When Amazon first released the Amazon Echo, the speaker that kick-started the voice assistant revolution in the home, there were two main criticisms that people levelled at the new device.
The first were centered around Alexa, the voice assistant powering the device. As an entirely new service, Alexa launched with pretty limited functionality at first, and people found it more useful as a novelty than a serious addition to their home.
The second was sound quality. The original Amazon Echo didn’t have the greatest sound to it, and was distinctly lacking in the bass department.
The intervening years have seen numerous improvements made on the first point with the addition of countless pieces of functionality to the ecosystem, but now Sonos is here to do what it can with the second criticism with its first Alexa-enabled smart speaker, the Sonos One.
The multi-room company’s previous speakers have shown that it knows a thing or two about packing impressive sound into compact speakers, so at the very least we were expecting the Sonos One to offer a significant boost over the existing Amazon Echo’s sound. (Which it has.)
But more surprising was how pleasant the addition of Sonos’ multi-room ecosystem was, which goes some way towards filling the gaps left in Alexa’s ecosystem.
And while Sonos has done a fantastic job with its Alexa debut, there’s still some work to be done before this speaker is feature complete – Google Assistant isn’t due until next year.
Although the Sonos One’s design is broadly based on the company’s existing Play:1 smart speaker, there have been a number of improvements made.
On the top you’ll find a touch-sensitive surface that’s a great deal sleeker than the Play:1’s trio of volume and play/pause buttons. Swiping right or left skips forward and backwards through your current playlist, while tapping in the center of the surface plays and pauses your music. Finally, tapping the left and right halves of the panel raise and lower the volume.
It might be a simple series of controls but, as has always been the way with Sonos speakers, you’ll spend most of your time controlling them via the app. The physical controls are nice when you want to quickly skip a track, but you’re unlikely to use them much, especially now that voice control is also an option.
To facilitate this voice control, Sonos has equipped the speaker with six internal microphones to allow it to hear you drunkenly ask to play ‘Hey, Jude’ just one more time, and these are joined by more or less the same guts as the Sonos Play:1; namely its pair of Class-D amplifiers and a tweeter / mid-woofer driver combo.
On the top of the device you’ve also got a power-indicating LED alongside a small light to let you know when Alexa is listening. This second LED is hardwired to the microphones, and Sonos promises that the microphones cannot listen to you if it’s not illuminated.
Thanks to the combination of Amazon’s and Sonos’ services, the setup of the Sonos One is a little more involved than your average Echo device, but thankfully not horrifically so.
The process involves installing the Sonos and Alexa apps, and you’ll need to sign into both your Sonos and Amazon accounts, as well as any other music streaming services that you’ll want to listen to using the speaker.
You’ll also be encouraged to go through a ‘Trueplay Tuning’ process, which requires you to walk around your room with your phone as your speaker plays a number of test sounds. Your phone listens to how the speaker sounds in its environment, and tunes its sound accordingly.
Of course, you can also manually adjust the treble and bass levels of your speaker if you have more specific preferences, although we were content to leave them at their default levels.
You’ll also need to assign the Sonos One a room to allow you to identify it from the Sonos app, and it’s here that you’ll also have the ability to pair the Sonos One up with another speaker to have them play music in stereo. Unfortunately you can’t pair it with a Sonos Play:1, despite the similarities in form-factor.
Given that this is a Sonos speaker, you won’t be surprised to hear that the Sonos One sounds pretty fantastic.
Throw Elegie by Mouse on the Keys at the speaker, and sound has real punch and energy to it. The song’s kickdrum…well…has kick to it, and drives the energy of the song. It’s an impressive amount of power from such a small speaker.
The speaker even deals admirably with more complicated pieces of music. Silent Earthling by Three Trapped Tigers sounds clear and crisp, despite the multiple layers of instruments circulating throughout the song.
That said, the speaker doesn’t offer the separation of a pair of stereo speakers with the way the music is squashed into a single channel, but it does a solid job at its size and price point, and naturally its ability to be paired with more Sonos speakers enhances its sound further still.
It feels as though the Sonos One could eventually end up being the perfect Alexa speaker. Fundamentally this is because it’s underpinned by audio quality that’s a step above what’s available on Amazon’s current generation of Echo hardware, but it’s a speaker that also integrates fantastically well with the rest of Sonos’s multi-room lineup.
Yes, it was certainly a shame that it launched without support for the most popular streaming service in the world, Spotify, but kudos to Sonos for bringing out the update in good time. The speaker is now just as effective as an Amazon Echo at playing your music, and sounds much better than Amazon’s own speaker.
With Google Assistant support expected in 2018 and many more updated to Alexa sure to come over the years, the Sonos One is only going to get better over time.