Integrates with existing Sonos system • Includes Amazon Alexa • Amazing sound
Alexa setup is not nearly as easy as it should be • A tiny bit buggy
If you already have a Sonos sound system, the Sonos One is the right smart speaker upgrade for you.
This sounds amazing.
That’s what I thought when I got all my Sonos speakers playing the late Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down and the first floor of my home filled with his distinct, Gainesville, Florida, twang.
I chose that song with my voice and not by speaking to the first-generation Amazon Echo I have in my home, but by speaking directly to the brand new Sonos One smart speaker.
Sonos is just one of an increasing number of third-party partners integrating Amazon’s soon-to-be ubiquitous digital voice assistant Alexa. On the one hand, this seems redundant. Why do I need a Sonos Alexa-enabled speaker when I already have the Amazon Echo to drive what was my two-speaker Sonos system?
For one thing, the long-promised Sonos skill on Echo didn’t arrive until very recently and, for another, my Amazon Echo’s speaker doesn’t even compare to the audio a single Sonos speaker can produce, let alone an array of them.
The other major benefit of using the Sonos system is its often-lauded set-up and sound management system. All Sonos speakers are WIFI-enabled (you can plug them directly into an Ethernet port if you have one) and once you have one Sonos speaker on your network, adding new ones is almost as easy as plugging them into a power outlet.
In addition, Sonos speakers can act as a single unit so each one can play different music.
Now, imagine if you could control all that audio goodness with your voice and get all the other benefits of the Alexa system.
That’s the dream of the Sonos One and, mostly, the reality.
Unpacking my black Sonos One, I was instantly struck by its similarities to and differences from the original Sonos Play:1. At 6.5-inches tall by 4.75 inches wide, the Sonos One is approximately the same size as the Sonos Play:1 speakers I have in my home. Gone, though, are the physical buttons on top, replaced with touch controls that match what you’ll find on the Sonos PlayBase and Play:5. Overall, it’s a subtle design that helps the Sonos One fade into the background.
The Sonos One does, according to Sonos, match the Play:1’s audio capabilities with one tweeter, two Class-D digital amplifiers, and one mid-woofer. It adds to that mix a six-microphone array to, for the first time, listen for your voice.
It would take a little while before I could experience the sound or talk to Sonos One.
Setting up Sonos speakers has always been easy and as soon as I launched the new redesigned Sonos App, it found my existing network and added the Sonos One to it. It also let me identify where in my house I placed it, a critical component for sending specific music to specific rooms. I also, in anticipation of using the new system, signed up for Amazon Prime Music, so I’d have access to the widest array of music with my voice. Sonos already supports most of my other favorite music services. Including Sirius XM and Pandora. Spotify support was not ready in time for testing. With the Play One, I can ask the speaker to “Play Pandora” and it will ask me what kind of music and, if I say “Classic Rock, it will then ask if I want to add a classic rock station to my Pandora account presets.
Normally I would use Trueplay to turn the Sonos for my room, but the feature is not supported for my iPhone 8 Plus (I’m not that sad since the audio sounds great without it and Trueplay, with all the phone waving around I’d have to do, is a pain to set up).
This was the easy part. Getting Alexa and Amazon Music to work seamlessly with the speaker took a while. Amazon and its partners clearly have some work to do on account integration. During setup, I had to create a Sonos Account (no, despite having a Sonos system, I never created an account with them; it wasn’t necessary) and sign into my Amazon account at least three times. Worse yet, the process kept throwing me over to Amazon and my Alexa app where I had to enable the Sonos skill.
Suffice to say, this is a pain point that, unless someone cleans it up, could be enough to make someone quit the whole thing, but I urge you to tough it out, because it is so worth it.
If you already have an Echo device, using Alexa on the Sonos One will be refreshingly familiar. Sonos One is, unless you touch the Microphone button on top to turn off listening, waiting for your command or query. It would be nice if Sonos made the mute option a little more visually obvious. The listening light is a tiny white LED. If you turn it off by touching the microphone button, there’s no visual indication that Sonos isn’t listening.
I started by asking Alexa to play Tom Petty. Sitting next to the speaker, I said, “Alexa,” and the speaker made a tone and the power button brightened, but did not match the Echo’s blue-listening glow. I quickly followed with “Play Tom Petty.”
Initially, the classic song just played on the Sonos One, where it sounded great. There’s tremendous oomph and clarity in these pint-sized speakers. I went into the app and linked all my speakers to let it fill my home with Petty. I could also use my voice to raise and lower the volume.
I told Alexa to stop and then I asked Alex to play music in the Living Room, which is the name of the Sonos Play:1 in my living room. The music played there. I soon found I could use Alexa to drive different music in each room.
I switched back to having all my Sonos speaker play the same song and then started asking the Sonos One some Alexa-style questions.
“Alexa, what’s’ the weather?” The speaker partially muted the music – it did not pause or turn it off – and gave me a weather update. I was also able to check my schedule.
Because I’d already added a bunch of smart home skills to my Alexa app, I could also do things like control my Nest climate control system. I told Alexa to raise the upstairs temperature to 73. She complied and I checked my Nest app to see that the thermostat had been raised to 73.
I could also ask general interest questions like, “Who is your favorite Beatle?” and “What’s 36 divided by 3?” The speaker does not support Alexa’s relatively new voice calling capabilities.
I moved about 10 feet away from the speaker and started speaking in a normal voice. Alexa responded each time. I moved Alexa to my office, which has a persistent HVAC fan hum that seemed to hinder the Sonos One’s listening capabilities a bit; I found myself repeating some queries.
There were some other issues like the known bug in the system that wouldn’t let Alexa read me my flash news briefing. I would ask for it, Alexa would respond, “Here’s your flash briefing,” and then say nothing. Well, I guess no news is good news.
The Sonos One didn’t always understand what I said. One evening, I asked Alexa to play dinner music on my “Portable” Sonos One and she responded with a collection of Latin music.
At $199, the Sonos One Smart Speaker immediately undercuts Apple’s Siri-powered $349 HomePod and Google’s $399 Home Max. Granted, those are bigger, more powerful speakers, but Sonos One has the advantage of integrating with an existing speaker system and working with the Alexa platform, which, frankly, has a significant head-start on the smart home integration front.
Note: This review originally published on Oct. 18, 2017, and was updated on Aug. 8, 2018.