Tech Review: Sonos One is the most promising smart speaker out there

The official next step for speaker technology is upon us, ushered in with the advent of voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby and Window’s Cortana. We can now command our speakers to play music and give out all sorts of information thanks to robotic helpers ready and willing to serve, living inside these Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA) Speakers, positioned as an appealing access point to the ever-growing interest in smart home technology. We knew Sonos was going to get into the game sooner or later, and with the recently released Sonos One, the celebrated consumer electronics company have done so in a very big, very clever way.

The defining point of difference with the Sonos One is that it remains agnostic about voice assistants, leveraging their numerous partnerships to ensure users aren’t locked in to just one VPA or one streaming service. This is essentially why Sonos One is being rightfully pushed as the most essential iteration of this speaker technology to date, seeing as once the device is fully functional it’ll be able to be used with every major voice service available; it has Amazon’s Alexa packaged in, Google Assistant on the way, and eventual access to Apple’s Siri via AirPlay 2. Plus, with Sonos being one of the most reliable and consistent tech companies in the world when it comes to ongoing firmware updates, it should only be a matter of time before Bixby and Cortana join in on the fun.

Then you’ve got streaming services, and Sonos One boast a dizzying and comprehensive list of just what services can be accessed through the speaker. Let’s just say “everything”; from the big ones like Spotify and Google Play to Soundcloud and Bandcamp, making up a list of around 40 different streaming services which easily puts users in touch with whatever they want. And it all sets up nicely too, converging in the redesigned Sonos app (for iOS and Android) that’s been streamlined to offer an incredibly user-friendly experience.

Performance wise, the Sonos One is almost identical to a Play:1, which any sound-quality obsessed music lover would know is already an exceptional speaker. The Play:1 is still one of the best on the market, and that much is reiterated here as the Sonos One carries over that world-class performance with two Class-D digital amplifiers, one tweeter and one mid-woofer. The difference now is that the speaker now comes with six high-performance far-field microphones, which perk up whenever a user says one of the key words relating to a respective VPA (eg, “ok Google” or “Alexa”) as the volume is slightly lowered (or “ducked”) so the speaker can listen for any requests clearly and turn them into actionable commands seamlessly. At least this is the promise of the Sonos One and it’s voice service.

And that’s the long-shot for anyone in Australia looking to purchase a Sonos One right now. This speaker, as attractive as it is, is more a promise than a revelation for Australian users. Sure, it’s got that stunning sound quality that has a consistent profile full of distinctive textures and deep, warm, expressive tones, but the functionality which is supposed to define this speaker is not even available in Australia yet. Not even it’s built-in Alexa.

Amazon are in the midst of a big Australian push and so Alexa should be here sooner rather than later (we purposely held this review in case it launched soon after the Sonos One released – still no dice) but for now, outside of geohacking, down under users are unable to make use of any voice functionality. That means control must come from either the app or through touching the very responsive top of the speaker. Further to that, Google Assistant and support for Airplay 2 will both be coming “sometime in 2018”, although there’s no doubt Sonos is going to deliver and, even if it isn’t as impressive initially, make sure everything comes together through their excellent firmware updates.

There are a few other issues with this comprehensive list of voice assistants and streaming services not yet working in complete harmony, but again it’s a safe bet that Sonos will be slotting it all into place soon enough, positioning the Sonos One as the smart speaker to beat as we roll into 2018. Though, should you hold off on buying one just yet?

There’s still plenty to justify going out and getting a Sonos One before Alexa launches. For starters, if you haven’t yet got a Play:1 then experiencing this level of sound quality for the first time is blissful – truly music to any discerning sound lovers ear. Then you’ve got the design, which is functional and stylish with the wise choice to just go either all-white or all-black, sticking to the Sonos philosophy of producing attractive speakers that can blend perfectly with any interior. Even if you’ve already got a Play:1, Sonos are well-known for their lego-like approach to soundscapes, pushing the speaker as just another step in building an ideal eco-system of sound for your home. There’s just no questioning this device when it comes to sound, design and purpose – whether you want to go out and get one now all depends on how much have immediate access to all the promised functions means to you.

Note that the below score relates to sound, design and current functions only. We were not able to test voice commands as Alexa has still not launched at the time of this review.

Score: 9.3 out of 10
Highlights: Exceptional sound; smart design; redesigned app; easy set-up; comprehensive access to streaming services; promises to bring all (or most) voice assistants together
Lowlights: Full functionality coming in 2018; VPA is still a relatively young technology so might not be as impressive on launch as expected.
Manufacturer: Sonos
Price: $299 AUD
Available: Now

Image: Sonos.