Sonos One (Gen 2) Smart Wi-Fi Speaker Review: Best Alternative to the HomePod?

Sonos is one of the earliest pioneers of multi-room audio setups and wireless home audio streaming. Although the company’s product range now covers even portable audio products, it’s still best known for its connected smart speakers, such as the Sonos One, which I’m reviewing today. Now officially available in India through a distributor, Sonos hopes to take on existing smart speaker brands such as Amazon and Google with a major differentiator – a focus on sound quality.

Priced at Rs. 21,999 in India, the Sonos One (Gen 2) is a Wi-Fi speaker with support for Apple AirPlay 2, and has the ability to stream music directly off the Internet. Although it is more expensive than options such as the Google Nest Audio and Amazon Echo series, the Sonos One promises better sound quality. Does this smart speaker live up to the hype? Find out in this review.

The Sonos One (2nd Gen) works with the Sonos app, which is available on Android and iOS

 

Sonos One (Gen 2) design and specifications

Sonos is best known for its high-end speakers and home audio solutions, but some of the company’s more recent products are positioned as more affordable one-box solutions that are easier to install and use. The Sonos One (Gen 2) is like many of the other smart speakers currently on the market, in the sense that it’s a single device that must be connected to a power socket and is intended to remain in one place.

The Sonos One (Gen 2) speaker has a rectangular block-like shape, with a metal grille on around it, and a plastic base and top. The bottom of the speaker has a socket for the included power adapter. The back has an Ethernet port for wired connectivity and a single button that controls some pairing-related functions. The speaker weighs 1.85kg, and is quite heavy for a product of its size.

The top of the Sonos One (Gen 2) has a touch-sensitive zone, which is used to control playback and the volume. There’s also a microphone button if you need to mute the mic. The play/pause button and volume controls work with single taps, while swiping from left to right or right to left in this area will skip to the next or previous track respectively. You can also control these functions from your smartphone.

The audio drivers on the Sonos One (Gen 2) consist of one tweeter and one mid-woofer. The speaker is powered by a 1.4GHz quad-core processor and has 1GB of RAM. The Sonos One (Gen 2) does not have Bluetooth connectivity, and uses only Wi-Fi to stream music off the Internet through linked services. Google’s Chromecast protocol is not supported on the Sonos One (Gen 2) either, so you won’t be able to cast music to the speaker from an Android phone, even with supported apps.

Although the company mentions that both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi are supported, I had various connectivity issues with 5GHz Wi-Fi and had to use a 2.4GHz connection to use the Sonos One (Gen 2) properly. Sonos’ famous multi-room implementation can be set up through the app if you have multiple speakers in your home, and you can also set up a stereo pair with two Sonos One speakers in the same room.

Since the Sonos One (Gen 2) is a Wi-Fi-enabled speaker, you need the Sonos app to set it up (available on iOS and Android). The process took around 10 minutes in total, including connecting the speaker to my Wi-Fi router and linking my streaming services to it. You can also go through the ‘TruePlay’ tuning process which is said to optimise sound based on the acoustics of your room.

The app is quite simple to use once fully set up, with tabs for quick access to recently played tracks, playlists and curations in your linked streaming services, and settings for the Sonos One itself. There’s also a useful Search tab that lets you search across all linked services and your own playlists with keywords.

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The Sonos One (2nd Gen) supports various streaming services, including Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube Music

 

Services that can be linked with the Sonos One (Gen 2) include Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, Gaana, and JioSaavn. You also get free, pre-authenticated access to Sonos Radio, which lets you stream curated Internet radio stations and playlists on the speaker.

If you’re using the Sonos One (Gen 2) with any AirPlay-compatible device such as an iPhone or iPad, you can play audio directly on the speaker using any of the supported apps on the device itself, thanks to AirPlay 2 support. This naturally makes the Sonos One particularly well-suited for use with Apple devices. The Sonos One supports linking Google Assistant or Alexa for hands-free voice commands in some countries, but disappointingly, this feature was not supported in India at the time of this review.

Sonos One (Gen 2) performance

The Sonos One (Gen 2) is a smart speaker for all intents and purposes, but the inability to set up a voice assistant in India is a considerable drawback. As of now, it isn’t possible to just ask the speaker for the content you want. This is a very basic and fundamental feature for any smart speaker such as the Amazon Echo range or the Apple HomePod mini. However, the Sonos One is still very usable even without this feature, albeit with a few more steps needed to play what you want.

You might wonder why buyers should even consider this device over competing smart speakers, given this significant drawback and its high price, but I think this can be answered with one very strong point – sound quality. The Sonos One is very impressive when it comes to sound quality, delivering loud, enjoyable, and refined sound that is comfortably superior to what I’ve heard on any other mainstream smart speaker, including the similarly priced Amazon Echo Studio.

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You can connect an Ethernet cable to the Sonos One, as an alternative to Wi-Fi

 

I used the Sonos One (Gen 2) with an Apple iPhone as the controlling device. I found that using AirPlay from within apps such as Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Audible was a lot easier than using the Sonos app. The latter works decently well for fetching content, and this will be your only option if you’re using an Android phone. There were a couple of occasions on which the apps weren’t able to detect the speaker through AirPlay, but this was easily fixed by rebooting either the speaker or my router.

Once connected using AirPlay, streaming was stable and lag-free, sound quality was as good as it could be, and playback and volume controls were quick and responsive. While all of this would have been a lot easier with a voice assistant, none of the other functionality of the speaker is crippled so it’s not a total loss.

Apple’s Siri voice assistant is typically able to hand music off from one device to another using AirPlay protocols, but all of my attempts to do this with audio from my AirPods Pro to the Sonos One using voice commands were met with errors. This did work properly when using AirPlay within the Apple Music app; the music paused on my earphones and resumed on the Sonos speaker after a moment. Once again, voice commands don’t seem to work with the Sonos One (Gen 2) at all.

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The controls of the Sonos One (2nd Gen) are at the top, as is the microphone

 

Sound quality on the Sonos One (Gen 2) is, as stated above, exceptional for a smart speaker of this price and size. The speaker is loud, refined, cohesive, and detailed with all genres, and the sonic signature is flexible enough to adapt well to just about any kind of audio content being played. Even at high volumes, there wasn’t much distortion or struggle to be heard from the speaker, and it quite easily delivered powerful sound that could be heard clearly even from different rooms in my home.

Listening to Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire, the Sonos One offered up tight, refined bass, while allowing for plenty of sparkle in the highs and definition in the mid-range of this disco track. The sound was lively and enjoyable, with much more energy being delivered than what I expected from a speaker of this size. The flexibility of the sound was noticeable even with different types of music, including the punchy and aggressive Boom by Tiesto, with the speaker delivering exactly what was needed.

Even with gentler tracks such as Truth by Kamasi Washington, the Sonos One allowed detail to shine through. With audio books, I was able to hear Ray Porter’s excellent narration of Heaven’s River by Dennis E. Taylor clearly and attentively even from about 10 feet away. The Sonos One is a well-tuned smart speaker that easily outperforms all of its competitors when it comes to sound quality.

TruePlay tuning on the Sonos One (Gen 2) is quite a tedious process, since it requires you to move around the room with your phone for around 10-15 minutes to measure sound using its microphone, all while keeping things quiet. The process failed and needed to be started over a couple of times when I tried this, because of even the slightest disturbance such as someone speaking in a different room, or a doorbell ringing. However, once completed, I found the sound a bit more lively and open with TruePlay active, and would recommend going through these steps for best results.

Verdict

Smart speakers typically need to check some boxes when it comes to features such as Internet connectivity, the ability to link with popular streaming services, and access to voice assistants. As of now, the Sonos One (Gen 2) only fulfills two of the above requirements, although it is possible that the company could roll out support for voice assistants in India in the future. However, on all other counts such as connectivity, usability, and sound quality, the Sonos One is an excellent smart speaker.

Although expensive at Rs. 21,999, the Sonos One (Gen 2) sounds considerably better than any other smart speaker I’ve heard, and this alone makes it worth considering if you have the budget. It might also be worth considering the Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen), which although not as good in terms of sound quality, does have an excellent 10-inch screen and full-fledged access to Alexa, for a more complete smart experience.


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