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Testing Ground

Sonos One: Testing out the Queen of Small-sized Connected Speakers in Mono, Stereo and with Subwoofer

By Alban Amouroux |

We’d never before gotten our hands on the famed little Sonos One wireless speaker. We therefore decided to set up more than just a single test: three tests in one, with different possible configurations: the One by itself, in a stereo pairing, and 2.1, accompanied by a subwoofer. Smart speakers capable of this scalability are few and far between.

The small wireless speaker category is full of offerings from an array of manufacturers. As a result, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd in the hotly-contested affordable price range – which is to say, around €200. Sonos has the advantage of precedence and reputation, which is why we proposed the Sonos One as the benchmark to beat. Objectively speaking, however, this is not necessarily the best speaker for everyone.

The Sonos One is the smallest model within the fully-connected range. It comes in two versions: with or without integrated voice assistant. The One features microphones, and a switch to turn them off, while the One SL does not. Apart from this specification, the two speakers are completely identical. It is therefore quite possible to combine one model of each to create a stereo pair, and by the way, that is the best option. Otherwise, by linking two Ones with microphones you end up with two voice assistants in the same room, which is obviously pointless.

Features

● Price: see store
● Power: unknown
● Speakers: mono, 2-way
● Connectivity:Ethernet, WiFi
● Other: integrated Qobuz, integrated Alexa & Google assistants, AirPlay 2
● Dimensions (l x d x h): 119 x 119 x 161 mm
● Weight: 1.85 kg 

Overview of the Sonos One

The Sonos One stands a mere 16 cm tall, and is easily installed absolutely anywhere. The cabinet is made of very good quality metal and plastic with a satin finish, and perfect detailing, with no visible screws. This speaker exudes seriousness, with a fairly significant weight compared to its volume. To best suit your tastes in décor, the One is available in either black or white.

The One operates in mono with two speakers. The non-removable grille protects a woofer topped with a tweeter. On top three touch-sensitive keys control volume, start and stop playback, the same as on almost all Sonos products. The One with assistants has an additional key with a microphone icon, used to deactivate listening.

One area where the Sonos One is less strong is in connectivity. There is only one port connecting the speaker to the wired Ethernet network. There are no auxiliary audio inputs such as mini-jack or optical, and no USB playback port, let alone Bluetooth. The Sonos One is solely geared to play music files from the network and nothing else – which works perfectly well with your Qobuz subscription.

Operating the Sonos One

Simply put, the Sonos mobile app isn’t for everyone. However, in our experience, this is one of the very best for controlling and setting up a smart speaker system. The steps required for installation are clearly illustrated and explained. It’s impossible to get lost unless you have other issues beyond the speaker, such as a weak WiFi or wired network.

The Sonos system allows you to connect multi-room speakers to spread the music throughout your house. The application allows you to navigate between rooms and even groupings of zones. It offers CD and 24 bit/48 kHz streaming access to Qobuz, which is fully integrated, offering the rare pleasure of editing Qobuz playlists directly in the Sonos app. You can also create local playlists within the Sonos system using tracks from Qobuz.

The One also features Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The two cannot be activated simultaneously; you have to choose one or the other to control the music, ask questions or control the functions of your smart home. AirPlay 2 connectivity allow the One and One SL to integrate into the world of Apple to send music or insert it into a HomeKit system voice-controlled by Siri.

Listening session: one Sonos One

We kicked off the listening session with the Sonos One alone. In this context, it works in mono outputting the right and left channels mixed. You can adjust the level of bass, treble, balance and loudness. The latter is active by default, offering a warm, full sound in the bass from the get-go. In most cases, you can keep the loudness active because it was well-conceived by Sonos, taking into account the technical capabilities of the speakers. By deactivating it, you lose the charm of this device as it contributes to the feeling of being in front of a much larger speaker. However, you’d do well to activate the Trueplay automatic tuning calibration, using an iPhone. After a few minutes of tuning procedures, the sound is transformed: sharper, finer, leaner, freed from the sometimes heavy drag that comes with this loudness.

On Poté’s electronica album A Tenuous Tale of Her, the omnipresent very dry bass is faithfully reproduced at a normal sound level. You have to push it really hard to start hearing any distortion because, even at a sustained level, the speakers are perfectly controlled. Obviously, with a more intimate recording like La Javanaise on the latest covers album by André Manoukian, the piano seems small and limited by the volume of the One. But when Melody Gardot’s voice emerges, it’s effectively separated from the instrument, with a real roundness and presence, as if projected outside the enclosure.

Listening session: two Sonos Ones in a stereo pair

We went on to pair a One SL with the original Sonos One, installing them in HiFi configuration instead of our usual speakers, and then started the Trueplay calibration procedure again. This is required every time a speaker is moved. After calibration, the soundstage is more precise, with Trueplay refining the separation with cohesive low frequencies between the two Ones.

Overall, the soundstage created by this pair of speakers is very close to what you can get with a classic HiFi set. On the track Photograph by Stacy Kent from the album I Know I Dream, the vocals are perfectly centred while the instruments fill the space horizontally between the two Ones. You can easily isolate each of them. Billy F. Gibbons stepped away from ZZ Top to release the solo album Hardware. This is the heavy, gritty, detailed classic rock that we know and love. The drums hit dead-centre bullseye while the guitars are flushed to either side of the soundstage to create a cohesive whole, where the bass never crumbles and the highs remain smooth and present.

Listening session: two Sonos Ones accompanied by the Sonos Sub

Finally, we added the Sonos Sub. This wireless device, exclusively available in the Sonos environment, features two subwoofers facing each other to cancel out standing waves. The bass is sharper and the subwoofer doesn’t vibrate. Like the One, the Sub is available in white or black. We re-launched the Trueplay calibration, and the difference pre- and post- calibration was once again quite obvious. The cabinet level is levelled to perfectly match the speakers.

We went straight for a track we know has excess low frequencies: Submarine by L’Impératrice. The bass is centred and elevated, seeming to emanate from the stage and not from the subwoofer, at a reasonable listening level. The Sonos Sub provides what was lacking down in the bottom to turn the One into a big virtual speaker. It’s quite successful overall, although we did note a rise in the high-mid/high frequencies reinforcing the loudness signature. Feel free to play with the tone settings. This configuration is well suited to large rooms and all styles of music. A Night in the Tropics by Gottschalk, conducted by Gary Hammond, fills the room with a pleasant sonic presence. The subwoofer offers effortless support without doing too much. Even if instruments aren’t as precisely isolated as you’d hear with a traditional HiFi system, listening to classical music with the fully wireless Sonos system will satisfy the vast majority of listeners.

Pros:
Charming sound signature
Power handling
2.1 setup rivals a HiFi system
Ease of operation
Quality manufacturing

Cons:
No auxiliary audio input

Conclusion

After listening to the One in its various configurations for several days, it's easy to see why Sonos enjoys such a great reputation. It can’t be trumped in terms of build quality, ease of use and the sound it delivers. Sonos has managed to give it an acoustic signature to appeal to the widest audience and adapt to all musical genres. In the final analysis, the One delivers on its promises, flexibly responsive to all needs and all budgets. You can start simply with a single One and then develop your installation little by little. For the most demanding listener, the configuration involving two speakers and the subwoofer is an excellent alternative that can permanently replace a HiFi system without requiring much space and cabling, since everything is wireless.