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Sonos Move review: Hefty portable speaker brings big Sonos sound to the outdoors

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When you first encounter the Move, Sonos' first portable speaker, be prepared for something big. At 9.44 inches tall and 6.6 pounds (3 kg), it's significantly larger than the Sonos One and also costs about twice as much at $400 (£399, AU$649). When most people think portable, they think small, but the Move has some serious heft. At first blush it looks almost too nice to be an outdoor speaker.

The Good

A solid portable speaker for an existing Sonos system. Sturdy, water-resistant, dustproof and voice-enabled (on a Wi-Fi network) with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Up to 10 hours of playback. Autotuning system calibrates to any environment. The battery is replaceable.

The Bad

Somewhat expensive, the Move is big and hefty for a portable speaker. Battery life can be adversely impacted by how you use it.

The Bottom Line

If you can live with its price and size, the Sonos Move is an excellent portable wireless speaker that expands the play area of your Sonos system.

But an indoor-outdoor speaker it is, complete with a built-in rechargeable battery that's good for 900 charges or roughly 3 years and is replaceable. It's Wi-Fi-enabled and can be linked to other Sonos speakers in your home system -- Sonos says the Move has the best Wi-Fi connectivity of any of its speakers to date. It also has Bluetooth, so you can take it out of range of your Wi-Fi network and stream directly from your phone or any Bluetooth-enabled audio device.

An integrated handle on the back lets you tote the Move around the house, out to the patio or even to the beach. With the speaker's IP56 rating, Sonos says the Move's "tough durable exterior will withstand falls, bumps, rain and moisture, dust and dirt, UV and extreme temperatures." We didn't expose it to those kinds of harsh conditions during my four days of testing, but it does seem sturdy. Its special "shadow black" finish supposedly prevents it from overheating in the sun. It sounds counterintuitive that a darker finish would prevent overheating, but according to Sonos, this particular black does.

While the speaker is dustproof, we noticed that when carrying it around, dirt and other particles found their way into the fine mesh metal grille surrounding the speaker. We had to use a dust blower to get them out, but at least they didn't end up inside the speaker. 

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The Move towers over the One.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bigger sound too

Since the Move is larger than the Sonos One it's not surprising that it plays about 25% louder and produces bigger sound with more robust bass, though it doesn't play as loud as the Sonos Play: 5. That said, the One is arguably slightly more revealing and agile than the Move -- indoors anyway. 

The Move comes across as a smooth, warm speaker that's pleasant to listen to with a wide variety of music genres. The low-end difference was most obvious with dramatic tracks like Lizzo's Cuz I Love You, for example. The big-band vamps that punctuate the end of each chorus had more authority and heft on the Move compared to the One.   

Portable Sonos Move goes indoors and outdoors

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With other genres, including rock, the One offered a more exciting sound. With Mclusky's She Will Only Bring You Happiness, for example, the One better enunciated Andy Falkous' bitterly funny lyrics and induced more toe tapping despite the speaker's relative lack of bass. And even though the Move was able to go louder, this song was easier to listen to at maximum volume on the One than the Move.

The Move is designed for outdoor use, so its bigger sound (and bass) is going to play better than the One in an open environment where there are no walls to reflect the sound. Its sound isn't big enough to power an outdoor dance party, but it will capably fill a patio with music.

You can use two Moves to create a stereo pair. While that's not an economical proposition at $800, pairing was easy and they performed well as a duo. There wasn't quite a precise stereo image, but we could tell where the left and right shaker egg were in Dead Can Dance's Yulunga Spirit Dance. And no, you can't stereo pair another Sonos speaker with the Move.

Self-calibration

The Move can be calibrated for different environments using Sonos' new Trueplay tuning technology, which allows the speaker to tune itself based on the environment it's in, whether that's a small or large room or a picnic table in the middle of a field. With Sonos' earlier tuning feature, you had to wave your iOS device around the room while the speaker sent out test tones. The new autotuning feature has the speaker do all the work.  

I'm still in the process of testing battery life, but in our initial test streaming Radio Paradise over Wi-Fi at moderate volume levels we netted a so-so 5.5 hours of playing time. Sonos says you can get up to 10 hours, but "battery life can be impacted by a number of factors, including pausing, volume level, heat exposure, voice control and whether you're connected to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth." 

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The Move in its dock.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker comes with a charging dock and also has a USB-C port for charging on the go. Like other voice-enabled Sonos devices, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are built in -- you can choose one or the other -- but they only work when the speaker is connected to Wi-Fi and not in Bluetooth mode. Alas, even though the speaker has a four far-field microphone array to respond to your voice commands, it can't be used as speakerphone when in Bluetooth mode. 

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to compare the Move to what would be its biggest competitor: The Bose Portable Home Speaker, which ships on Sept. 19 and costs $349 (£370, AU$500). I'm supposed to get that speaker in for testing soon and will add my impressions as soon as we get chance to pit it against the Sonos. 

WE did listen to another Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakerSony's SRS-XB501G, which retails for $300 and is a generally appealing portable speaker (it too has a handle) that puts out a lot of sound for its modest size. The Sony has an upfront sound with punchy bass that suits its tailgating aesthetic, but the Sonos Move is more suited to a longer-term listening session. For instance, Amy Winehouse's Back to Black sounded refined and warm on the Sonos while Sony treated the sound with a little more harshness.   

Ultimately, there are few products like the Sonos Move. The market is saturated with cheap Bluetooth speakers, but higher-end portable multiroom audio speakers with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are a rare breed. JBL's Link 10 and Link 20 are smaller and more portable -- and sound good for their compact size -- but they're not in the same class as the Move. 

If you were hoping Sonos would create a $250 portable version of the Sonos One (the "Portable One"), you may be disappointed that the Move is so large and expensive. But if you can stomach the price tag, the Move is a well-designed speaker with excellent sound for its size that should please Sonos fans looking for something to take around the house or into the backyard. Now Sonos just has to make a white version for those who aren't so keen on black.    

Sonos Move key specs

  • Dimensions (height/width/depth): 9.44 by 6.29 by 4.96 inches (240 by 160 by 126 mm)
  • Weight: 6.61 pounds (3 kg) including battery
  • One downward-firing tweeter and one mid woofer for midrange vocals and bass
  • Four far-field microphone array (is voice-enabled for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants)
  • IP56 rated for protection from dust particles and water spray
  • Capacitive touch controls for volume, track selection, play/pause and microphone status
  • TruePlay tuning (automatic tuning according to placement in any environment)
  • LED light indicates speaker status, microphone status, and voice feedback
  • Complete privacy mode (microphone off)
  • LED light lets you know when the microphone is active
  • USB-C charging
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming (Bluetooth 4.2)
  • Codec support over Bluetooth: SBC and AAC
  • Works with AirPlay 2 on Apple devices iOS 11.4 and later
  • Battery life: Up to 10 hours at moderate volume levels
  • Built to withstand accidental falls, bumps, rain and moisture, dust, UV rays and extreme temperatures
  • Playback from -10 degrees Celsius to 55 C, charging from 0 C to 45 C
  • Price: $399, £399, AU$649
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8.0

Sonos Move

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Sound 8Value 7