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Sonos Roam First Impressions

Posted April 21, 2021 | Sonos | Sonos Roam | Windows


If there’s an obvious first impression of the Sonos Roam, and there is, it’s this: This thing is tiny, much smaller than I would have thought watching the virtual launch. It’s even small by Bluetooth speaker standards: Last year, I was eyeing a pair of JBL Charge 4 speakers that our favorite restaurant was using for a pandemic-era outdoor seating area, and those speakers are quite a bit bigger than the Sonos Roam.

Even the packaging is tiny

Of course, I ended up purchasing a Sonos Move speaker in late 2020 as a Christmas present for my wife, who, normally pragmatic and even a bit of cheapskate in most matters, is an adoring Sonos fan and had been asking for a way to bring the music out onto the back patio. Obviously, I understand her love of Sonos, but I am decidedly not a fan of being forced to listen to other people’s music when I’m outside enjoying good weather. And so my hope is that we don’t turn into those people. But Sonos had a great sale on Move, for the first time. And here we are.

There’s no power brick and I wish that burrito wrap was a legit storage bag I could keep using

Had the Sonos Roam existed then, I might have made a different choice: At $169, I could have purchased two Roams for just a few dollars more than the price of the single Sonos Move (at its sale price), and you can stereo pair the Roam when used over Wi-Fi. But if you’ll excuse the diversion, I’m glad we got the Move: That speaker, which is big, heavy, and loud, brings three important things to the Sonos ecosystem. It fills a much-needed slot between the Sonos Five and Sonos One, from sound quality and size perspectives. It was the first Sonos speaker to support Bluetooth in addition to Wi-Fi. And it was the first Sonos speaker to offer automatic TruePlay tuning.

The Roam is now Sonos’s smallest speaker, and it’s much smaller than Sonos:One

That latter skill is particularly important because other Sonos speakers only support manual TruePlay tuning, which optimizes the speaker’s sound for the space in which it is located. And that capability requires an iPhone; if you have an Android smartphone, you can’t tune your speakers with TruePlay. Why? Because there is too big a variety in Android microphones and speakers, and manual TruePlay tuning requires you to walk around the room the speaker is in, wildly waving your smartphone in circles in the air as the speaker(s) pulse an annoying sound. Put simply, automatic TruePlay is important because it finally makes Sonos a first-class citizen for Android users. At least on the speakers that support it.

Size comparison: Sonos Roam (front) and Sonos Move

The Roam is the second Sonos speaker to support automatic TruePlay tuning, just as it’s the second Sonos speaker to support Bluetooth in addition to Wi-Fi. But the Roam goes a step further than the Move in this regard by supporting automatic TruePlay tuning with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. This means that the sound output will be optimized not just no matter where you but no matter how you’re connected to the speaker, and in either vertical or horizontal orientation.  (And Roam, like Move and other recent Sonos speakers also supports AirPlay 2 for those of you in the Apple ecosystem. And it supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control fans.)

Given its tiny size, the Roam is in a different class all-together than the Move, which is portable, but not the type of thing one would ever travel with. So where Move users will typically, um, move the speaker around the house and perhaps bring it into the yard as I envision doing so, the Roam has a broader set of possible use cases. It would be easy to toss this thing in a backpack or bag and bring it to the beach (it offers IP67 water resistance and can be submersed in up to three feet of water for up to 30 minutes), camping, hiking, or the like.

Sonos promises 10 hours of battery life, and power arrives via a USB-C port and a bundled USB-C cable. But Sonos doesn’t provide a charging brick for some reason, and that could be an issue: In a world in which some of us have piles of leftover 5-watt USB-C chargers, the Roam requires a 7.5-watt charger, so you’ll need to look carefully at the chargers you have or do a bit of shopping. Or you can buy a wireless charging dock for an additional $50; Sonos bundles the equivalent charger with the more expensive Move.

USB-C port and Power/Bluetooth button

I have a charger that will work, of course. But for now, I’m more concerned with the basic user experience and the sound quality. Connecting the Roam to the Sonos app on my phone was straightforward enough, and that works as it does with other Sonos speakers in that the initial configuration is done over Wi-Fi. But you can also connect the Roam to your phone using Bluetooth, and when you do, it will switch between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as you come and go from your home Wi-Fi coverage area.

Connecting via Bluetooth has some advantages beyond the obvious, but it also comes with some limitations. Key among the latter is that you can’t stereo pair two Roams via Bluetooth; you can only do that via Wi-Fi.

As for the sound quality, it’s hard for me to compare since I don’t have a JBL Charge 4 or similar. I can say that the sound isn’t as deep or rich as what we get from our Sonos:1/One and Sonos-compatible IKEA Symfonisk Wi-Fi Bookshelf Speakers, let alone the Sonos Move or Sonos:5s. But given the size, the sound quality seems quite good, and we’re planning to test it during a drive to Boston this coming weekend and then on later trips as well.

I like the form factor a lot. Sonos Roam is available in black or white—I chose black—and its kind of a triangular cylinder, if that makes sense. It can lie flat in a horizontal posture and not roll, or it can stand up vertically, and the grippy triangular bottom will help keep it in the place.

The controls are likewise simple enough, though I’ll mostly control playback and volume from the Sonos app (or whatever app I’m using via Bluetooth), I think. The top of the device (in vertical orientation) has large Volume Up, Volume Down, and Play/Pause buttons, and each are textured so you can feel your way to the right button without looking.

The Play/Pause button also doubles as a Sound Swap button, which is another unique Sonos feature: You can press and hold this button next to another Sonos speaker (while connected via Wi-Fi) to group audio playback with that speaker (or speaker pair). Or you can continue pressing and holding to move the playback to the other speaker.

More soon.

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