Sonos Sub Mini Review: Solid for Music, Not as Good for Home Theater
The Sonos Sub Mini is an incremental upgrade that is best suited to users of the Arc.
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.
Sonos has been dipping its toes in more-affordable waters for the past few years, and this has paid off with products like the Sonos Roam and the Ikea collaboration, Symfonisk. While it's a stretch to call the new Sonos Sub Mini "affordable" at $429, it's certainly more wallet-friendly than the existing $749 Sonos Sub or the competing $499 Bose Bass Module 500.
The strange thing I found when testing the Sub Mini is that it actually makes the most sense to people who already own the company's most expensive product, the Sonos Arc. Sure, it also adds bass to the company's entry-level speakers (Beam, Ray, One), but the sub achieves true "synergy" when paired with the company's top-of-the-range soundbar.
For other Sonos ecosystem owners, the benefit is murkier. The original Sonos Sub audibly outperforms the Mini when paired with a Beam, for example. The Sub is not just bigger but it sounds bigger, and the Mini lacks the authority its big brother affords -- especially with movie soundtracks. The Sub is a better performer overall, but if you have an Arc and want to save money on an upgrade, get the Sub Mini.
What is it?
The Sonos Sub Mini is a compact wireless subwoofer designed exclusively for use with the Sonos multi-room streaming system. At a $300-ish discount from the existing Sonos Sub, it offers a much smaller cabinet measuring a foot tall and 9 inches in diameter. The Mini has a cut-out oval in the middle, which harkens back to the original Sub.
I had two Sub Minis sent to me, and neither made me confident of the unit's build quality. The first one had a loose top which could be partly removed to expose a couple of plastic clips. The second one was intact, but there was still some flex when pushing on the cabinet. These issues are not something I'm used to with a Sonos product. The original Sub feels bulletproof, and even the relatively inexpensive Sonos One is more solidly constructed than the Minis I received.
The Sub Mini includes dual 6-inch woofers -- which are circular in shape, unlike the racetrack drivers of its predecessor -- and these oppose each other to stop the unit moving around on the floor. Sonos says both subwoofers offer similar extension, though, at a claimed 25Hz.
The Sub Mini pairs with supported Sonos speakers, including products such as the old Playbase and Playbar. If you include it with newer S2 equipment you can use features such as Sonos Voice, plus the dozens of supported music services.
While Sonos systems can support two Subs on one speaker they cannot currently support two Sub Minis.
How does the Sonos Sub Mini sound?
When I reviewed the original Sub I found that it made everything instantly sound better -- and that was in the days before the company even had soundbars. The Sub Mini isn't quite like that. Certainly it adds substance to music, but it lacked the extra home cinema oomph I was hoping for. The original Sub does perform better in most instances, as expected given its higher price.
I started by testing the Sub Mini with the logical partner for this product -- the similarly priced Beam Gen 2. For its size the Beam is already capable of fairly punchy bass, so I was interested to see what the Sub Mini could deliver.
If you're a music fan then the Sub Mini is able to add a palpable impact to your favorite tunes, especially for rock or rap. The Mini provided some extra slam behind the bass drum on Talking Heads' I Get Wild -- seemingly pushing Chris Frantz's right foot a little harder each time. The same happened for Dead Can Dance's Yulunga (Spirit Dance), where it was able to imbue the otherworldly song with even more gravitas and compared very well against the Sub.
When it comes to long notes or when there's complicated bass parts, though, the Sub Mini begins to lose out to the more talented Sub. For instance, Life by the Beta Band features an extended outro of a deep, descending bass, and the Beam is already able to make those tones audible. While the Sub Mini added depth to this progression, it also made the bass a little more sluggish, especially at the lowest end. When played with the Beam and Sub in combination, those notes were kept in control and at a consistent volume -- a difficult task for almost any system!
The Sub Mini was less able to capture the feel of a home theater, which was evident with the demanding soundtrack of Avatar. In the Thanator chase scene the thumps of the large animals were weaker on the Sub Mini compared to via the Sub, and the scene lacked the excitement I'd heard -- even when the Sub Mini wasn't connected at all.
But it was with the Arc where the balance was just right: the combo of the Arc and Sub Mini added punch to the opening scene of Mad Max, for instance. From the roar of the Charger to the explosions that end the opening scene, the two components offered a satisfying marriage. I felt that the blend is better with the Arc because it can reach down to better complement the Mini.
Depending on which soundbar you have, you may need to adjust the levels a bit. With the Ray, for example, it needed a -4 setting, which was the most of all of them. That said, the Sub Mini makes the least sense with this speaker. The Ray is one of the most revealing speakers in Sonos' range and adding bass to it actually reduced its impact a little.
Should you buy the Sonos Sub Mini?
If you want to supplement music on a pair of Ones or a Beam, then go for it -- the Sub Mini adds oomph to most music. Don't expect it to add the ultimate in home theater bombast, especially when paired with a Beam or Ray. In most instances it's better saving for the Sub, which is a better product in every way.
The only exception is if you already have an Arc and want to save a little money on a sub. Grab an Arc, a Sub Mini and a pair of Symfonisk, and you have an excellent Dolby Atmos system for under $1,500.