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Sonos One Alexa-Enabled Speaker Review

The petite Sonos One speaker provides spacious sound from a small footprint.
Both a Better - And Worse - Echo

Amazon is slowly taking over the world; well the world other than New York City, where they've chosen to reneg on their HQ2 offer due to a few squeaky wheels... but I digress. As far as voice-controlled smart home capabilities, Amazon Alexa continues to dominate, with competitors such as Google and Apple playing catch-up. And for companies like Sonos - once the dominant player in multi-room music systems - partnering with Amazon to become part of that smart home ecosystem makes a great deal of sense. Why build in your own voice control system when there is already a perfectly good system you can tap into?

The Sonos One is the company's first offering that is designed to live happily within Amazon Alexa's universe. And it's mostly successful. Although the company says it's not trying to "replace your Echo" with the Sonos One, many prospective buyers will think differently. After all, if you can get a speaker that operates like an Echo, but offers superior sound quality, and plays nicely with other Sonos speakers, what's not to like?


Like Other Sonos Speakers, Only Different
At its most basic, the Sonos One is like any Sonos speaker. You plug it into the wall and it can play music from a variety of digital and streaming music sources via a simple smartphone app. If it's being added to an existing Sonos system in your home, adding the Sonos One entails clicking on a few options in the Sonos app (available for PCs, Macs, Android and Apple devices), and assigning it to a room.

If the Sonos One is your first Sonos speaker, then set-up is only sightly more complicated. You will need to download the Sonos app, plug the Sonos One into your router temporarily using a standard ethernet cable, then follow the simple instructions to set up your Sonos environment. This is also where you will set up your music services: Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Tune In internet radio - Sonos integrates with dozens of different music services. If you've ripped your CD collection or built up a large collection of digital music over time you can also set up Sonos to play songs from your local music library. No matter where you get your music today, you should be able to access it from Sonos.

Once the speaker has been set up, you can use the Sonos app to play music on the Sonos One or any of the other Sonos speakers in your home. Sonos speakers use a proprietary wireless mesh network to communicate with each other. This network allows you to play the same music all over your home without noticeable delays and without making a big impact on your network traffic. The Sonos platform also uses WiFi to communicate with your network router, and from there to the internet. This allows Sonos to play your local music files and access the internet for your streaming services. It also allows you to unplug that Sonos One from your router and put it anywhere in your home within WiFi range of your router.
The Sonos One is available in basic black or white to suit most decors.

So what makes Sonos One different from other Sonos speakers? The Sonos One includes a built-in microphone. With this microphone and the Sonos skill for Amazon Alexa, the Sonos One can act a lot like an Amazon Echo or Dot. You can ask it questions about the weather or traffic. You can use it to re-order cat food or play Jeopardy. And (of course) you can ask it to play music, in one room or many - as many rooms as you have Sonos or Amazon speakers.

Like an Amazon Echo, Only Better
Once you enable the Sonos skill in the Amazon Alexa app, and register the Sonos One device within that app, the Sonos One can impersonate a real Amazon speaker, in many ways. The Sonos One responds to the Alexa wake word and can do fun things like control your lights, alarm system or smart thermostat. But it really excels at playing music. Sonos speakers are designed for music lovers with an ear for quality. Vocals are clear and articulate, treble is precise and sharp without being over-bearing, and bass response is solid and firm. The Sonos One is built on the also great-sounding Play:1 speaker which you can read more about in Greg Robinson's Play:1 review.

Compared to an Amazon Echo, the Sonos One is simply more musical and enjoyable when it comes to playing actual music. And like other Sonos speakers, the Sonos One can be paired with a second Sonos One to provide true stereo sound. And when you set it up that way, you get really nice full rich sound with the added convenience of voice control and whole home integration. Audiophiles looking for an actual soundstage and stereo imaging will appreciate a pair of Sonos speakers. Of course, the price goes up when you buy two, but it's nice to have the option as it really improves the overall sound quality. A pair of Sonos Ones can even be used as the rear channel speakers in a 5.1 channel surround system based on the Sonos PlayBar, PlayBase or Beam. When it comes to versatility of installation, Sonos wins.
The top of the Sonos One feature a capacitive touch-sensitive collection of controls. You can also disable the microphone if you don't want Mr. Bezos listening in on your private conversations.
So is the Sonos One a good all-around alternative to an Amazon Echo? That's a tricky question.

Like an Amazon Echo, Only Worse
There are some features available on Amazon's own devices that simply don't work on the Sonos One. One of these is the "drop in" feature. With "drop in" you can listen remotely to another Amazon speaker or have a conversation with someone in another room in a remote part of your home. Currently this feature is not supported on the Sonos One. We've also noticed that the Alexa response when you ask it a question is sometimes clipped or truncated - it sometimes mutes the first part of the reply. This is something that only happens occasionally on the One, but never happens on Amazon devices. It's not a critical issue. It just makes the Alexa voice control feature seem a bit rough around the edges.

If you happen to have a whole collection of Sonos speakers in your home, you might expect to be able to ask Alexa to "Play WNYC everywhere" and have that station play on all of your speakers at the same time. Instead it will only play on other Amazon devices in your home. While it is possible to tell Alexa to play music in specific Sonos rooms, the ability to play on *ALL* devices in your home (Sonos and Amazon) doesn't exist. To play music on all of your Sonos speakers, you need to use the Sonos app.

During our extended review period, on more than one occasion, the Sonos One lost its ability to respond to Alexa commands. At these times, all the speaker would say is, "Sorry, I'm having trouble understanding right now. Please try a little later." When this occurs, the speaker generally still works within the Sonos app, but it doesn't respond to voice commands. I've tried many things (and sometimes spent hours) to get this working again, but what usually works is to go into the Alexa app, disable the Sonos skill, then go into the Sonos app and disable the voice control features. Then go back into the Alexa app, re-enable the Sonos skill and back into the Sonos app to re-enable voice commands and reauthorize the Amazon connection. Once this set-up process has been done again, the Sonos One generally starts playing nicely with Amazon again.

Another idiosyncracy of the Alexa/Sonos integration comes to control. When you use the Sonos One, or an Echo or Echo Dot to fire up music on a regular Sonos speaker in another room, e.g., "Alexa, Play 80s Music in Bathroom," the built-in volume controls on that target Sonos speaker don't work. Or I should say, the volume up button doesn't work, but the volume down button does. If you have an echo dot and a Sonos Play:3 (for example) in the same room, then this is not much of an issue. You can tell Alexa to "turn up volume in bathroom." But if the echo or Sonos One is in one room and the regular Sonos speaker is in another room, you're out of luck when it comes to volume control. I had hoped this would be fixed over time via a software update, but the behavior has been like this for well over a year.

Turn-Ons
  • Great sound quality for the price and size
  • Supports stereo pairing for even better sound
  • Supports a wide range of music streaming services
  • Simple Sonos app enables music playback in all areas of your home
  • Built-in microphone and Alexa skill replicates much of the functionality of an Amazon Echo
Turn-Offs
  • Lacks some of the functionality of an Amazon speaker
  • Sometimes clips the audio response when responding to Alexa commands
  • Added complexity of multiple systems attempting to work together can lead to frustrating failures
Final Thoughts
The Sonos One is a very good-sounding wireless speaker that integrates well with the Sonos ecosystem and also adds the convenience of voice control, thanks to Amazon Alexa integration. The ability to pair two in stereo mode enables sound quality far superior to most competitors. Enabling Sonos speakers to work with Amazon Alexa (and Google Home) for voice control does seem like the right move for the company. But the current Alexa/Sonos implementation, over a year after its introduction, still feels incomplete. Sonos One does a lot of what an Echo does, but not everything.




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