Sonos One Wireless Smart Speaker Review Page 2

If this sounds like a lot of steps, it is — and there are an awful lot of screens to peck your way past to get to the end. Fortunately, the Sonos app takes you step-by-step, and Sonos has an excellent support page on its website. They've done the best they can with a process that, by its nature, involves tying into Amazon's third-party ecosystem with its own complexities and requirements. Still, for a company whose guiding principle has been unintimidating and intuitive ease-of-use for a mass market audience, I can only imagine the collective "oy vey!" that must have risen up from the product team when they saw what they were going to have to ask customers to do. Sonos execs say they've made removing setup steps and simplifying this process a top priority for the future.

To compare the Sonos One with the older Play:1 I placed the speakers about two feet apart at ear height on speaker stands (specifically, the Sanus WSS21 shown here, which is designed to mate with Sonos speakers). Direct A/Bs were easily accomplished just by grouping them together in the app and moving the volume sliders for each speaker up and down; I casually kept an eye on an SPL meter to more or less match volume. After performing the Sonos TruePlay in-room tuning on both and using the app to turn off the Loudness emphasis for each, my listening revealed that the two speakers are indeed voiced very much alike. Super close, in fact. They are best described as essentially neutral, with a nicely extended and never bright high end, a detailed midrange absent of any overemphasized presence that might push voices out front from the rest of the mix, and modest bottom end support that clearly shows a preference for natural character and roll-off over an artificial and overwrought upper bass thump.

Despite their similarity, on most tracks I was able to distinguish on the One a slight extra bit of midrange smoothness and warmth versus the Play:1, along with an ever so slightly fuller bottom that suggested a tiny bit of thickening of the upper bass. This generally served the music well. Listening to Mickey Jupp on "Old Rock 'n' Roller" from his album Juppanese, I noticed that Jupp's bluesy, Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired vocal was just a tad more exposed and raw on the Play:1; the One rendered it with its detail intact but was ultimately more palatable, especially when he cranks up the volume toward the end of the track. On Kehlani's beautiful, syrupy ballad "Honey" (pun intended, but it's apropos), which features just voices and guitar, the One's rendering allowed it to play a little louder than the Play:1 without inducing any kind of edge, but the Play:1's slightly sparser delivery gave the vocal a touch more body and presence.

From a bass standpoint, neither speaker could be called ballsy by any stretch — even by small speaker standards — and for casual listening without any subwoofer support, both benefitted from Sonos's tasteful Loudness contouring when I got around to reactivating that. Still, while the One seemed a touch more weighty at times, we're talking about split hairs here. These were all subtle differences that would likely escape inexperienced listeners, and they could easily have been attributable to the small difference in the speaker's positioning/proximity to room boundaries, or some variance in the TruePlay tuning process. The bottom line is that the Sonos One and Play:1 were nigh on sonically identical. Both are exemplary for their size and price. These are speakers that respect the music.

Voice Control
Sonos launched Alexa control with a basic palate of capabilities; the company expects to find and fix bugs as it goes along, and continuously add more capabilities to their Alexa skill set. As of late December, the most notable limitation was the inability to use voice to create groups from speakers in different rooms, or to shift the content you're listening to from one room to another. This is something the Sonos app easily allows by simply checking or unchecking rooms from a list of available zones. For instance, if you're playing something in the den and want to switch that same program to the kitchen, you can just call up the Rooms page and hit the Den tile to reveal the list of available rooms. Then, within that list, you uncheck Den, check Kitchen, hit Done, and the changes happen. Similarly, if you want to move the music from Den to a group consisting of the kitchen and dining room, you would uncheck Den, check both the Kitchen and Dining Room, and hit Done.

You can't currently tell Alexa to do any of this. However, speaker groups that you create from inside the app will respond, as a group, to voice commands directing music to just one of them. So, for example, if I start up my Frank Sinatra Pandora station in the app and make a Kitchen/Dining Room group, I'll hear music in both zones. I can even independently adjust volume by voice in each, as in, "Alexa, volume 3 in Kitchen," followed by "Alexa, volume 6 in Dining Room." If I want to turn off Frank and listen to NPR, I can ask Alexa to "play WNYC radio from TuneIn in Kitchen," and the change will effect both rooms in the pre-established group—which remains a group until I ungroup them in the app.

Along with this one very Sonos-centric limitation, there are other commonly used Alexa skills that are not supported. Alexa calling and messaging, and the relatively new "drop-in" intercom service that lets you communicate among compatible Alexa-enabled devices, are also not available from the Sonos One. You can't get notifications, keep or update lists, or set reminders. You also cannot, for now, call up your Audible books on the One or use any other Alexa-enabled device in your house to direct these to a Sonos speaker, though Audible playback is commonly supported by Amazon Echo speakers. That said, Sonos is planning to add Audible to its mix of available services in 2018, so that will at least make playback of ebooks an option through the app, and perhaps through voice control as well.

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