You have to look twice before realizing that the Sonos ONE is a new Sonos speaker. And yet it is a brand new, revolutionary multiroom speaker, because the first one you can control with the voice.
No, the Sonos ONE is not just a new jacket for the popular PLAY: 1 speaker. Despite the similarities is yet another speaker. But this time it is not really about new audio technology, but about the presence of a microphone and support for voice control. For the time being only via Alexa from Amazon, but who knows, Siri from Apple, Cortana from Microsoft and Google Assistant will follow in due course? In any case, the microphone in the ONE opens the door to select music and operate with voice commands, which is pretty cool for a lot of people.
But that’s not all: via the ONE you can access all possible smart home applications that are compatible are with Alexa. Then think of Hue lamps or your smart thermostat. That dual function – music and smart home access gate – makes this new Sonos something different than the previous products of the American company. Time to put the Sonos ONE on the rack!
And the Play: 1 then?
The Sonos ONE is clearly the successor of the PLAY: 1 . You see that immediately, because the design is very similar. Even though there are some differences here and there at some level of detail. The top of the ONE is completely flat and the separate buttons have been replaced by touch-sensitive keys. The new Sonos speaker also loses the thread on the back which was handy for wall and ceiling mounting. Hanging is not excluded, but you will have to do that with new accessories specifically designed for the ONE. Look for example at Flexson or Sanus.
It is interesting to compare the two Sonos speakers, because for now the PLAY: 1 remains well-available on the market. And that at a price that is 50 euros lower than the ONE. The biggest difference is of course in the presence of the built-in microphone of the ONE and the more modern controls at the top. They also sound a little different, although the difference between the two quickly disappears when you tune them with Trueplay. Just for the sound there is not much reason for choosing the Sonos ONE over the PLAY: 1. For example, if you consider using a few as rear channels in a surround setup of a Playbase or Playbar, it would be smarter to go for the older speakers. That saves you 100 euros, money that you can use to contribute to a Sonos Sub, for example.
Also good to know: you can not form a stereopair consisting of a ONE and a PLAY: 1, only of two equal models. We understand why – the differences in sound you might notice – but it is a stick in the wheels of people who thought they would make a stereo pair with a single ONE purchase with a PLAY: 1 that they already owned.
Purely visual, the ONE is the nicer one of the two. Whether you go for the black or the white version, the speaker is completely in one color. It is reminiscent of the finish of the special Tone edition of the PLAY: 1 Sonos released in limited edition in 2015. In terms of finish and build quality this is really a top product.
One thing you have to do Sonos give: the brand has done pioneering work in the area of user-friendliness. Installing the ONE is child’s play, whether you are using a Sonos speaker for the first time or adding the device to an existing Sonos system. The app (iOS and Android) makes it very easy to get the speaker working through a clear step-by-step plan in Dutch, so that you will listen to music after a few minutes. Adding music sources is just as simple.
Sonos is the absolute king in support of streaming services. Virtually all services are usable, from big names like Spotify, Play Music and Deezer over audiophile services like Qobuz and Tidal to utterly obscure Anghami and Wolfgangs’s Music. Sonos is also the only external party that Apple Music can play directly, which is a great asset for lovers of iPhones and iPads. The brand is now also the last that Spotify has built into its own app and that allows to send a Spotify stream to several speakers at the same time. Virtually all other brands have to content themselves with Spotify Connect, a feature that you can only use from the Spotify app and offers only moderate multi-zone support. At Sonos you have the choice: Control Spotify from the Sonos app or from the Spotify app itself.
Playing your own music files is of course possible, from your mobile device, a shared drive on a NAS or from a Plex- share. Through TuneIn you listen to radio stations from all over the world; In addition, you can also add specific radio services (such as the Swedish radio – Spotify is in Stockholm – and the surprising listenable CBC stations from Canada).
We do notice that Sonos seems to be sending updates very often in recent months. In principle, this application does not take a long time and can be postponed, but if you choose to update anyway, you can often use your fingers for a few minutes. No disaster if that happens sporadically, but the frequency increases.
During the installation of the Sonos ONE you also get the question or to make a link with Alexa. Tip: make sure you’ve already set Alexa up in advance.
With the help of Merkel
Software for voice recognition, we tested for the first time in 1999. Then speaking to a computer was a bit like a interview with your senile great aunt from Transylvanian who intentionally turned off her hearing aid. In the year 2018 speech recognition is in the cloud, so that the underlying learning routines are exposed to many more users. This results in considerably better recognition, giving you the feeling that you are more likely to speak to someone who combines a reasonable IQ with chronic absent-mindedness. Still not perfect, but in practice you will experience a wow feeling more and more when using voice assistants.
The distinctive feature of the Sonos ONE is that you can control it with the voice. Sonos has not wisely tried to develop this technology itself, but uses Amazon’s Alexa service. However, the company indicates that this is not an exclusive relationship. Just as the Sonos system supports multiple streaming services, Sonos speakers will work with multiple voting services. That is important, because in the short term Alexa is not the best option for Dutch-speaking residents of Belgium and the Dutch. The Amazon assistant does not support Dutch, but only English, German and French. We suspect that this is not going to change soon, while we do count on a full support of Dutch by the Google Assistant in the coming months. Apple is also a lot further with Siri. Hopefully, Sonos will soon be working with one of these voting services in the short term. We hear whispers that something is going to happen this year.
In the meantime, you can only work with Alexa with Alexa. In itself that is not a disaster, because Alexa is by far the most mature smart assistant. The big advantage of the Amazon AI is that there are many links (skills) to other equipment. Provided you are willing to speak English against your speaker (or French or German, if you prefer), you can do a lot after installing the Sonos ONE. First you have to activate Alexa, which is an Amazon acccount at an Amazon store in the U.S., V.K. or Germany. You can activate Alexa by installing the Alexa app on your smartphone or by surfing to alexa.amazon.com. According to some sources, this can only be done by using a VPN once (a service that masks you surf from the Benelux and pretends to be an American surfer), but that was not all necessary for us. However, as one of our addresses we have given a German address (for the good order: that of the Reichsdag, so you prevent an innocent German citizen suddenly finding Amazon spampost in his mailbox). Be careful if you order through Amazon; then select your real address, otherwise your Marvell-Blu-ray package ends at Merkel
Alexa, start playing
In the Alexa settings you can not forget to enter your Spotify data to fill. You do not have a Spotify account, you say? Just one at Qobuz? Oops, you immediately discover the limitations of the marriage between Alexa and Sonos. You can not use all possible Sonos music sources with Alexa. The voice control only works with services that support both Sonos and Amazon. There are currently three: Spotify, TuneIn (internet radio) and – not entirely surprising – Amazon Music. If you do not have an abo with Spotify or Amazon Music, your spoken music adventure has already ended. Even more regrettable we find that you can not select and play files from your Sonos music library via voice commands. What is possible is to select music from an unsupported service or your own library via the app and then pause or jump in a playlist (next track) via Alexa. That is not ideal, but is better than nothing. Hopefully this will be tackled quickly. This is also the reason why we are particularly looking for support from Google Assistant by Sonos. Almost all streaming services already work with the Assistant.
If you are a paying user of Spotify, then the Sonos ONE pieces are more usable. It will of course depend on personal preferences and yes, there are some reservations. But we (and the other members of the family) felt that voice control was a nice fact that was quickly (mis) used. Selecting music is a bit clumsy and difficult to do fine-meshed. You quickly have the tendency to say, “Alexa, play U2 with Spotify”, in which you quickly opt for a personal radio station based on a chosen artist (in this case U2). Requesting a specific album is a bit more cumbersome, especially when it comes to something like ‘Source Tags & Codes’ from ‘… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’. The longer the spoken sentence, the greater the chance that Alexa will misunderstand something. But the opposite is that during cooking, for example, saying “Alexa, next track” is easier than searching for a smartphone, unlocking it, opening the Sonos app and then doing the necessary – while in the meantime also seeing that the steak is not burning.
You will find that you are currently also playing music in a different room with a voice command can operate. We can already tell you that this works better if you have rooms that have names that can be pronounced in English. ‘Bathroom’, for example, will not work just like that, unless you speak it with a sort of ‘Suske & Wiske in Texas’ accent. We do expect that the list of commands will extend over time. That is also what you see with other brands that Alexa has implemented.
Alexa’s response time is quite short but not immediate. “Alexa, pause”, say when listening to music leads to effective pause after only 3 to 5 seconds. That is not a disaster, of course. The recognition is indeed very accurate, especially if you can speak English fairly well. But Alexa can do something about the accents. Also strong is that Alexa almost always hears you, even if a song is very loud.
The focus of this review is on the speech possibilities that are typical of the Sonos ONE compared to other wireless speakers, including the other Sonos -devices. It is less about the streaming and multimedia possibilities of the Sonos system. If you want to know that, then you should read one of the many, many reviews that we already wrote about Sonos devices. In short: there are few systems that make it so easy to play music anywhere in the house. Both in terms of support for services and the ease with which you connect and operate speakers, Sonos is a leader.
Sonos has recently completely renewed their app. There has been a lot of thought, but personally we found the previous iteration to be slightly more logical and intuitive. Especially the ‘My Sonos’ part is now very dominant and not so clear. Also the disconnection of zones is slightly less smooth. We would also like to see that you can organize your services yourself – although this is more of a problem with audio testers who have a lot of streamingabos, less with people with just one subscription with Spotify.
On the other hand, Apple Music has been very well integrated within the Sonos app, that the connection to connected streaming services is always very fast and that the search function that works on linked services and your own library is very powerful. We miss this universal search function with every competitor.
Also remind you that you can control Sonos speakers directly through the apps of Tidal, Spotify and Google Play Music. Interesting for more audiophile readers is the support for Sonos speakers in Roon, especially if your music library contains hi-res files. Sonos speakers can not play them by default, but Roon automatically converts them to a WAV on CD quality. There are still apps that can control Sonos speakers, such as Vox.
The PLAY:1 we have always found an amazing speaker. It is not great and yet you easily fill a room with it, partly because the small speaker sings a surprisingly large portion of bass. Not very detailed basses, but very present. At the same time, the middle area is relatively well represented, with a fairly hard roll-off in the high. It’s pretty well done by the Sonos engineers, because this little speaker does not sound bad at all. It is not audiophile quality, but that is not necessary. The Sonos ONE is more of the same, with a bit more detail and a less hard roll-off.
In most cases the ONE sounds better after the Trueplay calibration. Certainly do so, you just a minute or two about as a fool who in the room with an iPad or iPhone is about to wave. Unfortunately, support for (some) Android phones has not yet surfaced, due to the well-known problem of very diverse hardware in Android devices. As far as we can determine, Trueplay only adjusts the frequency response. That’s a lot of course, of course, but it can not, for example, deal with phase problems at a stereo couple at unequal distances.
Speaking of stereopairs … Two Sonos ONEs are a class example of how 1 + 1 = 3. The experience is even in a small room much better. Not surprising, because you make the step from mono to stereo. You would be crazy not to do that. In a larger room you can build a nice 2.1 system by adding a Sonos Sub. However, the cost of that upgrade is not that bad. The Sub is simply a too sophisticated thing for most situations.
Sonos ONE: Conclusion
The ONE is seen as a good speaker. You have to accept the limitations of the format and price and the Sonos system is not perfect, but closer to the perfection than most competitors. It is especially hassle-free in use, so that everyone in the house – and not only the hi-fi enthusiast who reads this – can use it. To paraphrase a well-known statement from photography: the best speaker is the speaker you really use.
At the same time, the ONE feels like a barrel full of potency that has not yet been uncorked. Yes, you can already do a lot via Alexa. You quickly notice that voice control can be the best future. You get used to it very quickly and it works incredibly well. But we are not there yet. Support for Dutch is missing, you can not use all music sources and certain Sonos functions (such as grouping) can not be done with a voice command. What we are waiting for is Google Assistant with Dutch support. Once the support is there – and it will come to existing ONEs – then the ONE immediately becomes a more versatile and spectacular speaker.