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Technology Sonos Roam review: A good speaker in a small package

17:15  06 april  2021
17:15  06 april  2021 Source:   cnet.com

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  Here’s what the upcoming Sonos headphones will probably look like Germany’s patent office reveals new images of what seems like a closer-to-final designOne notable difference is that the Sonos wordmark is visible on this design; it wasn’t present on the previous filing. (That said, it’s in broken lines, which doesn’t count for much in a design patent and signifies that placement could change.) Another evolution is that the rods coming out of the headband now go straight down into the ear cups; there’s no additional part that wraps around the back of each ear cup as we saw before. Again, these are broken lines, but the solid lines also show an evolution from the design we saw before.

Sonos calls the Roam "the best-sounding ultraportable speaker ever made." That's a big claim, so needless to say, as soon as I got my hands on a review sample, I was eager to hear whether it lived up to that lofty billing. I'm happy to report that to a large extent it does, at least compared to other speakers of similar size and weight.

a man standing next to a body of water: The Roam has an IPX67 water-resistance rating, which means it's fully waterproof and dustproof. © David Carnoy/CNET

The Roam has an IPX67 water-resistance rating, which means it's fully waterproof and dustproof.

Available in white or black for $169 (£159, AU$279), the Roam is currently Sonos' smallest and most affordable speaker (if you don't count those $99 Sonos-compatible Symfonisk Ikea WiFi bookshelf speakers), though it's fairly expensive for a mini wireless speaker. This model, like Sonos' earlier Move (£399, AU$649) portable speaker, is equipped with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and can tap into your existing Sonos multiroom audio system and link with other Series 2-compatible Sonos speakers. (Sonos moved to its new S2 app last year, creating some havoc for owners of legacy Sonos devices that aren't compatible with the new app, bifurcating users' multiroom setups.) It also supports Apple AirPlay 2, so you can cast audio directly to it from an Apple device without using the Sonos app.

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With its smooth matte finish and clean design, it's one of the classiest looking portable wireless speakers I've tested -- and smaller than I thought it would be. It weighs just less than a pound (0.43kg) and it's basically about the size of a JBL Flip or UE Boom Bluetooth speaker. Sonos' Move weighs about six times as much and really isn't so easy to carry around. Compared to that, this feels downright light. It's also shock resistant -- the end caps are rubberized -- and seems pretty durable. It has an IPX67 rating, which means it can be fully submerged underwater (up 1m) for 30 minutes and it actually makes for a very good shower speaker.

a close up of some grass: The Roam has an IPX67 water-resistance rating, which means it's fully waterproof and dustproof. David Carnoy/CNET © Provided by CNET The Roam has an IPX67 water-resistance rating, which means it's fully waterproof and dustproof. David Carnoy/CNET

Wi-Fi at home, Bluetooth on the go

As noted, like the Move, this speaker also has built-in Bluetooth. But what's new is that when you're away from your home network the Roam will automatically switch over to Bluetooth and switch back when you're within range. The Move doesn't do that; you have to manually activate the Bluetooth on that speaker.

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  The Morning After: Sonos' new $160 speaker is its smallest ever If you want a portable speaker, Sonos is looking for anyone that doesn’t already own one. At $169, the Roam is more expensive than many Bluetooth-only portable speakers, but it’s also Sonos’ cheapest speaker ever. Unlike the Move (Sonos’ previous moveable, if not all that portable, speaker), the Roam has a smaller, narrower design and weighs just about one pound. The battery should give 10 hours of playback, and it automatically goes into a low-power sleep mode when it’s not in use. There’s also dust and water protection, and you’ll be able to pair two speakers for portable stereo sound.

I initially linked the speaker to an iPhone 12 Pro and the transition from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth seemed to work smoothly over the three days I tested it. Where things got a little trickier is when I wanted to switch the Roam over to Bluetooth on a Google Pixel 4 XL Android smartphone when I was out and about and using the Roam as I would a typical Bluetooth speaker. The power button next to the USB-C charging port doubles as a Bluetooth button and allows you to put the speaker into Bluetooth pairing mode. But it took several button holds and releases to finally get the speaker to show up in the Pixel's menu for Bluetooth pairing.

In general, the Sonos app and software powering its system are quite user friendly. However, from my experience, you will run into some snafus from time to time, including issues with integrated voice assistants (you can choose either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant) when you're dealing with a Wi-Fi speaker that relies on a home network as opposed to a simple Bluetooth speaker. That said, the Roam will get future software updates that should help refine its operation further.

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The Roam automatically adjusts its sound if you lay it down horizontally. David Carnoy/CNET © Provided by CNET The Roam automatically adjusts its sound if you lay it down horizontally. David Carnoy/CNET

Aside from the auto Wi-Fi to Bluetooth switching, the other cool feature this has is both USB-C and wireless charging. However, I should note that no power adapter is included, just the USB-C cable, and the speaker requires at least a 10W power adapter for USB-C charging.

As for wireless charging, Sonos will sell you a 10 watt wireless charging dock for $49 but you can set the speaker down on just about any Qi wireless charging pad and it will charge at up to 15 watts so long as the charging pad supports that speed. You can also charge the speaker with the included USB-C cable and that's the fastest charging method, depending on the power output of your power adapter. With a 20W power adapter, I charged the speaker to about 50% in an hour via USB-C. Wireless charging takes about double that time to get to 50%.

Battery life is rated at around 10 hours at moderate volume levels, but that number may drop a bit if you're on WiFi rather than Bluetooth and it could be adversely impacted with voice-assistant usage. As I'm shooting this video, Sonos says it's working with Google to issue an update that improves battery life of the speaker when Google Assistant is enabled.

How to pre-order the Sonos Roam speaker

  How to pre-order the Sonos Roam speaker Sonos confirmed the rumors of a new device today by announcing the Roam portable speaker. It's meant to be a smaller, more affordable alternative to its existing portable speaker, the $399 Move. At $169, it certainly fills a big gap in Sonos' lineup, but it remains more expensive than competing devices. The $169 Sonos Roam is available for pre-order starting today from the company's website. It will officially be available starting April 20, and pre-order customers can expect their speakers to ship around that time. Pre-order the Roam at Sonos - $169Unlike the relatively large Move, the Sonos Roam has a smaller, narrower design and weights just about one pound.

The Sonos Move is quite a bit larger. David Carnoy/CNET © Provided by CNET The Sonos Move is quite a bit larger. David Carnoy/CNET

All of Sonos' new speakers, including the Roam, offer some form of the company's Trueplay sound-tuning feature to optimize their sonic profiles for the space in which they're placed. Rather than use the Sonos app on your iPhone, however, the Roam uses its built-in microphones to monitor its surroundings and continually autotunes itself on the fly.

Read more: Best Sonos speakers from $100

When on a Wi-Fi network, those microphones are also used to access Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa with your voice -- you have to choose one voice assistant or the other -- and you can pass audio onto the closest speaker in your Sonos setup by holding down the pause/play button on the Roam. Sonos calls this new feature "Sound Swap". The Roam is able to do this by listening for chirping noises played through your other speakers and determines which one is closest. I guess the idea is that you'd walk in from your patio and then fire up the speakers in your living room.

The Roam has buttons on top for controlling music playback and muting the microphone. The USB-C charging port and power button are on the side of the speaker. David Carnoy/CNET © Provided by CNET The Roam has buttons on top for controlling music playback and muting the microphone. The USB-C charging port and power button are on the side of the speaker. David Carnoy/CNET

Impressive sound

I had some fun moving the Roam from room to room, as well as outside like I would any Bluetooth speaker. And my first reaction after setting it up was, wow, this sounds really good for a speaker this size. It's not up to the same level sound-wise as the Sonos One or the Move, which produce more sound with more bass, but it's closer than I thought it would be and can fill a small to medium-sized room with sound.

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Where this beats other small Bluetooth speakers like those from Ultimate Ears, JBL and others is it has more bass and sounds a little fuller with decent clarity. It's also more natural sounding. Like any small speaker, you can't push it that hard -- it has its limitations -- and it can end up sounding great with one track and only pretty good with other tracks, especially when you crank the volume. But it has a pleasant sound profile with relatively well-balanced sound that doesn't come across as overly processed (that's what I mean by more natural sounding).

You can also link the Roam with another Roam and create a stereo pair. They do sound pretty impressive paired up – getting that stereo separation gives the sound that much more depth – but you'll have to pay around $350 to create that set up. I should also add that you cannot use a pair as the rear speakers in a Sonos surround sound set up. You'll have to go with the Sonos One or those Ikea Symfonisk speakers (there's also a Symfonisk Sonos lamp speaker that works as a surround speaker).

Read more: Best Bluetooth wireless speakers for 2021

Aside from those mini Bluetooth speakers I mentioned, I pitted the Roam against the JBL Link Portable, which seemed like the most apt comparison considering the Link Portable carries a list price of $180 and has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.

The Link Portable is a bigger speaker and can play both louder and has more kick to its bass. But the overall tonal balance of the Sonos was more appealing to my ears. The JBL is very good but the Sonos is smaller and better designed -- if I were given a choice between the two speakers, I'd take the Sonos.

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Now, as for whether this is the best sounding ultraportable speaker ever made, I think it comes down to your definition of ultraportable. There are some speakers that are bigger, like Anker's $100 Soundcore Motion Plus, that are able to match the Sonos' sound. And there are Bluetooth speakers that cost a lot less, like the Tribit MaxSound Plus ($50) that sound surprisingly decent and are a better value if all you're looking for is a mini portable speaker. But for its size, the Roam is pretty hard to beat so I'm going to say Sonos' claim is within the realm of the truth. At least with what's out there right now in its size class.

While the speaker is far from cheap, it is a lot cheaper than the Move, giving Sonos another speaker in its lineup that costs less than $200. With that more affordable pricing, Sonos is hoping the Roam not only appeals to Sonos newbies on a tighter budget but to existing Sonos users looking for an ultraportable speaker that can leave the Sonos nest but be right at home when it returns home. In fact, with its attractive design and strong sound quality, if you already have a Sonos setup, it seems hard to resist, and note that if you own older Sonos equipment, you can get up to 30% off the Roam and other new Sonos speakers as part of Sonos' upgrade program.

The Sonos Roam Packs a Powerful Punch in a Petite Package .
One of the first times I ever came across a Sonos speaker was at a swanky outdoor barbecue on a Brooklyn rooftop. I remember it vividly, because the host stopped grilling to spew expletives at his two Sonos speakers. He’d created a specific playlist for the party but Sonos speakers at the time were wifi only—without wifi on the rooftop, his smart speakers looked pretty dumb. © Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo (Getty Images) That’s exactly the sort of scenario Sonos tried to address two years ago with its first Bluetooth speaker, the Move. The problem was that the speaker cost $400 and wasn’t truly portable.

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