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Sonos One review: Alexa and Google Assistant never sounded so good

With great sound, a compact size and the option of either Google Assistant or Alexa, the Sonos One reaffirms its place as the best smart speaker for the money.

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Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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Since it debuted in late 2017, the Sonos One has been my favorite smart speaker overall. It costs more than the Amazon Echos and Google Homes of the world, but it's still relatively affordable and sounds much better. The first smart speaker designed with music in mind, the One still rocks the socks off any competitor in its price range.

Sonos One
8.7

Sonos One

The Good

The Sonos One integrates both Alexa and Google Assistant voice control, with better sound quality than any smart speaker at its price. It offers smart home controls from both systems and its far-field microphone performs well. The Sonos One works seamlessly with Sonos multiroom system and can pair with a second One for stereo sound. It also supports Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.

The Bad

The One costs twice as much as an Amazon Echo. You can't switch between the Assistant and Alexa on the fly, and need to run setup again. It doesn't work well if you have an Echo within earshot. There's no Bluetooth.

The Bottom Line

With excellent sound and the choice of Alexa or Google Assistant, the Sonos One reaffirms its place as the best smart speaker for the money.

The One debuted with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant on-board, and in 2019 Sonos finally delivered on the promise of adding Google Assistant, too. The ability to choose between the two major voice systems further ups the One's appeal, especially to Google households. 

Despite some teething problems and a slight lag when requesting songs, voice integration on Sonos works very well. And its flexibility extends beyond voice, offering compatibility with many standards, including Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect as well as the company's own superb whole-home audio system.

You can find better-sounding smart speakers, including the Apple HomePod and the Google Home Max, but both cost more and lack the One's universal appeal. The One is also half the price of the Sonos Beam sound bar, which also offers dual voice assistants. So does the the Bose Home series, whose entry-level 300 model could pose a threat to the One (look for a review soon). The smart speaker competition is just getting warmed up.

In the meantime the Sonos One offers the best combination of versatility, sound quality and affordability in any speaker you can buy, period.

Editors' note, May 30, 2019: This review was conducted on the Gen 1 Sonos One, but a Gen 2 version is now available. According to Sonos the new version has an updated processor and more memory, but is otherwise identical. We haven't tested the new version, but we expect sound quality to be the same.

Sonos One
Sarah Tew/CNET

Choose your partner: Alexa or Google Assistant

Just like the Sonos Beam, the One doesn't let you choose between the assistants on the fly. In other words, the speaker won't respond to an "Alexa" command first and then a "Hey, Google" command immediately afterward. To change between the two you will need to run setup again.

In testing both voice assistants, I found that results were almost instantaneous when asking for the time or a weather report, but requesting a song was relatively slow. Whether I was using Alexa or Google it consistently took five seconds for the speaker to acknowledge the request before playing it. By comparison the Klipsch The Three took three seconds.

There were was one minor issue when initiating radio on Alexa (which defaults to Amazon Music): I couldn't transfer the music to a Sonos Google speaker since it doesn't support Amazon. Sonos may talk to both services via the app, but Amazon and Google are still on uneasy terms when it comes to their voice assistants.

Four things Amazon Echo and Google Home can do that Sonos One can't (yet)

The Sonos One behaves pretty much exactly like an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker -- including features like Continued Conversation -- but it lacks a few of the capabilities of those speakers. Here's a rundown.

  • Alexa Calling/Google Assistant Calls: Echo speakers can call other Echos and most phones within Northern America for free. Likewise Google Assistant can also make voice assisted calls. Unfortunately, Sonos One is not able to do this.
  • Voice match: Users can train the Google Assistant to recognize their individual voice which helps for setting alarms and organizing calendars, but Sonos can't yet.

  • Routines: Routines are a set of tasks that Google Assistant can perform with a single voice command -- for example "Hey Google I'm Leaving" can turn off all of your lights and the TV. Other functions that Sonos can't yet perform but Google Assistant can include purchases and interpreter mode.

  • Zigbee: The Amazon Echo Plus allows for users with Philips smart bulbs and other Zigbee-based devices to operate without the need for an external hub. Of course Sonos can control all of the smart home devices that a standard Echo or Dot speaker can.

Compact design, expansive services

Sonos One
Sarah Tew/CNET

Sonos speakers have been around for 15 years and we've liked pretty much all of them. The One looks almost exactly like the Play:1, and retains the same dimensions: shorter and wider than the tall, slim original Echo. Sonos' top panel has a completely flush surface with a cluster of touch-sensitive buttons, lights and a dotted ring. Above the central light is a "mic" button that lets you mute the onboard microphone array of that dotted ring.

Just like the Play:1, the Sonos One is available in white or black (pictured, though the black color scheme is different than that of the Play:1). If you're an existing Play:1 owner, it's worth noting that you cannot form a stereo pair with a One. It's either two Play:1s or two Ones.

Sonos One

The Play:1 (left, in white) and the One.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The dedicated Sonos app incorporates dozens of streaming music services, from Spotify to iHeartMusic to Google Play Music. It enables you to use the speaker in a whole-home, multiroom Sonos setup, as part of stereo pair or as rear speakers for a Playbar or Playbase. The multiroom capabilities of the Google Home and Chromecast Audio come close, but Sonos is still the king of whole-home audio.

The app's ability to add "favorites" to the first screen is nice but too many common controls, such as adding new streaming services or adjusting the EQ, are hidden behind the "..." button. Otherwise, setup of the One is pretty streamlined, and adding Alexa to your account is performed automatically. Be aware that it virtually forces you to do a TruePlay setup when you install it, which involves waving your phone around the room for 60 seconds. Also, you may want to check the EQ as by default the Loudness control is set to "On", and I found it sounded better with it off.

Sonos One
Sarah Tew/CNET

Voice performance: Very good

Sonos One
Sarah Tew/CNET

While some companies may be tempted to slot Amazon's mic array into their products, Sonos struck out on its own to create its own system. It works very well with both Alexa and Google Assistant. Any issues I found are mostly in the cloud and not the speaker -- Google Assistant via Sonos is still better at understanding my Australian accent than Alexa.

There are times when I needed to shout at Alexa, or get closer, and this is something that other longtime Alexa users have said occurs with their own Echo speaker. So, no better or worse it seems.

If you're used to dinky little speakers like the Home Mini or the Echo Dot one striking thing about using an assistant through the Sonos is the quality of their voices. They longer sound like they're coming through a telephone receiver, instead more resembling an actual human voice, which makes intelligibility a little easier, too.

Sonos vs. Echo vs. Google Home

In a shootout with the $99 Google Home and the original Amazon Echo, the Sonos One excelled. I tested them with several different tracks, starting with Talking Heads' haunting "Listening Wind." Compared to the Sonos One, the Google Home seemed distant and clock radio-like. It couldn't conjure up the same impact as the One, and this song doesn't even impart that much bass energy. 

The same went for the Amazon Echo, which just sounded immaterial with this song. Things improved with The Cure's "Friday I'm in Love" (I was on an '80s jag), as the Echo has a slight bass push that helped propel the song along. Still, I wouldn't choose to listen to music on the Echo if I had almost anything else available. Even the $35 Creative Oontz Angle 3 speaker sounds better.

Sonos One

The Sonos One sounds better than the original Echo. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

More comparisons and a stereo option

Don't get me wrong: The audio quality of the Sonos One can't compete with larger speakers like the Klipsch The Three or even the Google Home Max. The main problem is the small footprint -- speakers like the Sonos One just can't move enough air to make music sound as impressive as larger speakers.

Like its competitors, the One is best for background listening. Put on your favorite rock or "cafe-style" playlist when you want to host a dinner party or simply potter around.

The overall sound of the One isn't especially detailed compared to something like the JBL Playlist, and at its default settings with Loudness "On" it has a very warm tone. In my opinion that's the right decision for a small speaker. I've tried to critically listen to small, detail-oriented speakers such as the Riva Arena or Denon Heos 1 and I've ended up wanting more oomph. 

Sonos One

Pair two Sonos Ones for an excellent compact voice-controlled stereo system.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like other speakers of its kind, the Sonos One is a mono design, but as expected the sound got much better when I paired it with a second One. The Duran Duran live album "Arena" conjured up an impressive soundstage that wasn't apparent with a single speaker. Bass was surprisingly deep and the occasionally-challenging keyboard stings were held in check. Sonos' stereo mode works a lot better now than it used to, with none of the phasing effects of the past. If I was given the choice of buying a single Sonos Beam or two Ones, it'd be close. The Beam is great for home theater with its HDMI port but it's not so great at music. If you want to do home listening only then a pair of Ones is a superior choice.

The best-sounding smart speaker -- still

The Sonos One lives up to the company's reputation for excellent sound quality in a compact speaker, and the addition of Google Assistant voice changes the game completely. It was a good speaker previously when it only offered Amazon Alexa but now smart home enthusiasts have a real, excellent-sounding choice. If you're OK with the sound of an Echo or Google Home, it may not be worth the investment, but for people who want to hear their music shine, the Sonos One offers outstanding performance for your money.

Sonos One
8.7

Sonos One

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Sound quality 8