Sonos Era 300 Review: Great, Room-Filling Sound in a Compact Speaker
The Sonos Era 300 is a great-sounding Dolby Atmos speaker, but it faces a lot of competition from the cheaper Amazon Echo Studio.
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.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
The era of spatial audio is here: From streaming shows to streaming music, there is a plethora of content out there mixed in 360-degree sound. But don't pick up a laptop or a natty pair of AirPods to enjoy it. The Sonos Era 300 is one of a new breed of speakers designed to make the most of spatial music -- for those mixes which add the dimension of height -- and do it in a compact, desktop format.
The $249 Era 100 is a slam-dunk recommendation -- being an evolution of the already-great One speaker, but the Era 300 isn't quite an upgrade to the excellent-but-discontinued Play:3. Firstly, the Era 300 is a little more quirky and this starts with its striking knucklebone design. Yes, its flared ridge at the back does have a real purpose: this is a Dolby Atmos speaker with dedicated height drivers. I imagine the elevator pitch for the Era 300 went something like, "It's the Sonos Arc in a desktop speaker but for music!"
Does Dolby Atmos for music even have a future? Speakers like the Sonos Era 300 and services like Apple Music can certainly make it sound good. And if you want room-filling music -- either of the stereo or multichannel kind -- then the Era 300 is able to offer more sophisticated sound quality than competitors like the Echo Studio. If you're looking for an upgrade from the Sonos One, with bigger, better audio, then the Era 300 is an excellent buy.
What is it?
It's been a while since the company has had a speaker to fill the gap between the diminutive One and the boombox-like Five. The Sonos Era 300 is an evolution of the type of system Amazon introduced several years ago with the Echo Studio -- a spatial audio smart speaker. It offers a host of different connections including Bluetooth (which has been a much-requested feature) and an optional 3.5mm input, plus compatibility with one of the best multi-room systems, Sonos.
The Era 300's driver configuration is a little unusual. If I was to use Dolby parlance then this is a "3.0.1 array," which includes an angled, stereo pair of a woofer and a tweeter; a forward-facing middle tweeter for a "smooth central image;" and a single, ceiling-firing tweeter.
Like the Era 100, the Era 300 features an onboard microphone that is used for both voice assistance (Amazon Alexa and Sonos Voice Control but sadly no Google Assistant) and for calibration. Unlike other Sonos models, the two Eras enable you to calibrate on-device for a "quick tune," or you can still walk around the room holding an iOS device for an "advanced tune."
Watch this: Top 5 Sonos Speakers for the Home
As with the Era 100, users can add 3.5mm line-in capabilities with the purchase of the $19 Sonos Line-In Adapter or add both line-in and Ethernet with the $39 Sonos Combo Adapter. If you do have Wi-Fi problems in your living space, I was able to use a generic USB-C-to-Ethernet adapter for networking. Though I found I needed to try two -- and the smaller the adapter, the better.
The 300 will also work well as part of a home theater system. Sonos envisages users adding two of these to partner with a Sonos Arc. Although I wish such a system would let you get away with a single unit as a rear. By comparison, the Echo Studio is able to connect to Fire TV devices in "home theater" mode and act as a soundbar replacement.
The Sonos ecosystem enables in-app control from over 100 streaming services including Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Audible and Qobuz. In 2020, Sonos split its range into two halves: legacy components would become known as S1, while systems made up of new models such as the Sonos Beam and Arc became part of S2. The Era 100 and Era 300 are part of S2 also and make use of the newer ecosystem's bandwidth and Dolby Atmos capability. You can mix and match S1 and S2 components, but the system will be limited to S1 functionality.
New to the Sonos S2 app is an advanced search that lets you search for any term without having to choose "album" or "artist" first. It's a good first step, but it didn't always find what I was looking for, and I found native search through individual apps such as Spotify to be more powerful.
I compared the Sono Era 300 against the $449 Bluesound Pulse M and the $199 Dolby Atmos-capable Amazon Echo Studio. I listened to a mix of stereo music and spatial tunes, and the Era 300 proved to be more than a one-trick Atmos pony -- it's a capable desktop speaker for "simple" stereo sound as well.
I began my tests with the Bluesound Pulse M -- a recent compact speaker from the audiophile brand -- and one which is capable of projecting a signal wide across the room. With the tender confessional of Grand Salvo's Field of Flowers, I found the Era 300's sound was more expansive, more room-filling than the Pulse M. Bluesound is affiliated with PSB and NAD and the combined sonic skills of these companies made it seem like lead singer Paddy Mann was sharing a secret. Though the song doesn't have much in the way of deep bass, it was pleasingly warmer on the Pulse M than the Sonos.
Switching to something more party-ready, yet still in stereo, I played the title track of the excellent Cracker Island album by Gorillaz. Here is where the Sonos was able to pull a couple of car lengths ahead of the Bluesound. The Bluesound was a little light in the bass and it got a little harsh when pushed at volume. By comparison, Sonos could go loud and keep bass in check -- even through its most noodly parts.
Up against Echo
As the second Atmos speaker on the market, the Sonos Era 300 faces a lot of competition from the first -- the Amazon Echo Studio. I wanted to know which of the two offered the better deal, especially as the Echo Studio is less than half the price of the Sonos.
Whether it was stereo tunes or way-out Atmos remixes, the Sonos Era 300 offered a more refined sound than the Echo Studio. With a spatial mix of that old audiophile standard, Money by Pink Floyd, I found that the song sounded like a fairground ride on the Studio. The cash register ka-ching came from over my head and the chatter of money-counting machines vibrated at my right. But once the solos came in, an edginess appeared. The sound of both the guitar and saxophone were a little abrasive and hard to listen to. By contrast, the song was more contained and enjoyable on the Sonos, which offered a deep bassline yet still had wraparound sound.
For something different, I listened to the anthemic Lupus by Augie March and found that the stereo song sounded best on the Sonos Era 300. Glenn Richards' voice was crisp without being steely and there was a decent stereo image. On the Echo, the song was a little too contained and even a little stunted, dynamically constrained.
For 80% of the sound and 50% of the cost for the Echo Studio, it's up to you which you prefer soundwise, but the Echo is still an unbeatable value.
Should you buy it?
As with any large, expensive tabletop speaker, it's hard to say who the Sonos Era 300 is aimed at. It's a little expensive for a bedroom system, and it's not able to be hooked up to a home theater without even greater expense. Or maybe you've been checking off all the features -- Dolby Atmos, multiroom, Bluetooth, voice assistant -- and nodding along. If so, then this speaker is the best there is at doing all of that.
In terms of Sonos' range of speakers, this is undoubtedly the best-sounding speaker for the money after the Sonos Era 100. If you want to buy a Sonos for a desktop and don't want to shell out $600 for the Five, then the Era 300 is a great option. No product exists in a vacuum though, and if it wasn't for the cheaper and almost-as-good Amazon Echo Studio, the Era 300 would be the Atmos speaker to get.