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Sonos One review: Smart, stylish and great-sounding – Alexa has found her home

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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
199
inc VAT

Sonos’ compact multi-room speaker meets Amazon’s Alexa, and they’re set to be best friends

Pros 
Great sound quality
Apple Airplay 2 support
Amazon Alexa support; Google Assistant coming in 2018
Cons 
Won't pair with Play:1
No speaker mount options
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Technology is at its best when it makes things simple, and Sonos’ family of wireless, multi-room speakers are a textbook example. Born in an era when multi-room audio was the exclusive preserve of expensive bespoke installations, Sonos’ vision of a wireless future changed everything. Anyone could set it up, it sounded great, and while it certainly wasn’t cheap, you didn’t have to remortgage your house.

Sonos One review: What you need to know

The One is Sonos’ first smart speaker. On paper, this seems like a match made in heaven – the simplicity of voice control partnered with Sonos’ brilliantly simple, flexible multi-room wireless music system.

To make this happen, Sonos has taken the innards of its compact Play:1 speaker (click here to read our full review) and added an array of microphones, which allow smart assistants to give you hands-free control of your music and more besides.

The interesting thing is that Sonos isn’t tied to one particular service. Amazon’s Alexa is supported out of the box and Google Assistant is coming sometime in 2018.

It's worth noting that, despite appearances, the Sonos One is a Wi-Fi only speaker and doesn't support Bluetooth. However, it isn't just tied to Sonos app as it used to be. Sonos has, since launch, added Apple Airplay 2 support, which means you can now stream directly to the speaker using the Apple Music app if you prefer, and group the Sonos One with other Airplay 2 speakers in a multi-room setup, such as Apple's HomePod. What the update doesn't add to the Sonos One's already broad selection of talents is Siri support, although iPhone owners will be able to send music to the speaker via Siri on their phones.

Sonos One review: Price and competition

At £199, the Sonos One’s retail price is exactly the same as the not-so-smart Play:1. Given you get voice control thrown in, that’s a pretty tempting offer. If you're wondering why you couldn't just buy an Amazon Echo device instead, then of course you can (and we explain which Echo to choose here), but there are some compromises: firstly, you’ll need to be content with dramatically less refined sound quality, and secondly you can forget about Google Assistant support.

If you already have a few Sonos speakers, or need the room-filling talents of Sonos’ more potent Play:3 or Play:5 models, then it’s worth remembering that you can add Alexa’s voice control to any Sonos system simply by buying an Amazon Echo device and adding them via the Sonos skill. Grab an Echo Dot for around £35, and you’re sorted.

If you simply can’t stand the idea of Sonos for some reason, and aren’t bothered by voice control in the slightest, then Samsung’s R1, R3 and R5 family of multi-room speakers is also another decent option.

Sonos One review: Features and design

As ever, it’s hard to fault the design. The One feels weighty and solidly-built, and the styling is simple and unfussy. The physical buttons of Sonos’ other speakers have been replaced by touch-sensitive ones embedded into the top panel and, in addition to the play/pause button and volume buttons either side, a further button allows you to toggle the in-built microphones on and off, with a white LED signifying when they’re active.

Four rubber feet on the One’s underside ensure it doesn’t scratch or slide around on whatever surface you put it on. Meanwhile, there’s an Ethernet socket at the rear (in addition to the built-in Wi-Fi, naturally) and the L-shaped power cord plugs in neatly to the socket hidden on the speaker’s underside. If you hate cables and clutter, then it’s fair to say that there aren’t many mains-powered speakers that look neater than the One.

The only sticking point for some people will be that, like the rest of Sonos’s family, the One is exclusively available in monochrome – you get to pick from black or white. Rose gold is off the menu. Sorry.

Owners of Sonos’ Play:1 speakers may also be mildly aggrieved that the One’s styling doesn't make for a perfect match. Where the Play:1 sandwiches a silver speaker grille between either white or black trim, the One is all-black, or all-white.

And while we’re on the subject, you can’t pair a Play:1 with a One to create a stereo pair, despite the fact that they sound near-identical and are very similarly proportioned. Well, not yet, anyway. Sonos hasn’t confirmed whether it’s going to do something about this in the future, but watch this space.

The only other slight disappointment is that Sonos has removed the threaded speaker mount from the One. It’s perhaps understandable given the focus on voice control but still, it would be a nice option to have.

Sonos One review: Sound quality

The Sonos One does not sound like a small speaker – it has dramatically more energy and impact than you’d expect from such a tiny footprint. There's enough clarity and detail to handle any music you can beam its way, and it sounds great almost anywhere, too, thanks to Sonos's TruePlay feature.

Place your One where you want it, download the Sonos app on iOS (and yes, it is iOS-only), and you can wander around waving your iPhone microphone up and down to analyse the 'sound' of your room. This measures the impact that the One's position has on its sound output and allows TruePlay to adjust the One's EQ accordingly: we tested in a variety of positions, and while the effects aren't always dramatic, Trueplay always sharpens up the sound nicely.

Even a solo One does a fine job of spreading music throughout a larger open plan living space, and reaches moderately anti-social volumes without getting flustered. As the volume rises, though, you will notice that deeper bass notes steadily disappear – Sonos's DSP dynamically cuts out the lower frequencies to prevent any distortion creeping in. Unless you do opt for the Sonos:Sub, you'll want to listen at more socially acceptable levels to get the most full-bodied, satisfying sound from the One. 

Add a second One into the equation, however, and the sound is transformed. You can opt to place a single speaker in each room if you choose, but pair up a couple of Ones and the results are well worthwhile. Suddenly, instruments find themselves floating between the speakers, and the sense of depth and presence is – as you'd expect moving from mono to stereo – entirely transformed. We tried a variety of positions in our open-plan living room, and even with the speakers positioned at different heights and edged into nooks and crannies, it was easy to get a very enjoyable stereo sound from the pair.

Crucially, though, the One’s balanced, refined sound doesn’t just sound great with any genre of music – it also blends seamlessly with other speakers in the range such as Play:1 and Play:3, so the same crystal-clear sound follows you from room to room without any jarring changes in tonality.

Sonos One review: Voice control and app support

If you were naturally expecting the Sonos One to replicate all of the features of Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo products, however, then you’re in a disappointment. You can ask Alexa general questions about the weather, nearby shops and services, and set alarms, but you can’t use any of the voice call, drop-in or messaging features, and you can’t ask Alexa to read eBooks, set reminders or receive notifications.

At the time of writing, Alexa can only control a limited number of music services. Currently, you can ask Alexa to play artists, albums and specific tracks from your Amazon Music library or Music Unlimited services, as well as any radio or podcasts on TuneIn, and – all credit to Sonos – support for Spotify voice control arrived a month or so in advance of its slated release date. You'll need a Spotify Premium subscription to take advantage, but you can now request music by genre, year, playlist name and so forth without moving a muscle. 

If you were hoping for voice control across all the other music services supported natively by Sonos, such as Tidal, Apple Music, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and others, then you may be waiting some time. Until Alexa, or eventually Google Assistant, support them natively, you’ll have to make do with using the Sonos app.

The variety of Sonos-specific commands might be restricted currently, but they do come in handy. You can skip tracks and adjust the volume in specific rooms (“Alexa, set the volume to 2 in the kitchen” or “Alexa, skip to the next track in the living room”), or mute and unmute rooms already in a group (“Alexa, mute living room”). There are limitations, however. You can’t ask Alexa to add another room to an existing group – you still have to do that manually with the app. And even though Alexa can pause playback from unsupported services such as Tidal, it’s unable to resume playback, which is mildly irksome.

If you're getting the feeling that Alexa doesn't really add that much to the Sonos experience right now, then you're probably about right. Even after the arrival of Spotify support, Alexa often feels like more of a bonus than an essential part of the Sonos One's toolset. Why? Well, mainly because Alexa just isn't that bright. Pause a Spotify playlist, and if you ask her to resume playback five seconds later, she'll ask you what you'd like her to play. Ask her to resume several minutes later, and she'll insist that she can only change the playback mode when music is playing. And this is totally ignoring the difficulties you'll encounter if the band or track in question has a title which is even the slightest bit unusual. Alexa can be just as infuriating as she is helpful. 

Come the arrival of Google Assistant in 2018, Alexa may end up taking a back seat – or you may decide to sever ties completely. And that's the truly great thing about the One, unlike Amazon or Google's smart speakers, is that you will eventually be able to make that choice. 

However, even if universal voice control is some way off, it's hard not to be a little bit impressed about Sonos' constant stream of app refinements and new features. Recent updates to Spotify and Tidal's mobile apps mean that you can now play music directly to your Sonos system, which is a far more elegant approach than having to access their respective music libraries via the Sonos app. The benefits of direct control are obvious: walk in the door with your headphones on while listening to Tidal or Spotify, and you can quickly change the output from headphones to your preferred Sonos speaker, and carry on listening uninterrupted. It's not essential, granted, but it's certainly nice to have the option.

Sonos One review: Verdict

If you’re sold on the idea of a smart speaker, but you’re a bit of a stickler for superb-sounding audio, the Sonos One fits the bill nicely. It looks great, sounds stupendous, and you can easily add a second speaker for stereo sound, or use it to form part of a slick multi-room system.

The real clincher here, however, is that the One isn’t tied to any one smart assistant. So, regardless of whether you prefer Amazon or Google’s way of doing things – or potentially want the best bits of both – the Sonos One will ensure that great quality sound is only a voice command away.