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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Which Sonos Speakers Should You Buy?

Here at WIRED, we like Sonos speakers. We really do. Throughout the past decade, we’ve reviewed all of the company’s wirelessly connectable speakers, from its small shelf speakers to its TV soundbars, and we’ve recommended every one of them. But turning your home into a Sonos-powered shrine to sound isn’t cheap. Like Apple products, Sonos speakers sell at a premium, starting at $120 for a basic model. But which ones should you buy? Read on for our recommendations.

Updated September 2023: We've added our impressions of the Symfonisk Speaker Lamp (2nd Gen) and the Victrola Onyx turntable. We also fixed pricing and retailers.

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Best Overall Sonos Speaker

Sonos Era 100$249 at Amazon$249 at Sonos$249 at Best Buy

The Sonos Era 100 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) replaces the Sonos One (Gen 2) as our favorite Sonos speaker, particularly for its improved sound and features. It’s the same shape and size as the Sonos One, and it has a similarly sleek design, which means it easily blends into most spaces. The speaker now comes equipped with a volume slider (a reportedly highly-requested feature by many users) and a play-pause button so you don’t have to take your phone out whenever you want to control it. It has a USB-C input as well, along with a switch on the back of the speaker to manually disable the built-in microphone for privacy.

The Era 100 has larger woofers and angled tweeters that create real stereo sound, along with a faster processor that allows the speaker to receive software updates for longer. WIRED associate editor Parker Hall says the speaker sounds noticeably better than the two generations of Sonos One speaker that came before it. It packs a punchier, more defined bass, crisp definition, and room-filling sound. There’s also a room-tuning feature that adjusts the audio based on where you put it (but this works better on iOS devices). We’re also happy to see the addition of Bluetooth pairing, in addition to Wi-Fi, so you can stream audio without a Sonos account and also pair it with a Bluetooth turntable.

A mic-free alternative: Sonos One SL for $199

If you're looking for a less expensive speaker that's also free of microphones, the Sonos One SL is a solid alternative. You can only control it from your phone or the touch buttons on it (and you don't have to worry about someone listening in to your home). The SL is also a good way to add more satellite speakers to your home. 

Best Speakers to Fill Out a Room

Sonos and Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf Speaker (Gen 2)$140 at IkeaSonos and Ikea Symfonisk (Gen 2) Bookshelf Speaker

In 2022, Sonos reunited with Ikea to release a second-generation version of its bookshelf speaker. At $130, it's a bit pricier than its $99 predecessor, but it does come with a few upgrades, including an increase in memory and a faster processor. We have yet to test this model, but we did like the first-generation version. 

You can mount it right to your wall or stand it upright on a bookshelf or table. And if you want to network a few speakers together for a larger room, or connected rooms, this is the cheapest way to do it. It doesn't directly take audio commands, because it has no mic, so you'll need a Sonos One, Sonos Era 100, Google speaker, or Alexa speaker that you can yell at if you want to control it with your voice. Other than that, it does everything you'd want a Sonos to do.

Alternative: Symfonisk Speaker Lamp (2nd Gen) for $250

As with the first model, the second-generation Symfonisk Speaker Lamp has great sound, and it makes for a nice addition to any room. I keep it on the media console in my apartment. The lamp gets bright enough to light the living room, and I love using the speaker to listen to podcasts every morning. It also has a more modern and elevated look compared to its predecessor—with glass shades that come in both black and white. But it's a fingerprint magnet. I'd recommend the textile shade ($240) if that'll bother you. My only gripe is that it lacks a microphone, so you can't control it using voice commands. You can, however, connect it to an Amazon or Nest smart speaker to take advantage of the smart assistant support. If wall art is more your style, Ikea offers the Symfonisk Picture Frame with a built-in Sonos Wi-Fi Speaker for $260

Best Large Speaker 

Sonos Era 300$449 at Sonos$449 at Target$528 at Amazon

The Sonos Era 300 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) has a rather awkward and startling appearance (we think it looks like a robot's butt), but the sound quality makes up for it. Under the hood are six speaker drivers, four tweeters, and a couple of mid/bass drivers—all of which deliver detailed, big, and confident sound. The standout feature, however, is spatial audio. With sound that spreads in all directions and for a substantial distance without lacking definition, we think the Era 300 surpasses the Apple HomePod by a wide margin when filling rooms. It's worth noting that it supports Amazon and Apple's spatial audio catalog, but not Tidal's library of Dolby Atmos content.

As with the Era 100, the Era 300 has physical controls including a volume slider, play/pause, skip forward/backward, and voice-assistant interaction (with a choice between Amazon Alexa and Sonos Voice Control). In the back, you'll find a socket for power, a switch to mute the mics, a USB-C auxiliary input, and a button for Bluetooth pairing (which means you don't have to use the Sonos app to control it). If you opt for the Sonos companion app, you can adjust EQ, tune the speakers to your environment via the TruePlay feature, and pair other Sonos speakers together. 

Best Portable Speaker With Bluetooth

Sonos Roam$179 at Sonos$180 at Best Buy

The Sonos Roam (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is the company’s smallest and most portable speaker. With built-in Bluetooth connectivity (it's one of our favorite Bluetooth speakers), you can easily throw it into a tote bag and play music on the go. Using the Sonos app, available for Android and iPhone, you also have the ability to stream from major services like Spotify, Apple Music (with support for AirPlay 2), Tidal, and more. And you can control the speaker via voice commands using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

It may not offer audiophile-approved sound for its stature, but it's still fairly impressive. The dual-driver system, subwoofer, and tweeter work in tandem to provide a bold bass and clear highs—with zero distortion when the volume is cranked up. And with up to 10 hours of listening, it'll last you a full beach day—and then some.

★ Another Bluetooth alternative: Sonos Move for $399

The Sonos Move is a bigger portable speaker with better sound. It packs Bluetooth connectivity, 11 hours of battery life, and onboard microphones that adapt its sound to the environment, plus it's water-resistant. Can't decide between the Roam and Move? You can purchase both of them for $548 at Sonos.

Best Sonos Soundbar (for Most)

Sonos Beam (Gen 2)Sonos Soundbar with voice assistant$499 at Amazon$499 at Sonos$499 at Target$476 at Walmart

As with the original Beam (8/10, WIRED Recommends), the second-generation Beam delivers impressive sound and has a sleek design. In terms of upgrades, it has a faster processor, support for Dolby Atmos (with compatible TVs and streaming apps) for enhanced sound, and an HDMI eARC port for higher-definition audio. You'll also get hands-free Alexa and Google Assistant, and it works with Airplay 2. You can pair it with a Sonos Sub (an expensive subwoofer) and two other Sonos speakers for surround.

Sonos tweaked the design too, adding a polycarbonate grille to the front instead of a fabric cover as seen on the Gen 1 model. That's supposed to make it easier to blend in with your interior decor. It's $50 more than the previous model, which isn't that much more expensive than the already expensive soundbar. For non-Sonos alternatives, read our Best Soundbars guide.

★ A bass upgrade: Sub (Gen 3) for $799

The standard Sonos Sub will cost you $799 at Sonos. It's superb but expensive. If you’re working with a smaller space, the less costly Sonos Sub Mini is $430 at Best Buy. Don't bother buying surround speakers until you own a Sub, though. It will make a profound difference.

Best Small Soundbar 

Sonos Ray$279 at Sonos$280 at Best Buy$279 at B&H$279 at Adorama

If you have an apartment or a smaller room, or are just getting started in the soundbar department, the Sonos Ray (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is a solid option for you. The Ray comes in a compact frame, but don’t let that fool you. The soundbar produces clear, crisp sound that easily fills your space with zooms and booms, quiet conversations, and any other moments you wouldn’t want to miss in your favorite movies and shows. Plus, with adjustable settings in the Sonos app, you can configure your ideal listening experience for every song on your favorite album.

This small soundbar easily fits on entertainment centers and dressers, or you can mount it on your wall to free up as much precious space as possible.

Wanna take it to the next level? You can pair the Ray with the aforementioned Sonos Sub Mini to round out the sound in your room. The Sub Mini is wireless (aside from a power cord), so it connects seamlessly to your current system through the Sonos app.

Best for Big Home Theaters

Sonos Arc Soundbar$880 at Amazon$899 at Target$899 at Sonos

A soundbar can make all the difference in a home theater, and they cost a lot less than a full surround-sound setup. And if you're looking for one that's really powerful, the Sonos Arc (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is the way to go. It has full Dolby Atmos support, and in many rooms, it can bounce sound off your walls and ceiling well enough that it sounds like you have a surround setup.

With three tweeters and eight mid-woofers, it delivers deep bass and has more balance and depth than the Beam. It's also a lot longer, stretching 45 inches, or about the width of a 55-inch TV. Its design is elegant and understated in the usual Sonos way—you won't always notice the bar, but when you do, it's not an eyesore at all.

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If you plan to spend the extra money to buy the Arc, we highly recommend you get the Sonos Sub (3rd Gen) for $799. If that’s too much to take on right now, the Sonos Sub Mini for $429 will suffice. It's the second-best investment you can make to improve your home theater experience.

Best Sonos Surround Sound Setup

Sonos Premium Immersive Set$1,796 at Sonos

To enable surround sound with one of its soundbars, Sonos requires two rear speakers, one for the left and one for the right. You can use any two Sonos speakers, as long as they're identical. I’ve used two big Sonos Five speakers ($549) in the past, but it’s overkill. Two Sonos One SL speakers are a better match. They sound just as good.

This is one of the easiest wireless surround-sound systems to set up. Simply place the speakers you choose to the left and right of your couch, then open up the Sonos app, add a surround speaker, and follow the instructions while the software does the rest. They don’t add as much benefit as you get from a Beam and Sub combo ($1,298), but if you watch a lot of movies and want to hear things like TIE fighters flying over your head in Star Wars, you’ll like the extra surround.

For cheaper surround: You can also get a cheaper Sonos soundbar and subwoofer combo  ($1,233) and use two Sonos-made Ikea Symfonisk speakers, which also sound outstanding for this purpose.

For better surround: If your room and budget are large, the Sonos Arc Surround bundle costs $2,046 at Sonos. It's one of the best-sounding setups you can own.

A Sonos-Integrated Turntable

Victrola Stream Onyx$600 $540 at Amazon$600 at Victrola

This Stream Onyx (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is a little different than the rest of Victrola's offerings—it streams exclusively to Sonos speakers. It's super simple to use too. Simply plug in the power cable and you're all set to stream audio from the record player to your Sonos-compatible speaker.  It also packs an analog stereo RCA output—so you can use it like a traditional record player—and an Ethernet port to connect to your network. 

WIRED product reviewer Eric Ravenscraft paired it with the Sonoas Era 300 and said the sound quality was excellent. He says “The clicks, pops, and texture of playing a record came through just as clearly as they would from analog speakers.” His main gripe, however, was the insubstantial dust cover. Rather than a case that seals the platter in (which is found on most record players), the Onyx has a small plastic cap that leaves a lot of space between itself and the record player. This causes dust to slip in from the sides.

It's also tough to ignore the $600 price tag, which is a couple of hundred dollars more than comparable record players out there. We don't recommend purchasing the Onyx and Sonos speakers simultaneously. This is a solid turntable for those who already own a Sonos system and want to remain within that ecosystem. 

Sonos Accessories

Sonos has some accessories. The company has worked with Sanus on stands before, and it sells a shelf and stands for its smaller speakers. 

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Sonos Shelf for $59 at Sonos: This shelf is reversible, so you can place a Sonos One or One SL on the left or right. It has an indent so the speaker fits right in, and it hides the cord and directs it through the bottom. Be sure to check out the Sonos/Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf speaker before you buy. It's more affordable and can hook right to the wall and act as a shelf itself.

Two Sonos Floor Stands for $250 at Target: The official Sonos stands are a good option if you plan to use a pair of Sonos One or One SL speakers for surround sound but don't have adequate shelving near your couch.

Two Sanus Floor Stands for $110 at Amazon or Sonos for $120, or wall mounts for $70: These stands are an affordable option if you plan to use a pair of Sonos One or One SL speakers for surround sound but don't have adequate shelving. The wall mounts are also subtler, if that's something you're looking for.

Longer (or shorter) power cables at Sonos: Depending on your power outlet situation, you may need a longer cord.

Other accessories at Sonos: Sonos sells a variety of niche accessories that may help, depending on your setup.

What’s WIRED About Sonos Speakers

After flooding my home with every Sonos model you can buy (and filling all remaining space with the boxes of said speakers), then using them for a couple of years, we've come to value their audio fidelity and ability to seamlessly network together. Here are my favorite aspects of Sonos:

Simple setup: The Sonos app guides you through the process of starting a new system or adding speakers to an existing one. There isn’t another speaker system that lets you string together multiple speakers as easily or connect them to stream in different rooms of your home while keeping the audio perfectly in sync. The closest thing may be Google Assistant speakers, and Sonos connects to that system as well.

Easy streaming: The Sonos app supports almost every streaming service in existence, and many apps, like Spotify, let you stream to Sonos speakers within them. The Sonos ecosystem can also handle home-theater applications and can support a full surround-sound setup.

All major voice assistants: Unlike most "smart" speakers, Sonos speakers will connect to any one of the big three voice assistants: Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri via Apple Airplay 2. You have to choose one assistant at a time, but they're mostly fully functional, with the exception of some phone-call functionality through Alexa and playing white noise through Google.

They sound fantastic: Sonos speakers are all high-quality and deliver consistent, appealing sound. It’s easy to argue that Sonos hardware is too expensive, but it's difficult to fault the sound. Not every Sonos speaker is the same, but they have an elegant synergy and sound that no other speaker system seems to have. If you have a few speakers in a room, it’s hard to tell where the sound is coming from. The crystal-clear music engulfs you.

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Spotify voice controls: Spotify can be accessed using Alexa or Google Assistant voice control on the Sonos One and Sonos Beam. If you have one of these speakers, you can set Spotify as your default music service. Then, when you ask Alexa or Google Assistant to play something, it plays it directly from Spotify. (You can set any available music service as your default: Amazon, YouTube Music, and so on.)

What’s TIRED About Sonos Speakers

As amazing as Sonos speakers sound and as seamlessly as they connect together, they have some limitations, both in application and technology. We don’t think these are dealbreakers (yet), but you might.

You must use the Sonos app (mostly): Sonos has done an admirable job updating its speakers with new features through its app, but the app is still the only way to listen to some sources of music. Sonos is slowly freeing services from its app, allowing you to directly broadcast to any speaker within the normal Spotify, Tidal, Audible, and Pandora apps, for instance. For others, you’re stuck using the Sonos app, which functions fine but isn’t ideal.

You might need two apps: If you have Sonos speakers that are 10-plus years old, you may have to use a separate app to control them. This might be frustrating, though we should note that almost no other company making internet-connected devices supports legacy products for as long as Sonos.

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