It’s finally happened. The day Sonos fans have been waiting for has arrived, and you can now use Alexa to control your Sonos speakers. Well, mostly. The new Sonos One ($199) sounds as awesome as its other products, and, thanks to Amazon’s voice assistant built into the speaker, you can ask it to do a whole bunch of things, from ordering pizza to dimming the lights. But Alexa’s integration into the best-sounding speaker yet still has some minor limitations.
Design: Classic Sonos
Not surprisingly, the Sonos One looks almost identical to the Sonos PLAY:1 speaker on which it’s based. The speaker is wrapped in a metal grille; the Sonos logo is subtly displayed on the top inch of the front.
On top are touch controls to play and pause tracks, change the volume and mute and unmute the microphone. I only wish the Volume Up button was a Plus sign and the Volume Down was a Minus; they’re both four dots.
A small LED by the microphone button lights up when you say “Alexa”; unlike the Echo and Echo Dot, which have bright-blue indicator lights, it’s hard to see the Sonos One’s light from across a room. However, there is an audio cue when Alexa has heard you.
I liked that if I used the Sonos app to play music, I could ask Alexa what was playing, and move forward and back through tracks.
At 6.4 x 4.7 x 4.7 inches, the Sonos One is about the size of a large can of coffee. Its weight of 4.1 pounds makes it feel substantial for its size. On the back of the speaker is a port for its power cord, and an Ethernet port just above.
Other than that, the Sonos one has no inputs, so unless you have them connected to a Sonos Connect ($349), you can’t use them to output audio from your TV.
One very important thing to note for those with stained wood furniture: Similar to the Apple HomePod, the Sonos One can leave damaging white marks on certain wood furniture. If you purchase this speaker, be sure to place something underneath it.
Audio Quality: Superb
Befitting its legacy, the Sonos One speakers sound amazing for their size. Just one of them was able to fill my living room with full, balanced sound; pairing a second speaker to the first made it all the more richer.
One of the nice things about Sonos speakers is that you can tune them to the acoustic properties of the room you’re in. For example, I listened to Belle and Sebastian’s “I’m a Cuckoo” before tuning the speaker; the song came through well, but the vocals were very bright, and the bass was hidden. After tuning the speakers, the bass was much more pronounced, and the vocals weren’t as bright, but warmer in tone.
From ABBA to Frank Zappa, anything I threw at the Sonos speakers came through spectacularly, given their size. My living room was filled with rich, full sound. I tried turning the speakers to 11, but could only manage about an 8 before they were ear-splittingly loud.
The bass line in Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” popped, while the high notes of the melody, way at the top end, came through cleanly without any distortion. The vocals in the chorus of The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child” sounded a little compressed, but there was great separation between the bass line, the brass and strings.
The same thing happened with “Highway to Hell” from AC/DC - the chorus sounded compressed compared to the rest of the song, but the bass line really thumped. The stereo setup of the two speakers was great in showcasing the competing guitar solos in Iron Maiden’s “Aces High.”
Sonos’ speakers were just as good at more mellow fare: Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” sounded as warm as my vinyl album, as did other jazz tracks from Vince Guaraldi and others.
While Alexa lets you stream music from a variety of sources, including Pandora, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM and TuneIn, as well as Amazon’s own music services, one of Sonos’ strengths is that it opens up world of other sources, including Apple Music, Google Play Music, MLB Gameday Audio and Napster. You can also control Spotify playback through the speaker using Alexa.
Update (11/8/2018): iHeartRadio users can now control playback through Sonos speakers directly via the iHeartRadio app; previously, you had to open the Sonos app to perform this function.
Alexa Integration: Near Seamless
Connecting Alexa and the Sonos One was a bit more involved than I’d like.
After setting up the speakers using the Sonos app (which included authorizing Alexa), I then had to go into the Alexa app so that Amazon’s assistant could discover them and add them to my smart-home network.
From ABBA to Frank Zappa, anything I threw at the Sonos speakers came through spectacularly, given their size. My living room was filled with rich, full sound.
I had a little trouble initially after pairing the speakers; Alexa wasn’t recognizing them properly, and wouldn’t play music, nor would Alexa realize that I started playing music using the Sonos app. However, a quick call with tech support resolved the issue.
From that point, I could start playing music using voice commands, or through either the Sonos or Alexa apps. I also liked that if I used the Sonos app to play music, I could ask Alexa what was playing, and move forward and back through the tracks.
The array of six microphones in the Sonos One speakers were nearly as sensitive as in other Amazon Echo devices. Without anything playing, I could talk in a low voice from about 10-15 feet away and it would hear my voice accurately. However, when I had the music cranking, I had to shout to make myself heard. When Alexa wakes, there’s a small tone of recognition, the volume of the music lowers, and there’s a pause of a second as the command is recognized and executed.
Even without Alexa, Sonos’ speakers would be great for delivering music into every corner of your house. Not only do they sound awesome, but you can customize their audio profiles to whatever room they’re in, and you can stream music from dozens of sources—including Spotify. Being able to control all that using Amazon’s voice assistant is merely a great bonus. I just wish I could use the speakers more easily as the center of my entertainment system; I guess I’ll have to wait for Sonos to update its Playbar for that.