Sonos One review: still one of the best smart speakers, and an ideal multi-room starter

It's not new, but the Sonos remains a class-leading Wi-Fi speaker, thanks partly to being a smart speaker with both Alexa and Google Assistant built-in

T3 Platinum Award
Sonos One on shelf with book
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The Sonos One is a small speaker with refined and crowd-pleasing audio quality, in a nicely designed shell. That it's also one of the most versatile smart speakers on the planet is the icing on the cake, especially with all the other great streaming support on offer.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Excellent sound quality

  • +

    Nice, compact design

  • +

    Alexa and Google Assistant built-in

  • +

    Lots of streaming options

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Bass could be deeper

  • -

    No Bluetooth

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In this Sonos One review, we're looking at whether this smart speaker is still the one to beat in 2021 – years after its debut. And the short answer is yes – with updates since its launch adding Google Assistant as well as Alexa, it's an ideal addition which ever side of the smart home line you live on.

But the Sonos One isn't just one of the best smart speakers – the reason we like it so much is that it's also one of the best-sounding speakers of its size and in its price range. With support for Sonos' multi-room system as well as Apple AirPlay 2 Wi-Fi streaming built in, it's also really platform-neutral – you can play music from your favourite services over Alexa, Google, Sonos' app or AirPlay. Easy!

It's not perfect: its microphones aren't as good at picking up voices as dedicated smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo 4th Gen or Google Nest Audio; and it doesn't include Bluetooth, so you're limited to streaming to it using supported Wi-Fi services.

But we see those as minor issues – this is made to be one of the best wireless speakers, and has smart assistant features to make it easier to play your music on, and in that, it totally succeeds. If you music is your focus, this is a major improvement on the Echo or Nest equivalents.

Sonos One on shelf

(Image credit: Sonos)

Sonos One review: Features & what's new

Despite looking a lot like Sonos' old Play:1 speaker, except the colour choices are now Very Black or Totally White, the Sonos One is almost entirely redesigned on the inside.

The most important parts are the quad-core processor and six-mic array letting it serve as an AI assistant as well as a multi-room wireless speaker. The boosted processing power has enabled it to be updated and adapted over time – Google Assistant support was added more recently than its original Alexa support, for example. It is a true 'platform' rather than just a Wi-Fi speaker with knobs on, as Sonoses (Soni?) had previously been.

You can use voice commands to get tunes from services that work with the available voice assistants, but you can also tell the speaker to play through your other Sonos speakers ("Play Lady Gaga in the kitchen"), even if they are older ones that are not Alexa-compatible. 

You can pair two Sonos One speakers in stereo to use them as a wireless alternative to bookshelf speakers, or use them as rear speakers in a surround sound setup with a Sonos Beam or Sonos Arc soundbar. It's all very seamless to do – it's very impressive.

Sonos speakers now support over 100 3rd party streaming services – mainly music, but also smart home – with more rolling out via an open API and 'favoured partner' programme on an ongoing basis.

The whole Sonos range also supports Apple AirPlay 2, which means that if you have Apple gear, you can use that as your streaming method of choice, which includes its own multi-room support. If you have non-Sonos AirPlay speakers (such as the HomePod Mini), you can even use the Sonos One in a multi-room system that mixes and matches speakers from different makers over AirPlay.

Sonos, in short, has fully abandoned its original, walled garden approach so its largely excellent speakers can act as the output for all the key music services. Sonos wants to be the default musical part of your smart home, and the output for whatever content streaming services you happen to favour.

Despite that, it has now spruced up its own app, which now promises to offer easier access to your music and less head-bangingly irritating control of multi-room.

As an extra-cool feature, as you use Alexa to use music, the Sonos app updates to show that, letting you move seamlessly between voice and mobile control. And there are still buttons (well, touch controls) on the top of the Sonos One, so there's always that option, too.

Sonos One on kitchen counter

(Image credit: Sonos)

Sonos One review: Sound quality

The Sonos One really impresses with how nimble and clear it is. Vocals are clear and elevate from the music, while individual instruments dance out of the overall mix clearly.

There isn't a huge amount of bass, but it's no worse in this regard than other speakers of its size – you have to step up a bit to something like the Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Gen (which is three times the price and notably larger) for a real improvement in this area.

Even if it can't dig too deep, the overall soundstage absolutely feels representative and well-balanced. Mids are warm while still feeling accurate, and even when songs get complex, it feels every individual part is well-defined.

The treble stands out from the mid mix nicely, and the Sonos One can be crisp without getting too harsh with it. Everything is refined but full.

Pairing two into stereo doesn't add a huge amount to the sound, other than filling a room more easily than one, and adding distinct left/right effects when you're between them. If you want a stereo presentation with hi-fi quality sound, two Sonos One speakers is stunningly good value, I have to say.

Sonos One in black and white, on black background

(Image credit: Sonos One)

Sonos One review: Verdict

The Sonos One is undoubtedly the best wireless speaker in its size and price bracket – and offering both Alexa and Google Assistant support makes it one of the most versatile smart speakers, too.

It doesn't just sound excellent for the money, it's also a great package of features overall – and it's a great start to your multi-room speaker collection.

Sonos One review: Also consider

If you want something with even better microphone and voice-recognition abilities, the Amazon Echo 4th Gen is the best smart speaker with the smarts in mind, in T3's view. It doesn't sound as good as this, and it doesn't look as nice either, but if Alexa is your priority, it's the machine of choice.

If you want something similarly focused on hi-fi quality but smaller, we rate the HomePod Mini highly – as long as you're an Apple user. Android users should stick with an Echo Dot or Nest Mini, though they don't sound as good.

And if you want the ultimate in wireless streaming stereo speakers, you might like Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo, which are truly elite bookshelf speakers made for modern music playback. But while you can't help but love their price, you may find the price a little steep… they cost 10 times what the Sonos One does…

Duncan has been writing about tech for almost 15 years, during which time he has attended every event going, apart from Apple ones, as he mysteriously doesn't get invited to them. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. 

Duncan's current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. Duncan also edits T3's golf section because fuck it, someone has to. Dave Usher does all the real work on that bit, though. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy. A cricket fan for over 30 years, he also recently become T3's cricket editor, writing about how to stream obscure T20 tournaments, and turning out some typically no-nonsense opinions on the world's top teams and players.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially like a cross between Reddit and DeviantArt, before the invention of the internet. There was also a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."