I’ve been an enthusiastic owner of voice-activated speakers since the very first Amazon Echo came out. They’re great additions to your home or office, except for one problem: They don’t actually sound that great.
It’s always been a tradeoff between having good audio fidelity and the convenience of a self-contained speaker system with voice activated controls. There’s something delightfully futuristic about “Alexa, play The Moody Blues” or “Alexa, play some Brazilian samba music” rather than pushing buttons or launching programs to manage everything. But I’m someone who listens critically to music and I want my highs, my lows, a strong midrange, the full experience of the original recording.
That’s why I was so psyched when BestBuy sent me the Sonos One speaker to check out. It’s the best of both worlds, a Sonos wireless speaker with all the great fidelity that they’re known for coupled with the convenience of voice activation through integration of the Amazon Echo / Alexa system. The reality was a bit of a mixed bag, however, because Amazon’s support for third party speakers is a definite work in progress, so while the Sonos One sounds waaayyy better than even the second generation Amazon Echo, it’s not quite a full player in the Echo universe.
As you can see in the photo, the Sonos One [leftmost] is bigger than any of the other voice activated smart speakers:
From left to right, by the way, it’s a Sonos One, an Amazon Tap, a Google Home, a first gen Amazon Echo and the grey unit is a second generation Amazon Echo. And by far, hands down, no question, the Sonos One blows them all away with its music reproduction. It’s not quite like going from AM to FM radio, but that’s the basic idea: It’s significantly better and when you crank it up — errr, say “Alexa, louder!” a few times — the Sonos One sounds amazing. Room filling even in a big room!
With its full support of the Sonos audio network, it offers support for a wide range of streaming services, including Tidal, Spotify, Pandora, and more. It also plays well with Sonos networks if you have other speakers in the house. But here’s what’s a bit weird: the Alexa voice-activated portion of the speaker is like a completely different brain in the device and while you can push out music from the Sonos app easily enough, you can’t control that music via voice controls. Imagine that you have your favorite Tchaikovsky playing and it sounds fantastic. You say “Alexa, pause!” and… it says “I’m not playing any music” even as it keeps playing the Tchaikovsky. Very weird, and something I hope will become more tightly integrated over time.
And then there’s the whole Spotify situation. Sonos works with Spotify. Amazon Alexa works with Spotify. But put Alexa on the Sonos and Spotify is “not supported on this playback device” yet. Sonos assures people it’ll be fully online with Spotify within a month or two, but since I’m a Spotify Premium member and listen to it for hours every single day, it’s a feature I’m definitely eager to see better integrated into the experience. I’m pretty sure it’s an Amazon issue, by the way, something to do with their agreement with Spotify vs. allowing third party speakers access to the Echo universe.
Controls-wise, the Sonos One is pretty typical on the top with its controls:
See those two buttons with the four dots? One makes your music louder and the other softer. Which is which? You have to experimentally figure that out. Apparently a visual cue was not something Sonos wanted to add, though it would have been ridiculously easy to have the four dot square bigger for the volume up feature!
Key feature to know about: Tap on the microphone and you’re in mute mode: The Sonos One is no longer listening and analyzing audio in the room. Good for privacy or if you’re watching a TV show or movie that’s producing false triggers (or even legit wake up word usage).
To better share the features and capabilities of the Sonos One, I produced a video review you might enjoy watching:
Overall, the Sonos One is a great sounding smart speaker that needs just a bit more evolution to be fantastic. The updates are all basically software based, however, so get one today and start enjoying upgraded fidelity. Then enjoy it even more as updates bring new features, better support for Spotify and better integration with the Amazon Echo universe. It’s already become the music playback device of choice in my house.
Disclaimer: I received the Sonos One for free and was also compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card in return for this review. My opinions and analysis are nonetheless my own.