Smart speakers are the latest craze, and there’s a whole battle going on that you may or may not have realized you’re already a part of: smart assistants. What began as a cool new feature on your phone is quickly blossoming into an entire new ecosystem of products. And if you don’t pay attention, you might end up dividing your life in annoying ways. One company that doesn’t need you to choose is Sonos. Whichever assistant you end up letting run your life, your Sonos will work with it; starting with the new Sonos One speaker that has Alexa, Airplay and Google Assistant built in.
Editor’s note: This review was updated on January 9, 2021, to make information more timely.
How is the Sonos One built?
The Sonos One is a little over six inches tall, and has the same design as the older Play:1 speaker. It has a far-field microphone array needed to pick up voices accurately. The speaker is surrounded by a matte white grill (also available in matte black) save for a plastic stripe down along the back which has the ethernet input (if you’d prefer to hardwire it over using Wi-Fi). Up top is where you’ll find all of the touch sensitive controls that allow you to control volume, and turn the microphone off and on—handy if you or someone you know doesn’t want the speaker listening for a hotword for whatever reason.
Overall, the plastic finish doesn’t feel cheap and it’s smooth to the touch. Even though this isn’t a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, it’s humidity resistant; so as long as you have a safe power outlet to plug into, you can keep one of these in your bathroom. Because yes, you will have to plug it in. This is a Wi-Fi home speaker—not a portable one. It sticks to the minimal design that most Sonos products have, so whether you keep this on your bookshelf, kitchen counter, or in your bathroom: it blends in perfectly and doesn’t stand out. It’s there to play music for you, and it does it well. But more on that later, first let’s get into the most interesting part of this speaker which is the connection and Alexa features.
The Sonos One connects via Wi-Fi
First things first: setup is both super easy, and weirdly convoluted. After plugging it in, the Sonos One automatically found my Wi-Fi, which is a huge improvement to the PlayBASE that we reviewed where I ended up plugging it in with an ethernet cable to get it to find my router. With very little effort, I was able to select the One on the device controls in Spotify and play music perfectly. But what was a confusing mess of screens, permissions, and apps was the process of connecting . You have to download the Sonos app, which then makes you download the Alexa app, which then needs to be connected, which then needs permissions, etc. You get the point. By the time setup was complete, I honestly couldn’t remember how many screens I had to go through. It’s not necessarily difficult (and I was able to get it all on the first try) but it was definitely confusing. A streamlined process would be a little nicer for the average person.
Though the only streaming service Sonos One used to allow for voice-controlled playback from was Amazon Music, it now works with Spotify too. Unfortunately, it does not work with Apple Music, and it doesn’t seem like Sonos plans to add this functionality anytime soon. In addition, while the Sonos One originally only supported Alexa, it now supports Airplay and Google Assistant.
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The Sonos app is surprisingly smooth and easy to navigate. Whether or not you use it is up to you, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it. Now this is the only Sonos speaker in my apartment, but if you’re already in the Sonos ecosystem then you’ll definitely want to use this app as you can group other Sonos or Amazon Echo speakers together and control what plays where. A single Play One is more than enough to resonate through my apartment, but a second one in my bathroom would be golden. Plus the microphones on top do a great job picking up my voice even with music playing at a decently loud level, something that my Google Home struggles with.
Let’s talk sound quality
Maybe it’s just that I live in a 1-bedroom apartment, but the One gets loud. Keeping it on 50% was more than enough to enjoy music from anywhere, and I was still nervous that I was annoying the neighbors. Now to be honest: I wasn’t thinking that I’d be impressed by the sound quality of the Sonos One. Sure, it’s Sonos, but at the same time the One is their entry level speaker. I was fully expecting the sound to reflect that. I was wrong.
Lows, mids, and highs
The lows in the speaker get deep thanks to a dedicated mid-woofer, and though it’s definitely a little too much for my taste, it’s not bad at all. Like there’s no muddiness to speak of between the lows and the mids. Plus, if you do decide to hook these up with other speakers for surround sound while watching a movie or something those lows will definitely handle Michael Bay explosions just fine. My favorite part of the speaker was probably the mids, which gave the perfect amount of detail to the rhythm guitar during the intro of Someday by The Strokes and didn’t lose any of that when the vocals came in.
Besides a slight weakness in the high frequencies, the Sonos One produces very good sound.
Normally when the vocals come in you can hear a slight dip in the quality of the guitar as it dips into the background, but the Sonos One does a nice job handling the transition. If there’s one area of sound that I’m not a fan of it’s how the speaker handles cymbals and hi-hats. It doesn’t do too great of a job at giving you a sense of “space”, which you can hear by listening to the cymbals throughout the song Step by Vampire Weekend which sound really “pulled back”.
So, should you buy the Sonos One?
Though the Sonos One (Gen 2) is available now for the same price, the original Sonos One isn’t bad at all if you can get it refurbished or on sale. If you want the flexibility of choosing whatever assistants you want without needing to buy brand new hardware, the Sonos way might speak to you. Considering that some other speakers are just as expensive, don’t sound nearly as good, and don’t have a smart assistants make the Sonos One that much more appealing to me.
Especially now that the Sonos One supports Spotify voice control and is compatible with AirPlay and Google Assistant, it’s still a great option for a smart speaker. And, if you have multiple Alexa-enabled devices, you can group them with the Sonos One so long as they are either Amazon Echo or Sonos devices. Whether you’re already neck-deep in the Sonos ecosystem or are making your first Sonos purchase I don’t think you can go wrong with this little guy.