Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker

Asia's Tech News Daily

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker

Sonos entered the Indian speaker market earlier this year with a flurry of products. The American brand that achieved great success in a span of a little under 20 years is known for its high-quality speakers that offer multi-device setups better than anyone else. But they are mostly premium. With Sonos Roam, the company took an educated step where the price would justify the features of this portable speaker more than any other model.

Sonos Roam was launched in India for Rs 19,999, a price that is high-end and appealing to only a small section of speaker enthusiasts. The high price tag is a result of something that you may have never experienced before on a speaker sold in India before Sonos came. I am talking about Sonos’ magical multi-room audio setup and the ability to play music from anything anywhere you want. Sonos Roam uses Wi-Fi to let you play music from anywhere in your house, and that is the ease your next speaker needs to bring.

The price of around Rs 20,000 is a big ask for Sonos, even with all the premium features, because it goes against brands like Sony, JBL, Bose, Marshall, and Ultimate Ears that are more popular in India. So, can Sonos Roam be your next premium portable speaker? Let us find out.

Sonos Roam review: Elegant design

Portable speakers usually follow the cylindrical design that makes speakers rollable, something people like to play around with. But Sonos Roam takes a detour.

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker
© Provided by India Today

On a body that is 6.61-inches tall, the Sonos Roam brings a geometric triangle with curved edges. And unlike some cylinder-like speakers, this does not belt out audio from all sides but two. That is because one side is where the charging port and power button are, and it also doubles as the underbody for when you place the speaker horizontally. You can also place the speaker vertically but make sure the controls stay on top.

Sonos Roam comes in black and white colours, but I prefer the former, which is also what I have reviewed. Sonos has gone with its standard precision-drilled hole design on the speaker, and if you take a closer look, you can see the hexagon pattern on the speaker. That is an immaculate attention to detail, so well done, Sonos. The speaker is also not heavy and perfect for picnics, trips, and anywhere inside your home.

By anywhere, I also mean a bathroom where you can shower while listening to your favourite music or settle in a bathtub listening to soulful tracks. You do not have to worry about water splashes, thanks to IP67 water and dust resistance, which the company claims can allow the speaker to survive up to 30 minutes in three-feet deep water. That also means poolside entertainment from the Sonos Roam, but remember, the speaker does not float.

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker
© Provided by India Today

Silicone padding on the two horizontal ends makes the speaker sturdy, which is why it barely even got a scuff when I accidentally dropped the speaker on the floor once. I think a lanyard would have been better. Otherwise, holding the speaker is easy and comfortable.

Sonos Roam review: Easy controls and impressive connectivity

Just like any other portable speaker, the Sonos Roam, too, has a play/pause button, a next button, a previous button, and, obviously, a power button. These buttons are encased under silicone padding, which is a lot better than plastic buttons that, over time, get their paint worn off. The buttons are not that tactile, but pressing them feels oddly satisfactory. These are also different from capacitive buttons that you find on other Sonos speakers, so clearly, there is a trade-off here, but a reasonable one.

There is also a fifth button on the speaker. It serves many purposes. First, it will turn the microphone off when you do not want Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa to listen to you all the time. The second purpose is to enable or disable Trueplay, which I will talk about a bit later. Finally, it is good to know that you have your privacy under your control.

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker
© Provided by India Today

On the underbody of the Sonos Roam are the power button and the USB-C port. You will find the bundled USB-C to USB-A cable a bit interesting. That is because the USB-C end has a special angle to avoid the wire getting in the way no matter how you place the speaker. The Sonos Roam also supports wireless charging from a compatible Qi charger, but it is a bit slower than the wired one. There is also a magnetic charger that Sonos sells separately, but I could not get a chance to test that. Sonos said the battery takes about two hours on a wireless charger to go from 0 to 50 per cent compared to one hour on cable charging.

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker
© Provided by India Today

Using Wi-Fi, you can control Roam using the Sonos app that is available on both Android and iOS. This app lets you play music from partner services such as Spotify and Apple Music from within the app, given you have their paid subscriptions. The app has features like an equaliser, alarm clock, software update, and multi-device pairing, all of which work fine. However, if you lose Wi-Fi connection either on your phone or your speaker, all these settings become available. I wish Bluetooth pairing would also have offered these accessibility options.

Sonos Roam supports both Chromecast and AirPlay, so no matter if you have an Android phone or an iPhone, you will be able to play music over a Wi-Fi connection. I barely had a problem with this setup unless I tried AirPlay on my MacBook. While I was happy I could play music on both my MacBook’s speakers and Sonos Roam, the wireless connection was spotty. I also noticed delayed audio response sometimes, but that would become normal on its own. Maybe the next software update will fix this, but then you have Bluetooth as the safest fallback.

Sonos Roam review: Good sound

The most important aspect of a speaker is its sound, and Sonos Roam is only a wee close to nailing it. Sonos has a good reputation for offering good sound on its speakers, but Roam is mostly about trade-offs. I cannot say the Sonos Roam is the best-sounding speaker for that price, but it is definitely the one to offer the cleanest sound. I have tried Sony XBS-range speakers before that come at around the same price, and they come off as mostly flat in terms of sound output, as compared to Roam, which retains some depth in sound.

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker
© Provided by India Today

I tried a mix of songs on the Sonos Roam. I played the latest hits like Jugnu by Badshah, Hold No Grudge by Lorde, and a classic like Happy Together by The Turtles on the Roam. While the texture of the vocals is what amazed me, the bass is restricted in all music. You will feel a bassy sound in a song or music only if you keep the volume lower than 80 per cent. Loud music naturally rips off its richness and texture, and that is what you will hear if you crank up the volume to 100 per cent. In the Sonos app, there is a toggle to turn “Loudness” on and off, and choosing the former does not improve bass levels much. But let me tell you, Roam can get very loud. Like really loud. And that is impressive for a portable speaker, but I do not think I will use it as a party speaker.

Roam is more of a speaker. You will like to listen to music while sitting in peace or when sleeping. That is because of how good classical music and acoustics sound in it. The sound is not pitchy, which is why you will love listening to podcasts, too. I listened to Chalte Chalte from Pakeezah, and the instrumental sounded so good, I played the song on loop. The bass of the speaker is its weakest link, but it is a design fault. Some of its rivals can offer punchier bass but at the expense of clarity, so Roam does not lose the race here. Sonos’ Roam is a small speaker with high ambitions, and bass is what it sacrifices to fulfil them.

If you buy two Sonos Roam units, you can pair them together in a stereo setup using the app, but I could not get a chance to experience that. But remember, the cost of two Roam speakers is going to be almost the same as a high-end Dolby home theatre with 5.1-channel output, and, to me, the latter makes more sense.

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker
© Provided by India Today

Stereo pairing is mostly for large and spacious rooms, so that is fine if you do not go with two units. A single Roam unit is enough to get as loud as you would ideally expect. Thanks to the Trueplay feature, Sonos Roam can make optimisations to the music and loudness according to the room. This feature needs an iPhone or iPad to work, so there is no way you can use it through an Android phone. But, to my dismay, I hardly felt any different with Trueplay turned on. I guess it would have worked better had my room been emptier than it was.

Remember I said Sonos Roam supports voice assistants, like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa? Do not count on that. That is because voice assistants on Sonos are not available in India yet. When you try to set up either Alexa or Google Assistant via the Sonos app, it will say the service is not available in my region. I am not sure why Sonos has not figured out integration with voice assistants yet, because they are clearly in demand. Just look at the sales of Amazon Echo and Google Nest speakers. This is a deal-breaker.

Sonos Roam review: Decent battery life

One of the things that put the Sonos Roam in somewhat a bad light is the battery life. I managed to squeeze out around 8-9 hours on a single charge with continuous music playback over Bluetooth. Using Wi-Fi or AirPlay reduces this to around 7-8 hours. That is a bit on the lower side for a portable speaker for its price. Sony can easily outlast Sonos as far as portable speakers at this price are concerned. There is a standby mode that is turned on by default, so when you stop playing music through the Sonos app or AirPlay or Bluetooth, the speaker will become inactive, but it will remain connected to Wi-Fi for easy wake-up. That consumes significant battery power.

Sonos Roam review: Premium, portable speaker
© Provided by India Today

Sonos Roam review: Should you buy it?

Sonos is a new luxury audio brand in India, but it is a reputed one in the US. So catching up with the premium customers here will take some time – especially amid the competition from brands like Sony, but Roam comes off as a step taken in the right direction.

At Rs 19,999, the Sonos Roam is a luxury speaker, even if it is one of the company’s cheapest ones. But do not look at it like that. Audio is a category where people like to splurge because the experience can never outmatch the price. And Sonos Roam will offer you premium audio, amazing hands-off connectivity, and wireless charging.

But Sonos Roam has some limitations, such as it cannot become your party speaker or let you order Alexa around. If those are not your concerns, Sonos Roam is a good option.

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