Sonos One, the latest Sonos wireless speaker, matches the hi-fi audio of its predecessor, the Play:1, while adding a six far-field microphone array for built-in voice control using Amazon Alexa. All for the same $199 price.
Using a wireless speaker with a built-in voice assistant and high quality audio can be very natural and fun. Just say what you want to hear and Sonos One serves it up. What’s less simple is navigating through which music services work and with what method. There’s also the upcoming arrival of Apple’s HomePod which similarly promises to match hi-fi audio with an intelligent voice assistant.
So while Sonos One is a very impressive piece of technology on its own, there are a few things to consider first.
Sonos wants One to be the only smart speaker music lovers need so it’s open to any voice assistant and any music service, but companies like Spotify and Apple have to agree to work with Sonos.
Sonos One ships with Amazon Alexa voice control and Google has already promised to bring its Assistant to the wireless speaker next year. Sonos is open to integrating Apple’s Siri voice assistant, but I’m not sure anyone actually expects that to happen since Apple tends to keep its services on its hardware (and the HomePod will be a competitor).
Sonos has announced that it is committed to supporting Apple’s new AirPlay 2 wireless protocol sometime next year which will enable Sonos control from Siri-enabled devices like the iPhone and iPad (and presumably HomePod), but that’s not something anyone can try today.
For now, Apple Music subscribers can use Sonos One just like Sonos Play:1 and other Sonos speakers — with the Sonos Controller app. Sonos One still offers Amazon Echo features like smart home control, setting timers and alarms, and answering questions, but there’s no Apple Music control with voice since Apple isn’t sharing.
Sonos One does work with any music service Amazon Echo supports including Amazon Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, TuneIn, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and SiriusXM. The big missing service is Spotify which is currently limited to basic playback controls, but full support is promised before the end of the year. [UPDATE 11/21: Sonos now supports Spotify playback using Alexa voice control.]
Once you overcome the learning curve that is which services work with what method, Sonos One and voice control for music can be very compelling. I tested Sonos One using Amazon Music Unlimited to understand the experience.
You don’t need to fiddle with the Sonos Controller app to start music playback which is great for family especially kids.
My four-year-old daughter is familiar with talking to Siri to control the iPad, but she’s never touched the Sonos Controller app. After seeing me talk to Alexa with the Sonos One, she immediately picked up on how to interact with the smart speaker. The only thing she needs to know is ‘Alexa’ and what she wants to hear (“Boomerang” by JoJo Siwa in this case) and she’s dancing.
Think about that. Anyone can be the DJ without installing an app or even pulling out a device. That just wasn’t true before voice control came to Sonos.
For more experienced users, there might be a slight learning curve when moving from using the controller app to voice. For example, I found that changing what is playing in which room using voice and natural commands can be tricky.
Sonos lets you control different music streams in different rooms so you can play jazz in the living room and metal in the office. This is easy with the controller app and even easier with voice. Alexa, play jazz in the living room. Alexa, play metal in the office.
But what if you’re playing jazz in the living room and want to add the currently playing stream to the office and stop playing the metal? I can quickly do this in a few taps using the controller app, but I found it challenging to do this with voice.
So while basic playback control is made simpler with voice, more advanced voice control may require studying up on what commands work best.
Music playback aside, Sonos One is also a full blown Amazon Echo. You can ask questions about the weather, set timers in the kitchen when cooking, and ask trivia questions using just your voice. I did find that asking for the news tried to work but consistently timed out, but other Alexa commands worked great.
A side benefit of relying on Alexa for controlling Sonos with your voice is the wireless speakers talk to other Alexa devices.
For example, I could control all my Sonos speakers using Alexa on my ecobee4 thermostat. This may sound silly, but having Alexa in more places throughout your home means more opportunities to use voice control. The downside of having Alexa in the same common areas is sometimes you may talk to your speaker but your thermostat also responds.
Alexa on Sonos One can also be disabled with a tap. A small LED indicator lights up when the mic is actively listening for the hot word, and one tap turns it off. You can control the main LED status light in the Sonos app, but the mic light is strictly tied to the listening state for privacy.
Voice control aside, Sonos One features a modern take on the previous Play:1 design. Sonos One features the same dimensions but comes in a matte white or matte black finish and replaces clicky buttons with capacitive touch controls for playback just like the $500 Play:5.
As for Sonos One versus HomePod, that decision may come down to how deep in the Apple ecosystem you are. For me, having at least one HomePod in the house is ideal for Siri controlled Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, Reminders, HomeKit control, and more. But once Sonos One gains AirPlay 2 support, it will be a compelling satellite speaker for the HomePod at $199 versus $349. (Apple is targeting the $300 Sonos Play:3 in terms of audio quality, not the Play:1 or Sonos One.)
Bottom line: Sonos One has the potential to be an excellent wireless smart speaker if you use the right services, but you may need to wait a bit before it works best with what you use.
The good news is Sonos is taking a remarkably open approach to the category by supporting any voice assistant and music service willing to participate. And if you’re already deep in the Sonos ecosystem, adding Alexa only enables new ways to interact with your wireless speakers.
UPDATE: SANUS is offering two wireless speaker accessories compatible with the new Sonos One, color-matching wall mounts ($44.99) and floor stands ($104.99) that both work with the Play:1 and Play:3 as well.