same internal driver configuration, that’s no surprise at all. Sonos’s connected speaker remains a class apart from the competition – and won’t force you to commit to a particular streaming platform.
Sonos’s speaker gives you a great balance of sound and smarts, while working with a raft of connected home kit
Audio sounds great
Easy to use setup and app
A little hard of hearing compared to the Echo