Sonos Roam review: Stupendously good

The Sonos Roam is a speaker, it seems, that Sonos didn’t want to make. For years, while the demands of fans grew increasingly shrill, it insisted on playing to its strengths, building mains-powered Wi-Fi connected speakers that delivered great sound quality and superb ease of use, but resolutely in a domestic, indoor setting.

The Sonos Move changed all that, introducing Bluetooth and portability for the first time in a Sonos speaker; now the Sonos Roam does the same, expanding Sonos’ Bluetooth speaker offering, but this time at a far more palatable price.

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Sonos Roam review: What do you get for the money?

Sonos being Sonos, the Roam still isn’t particularly cheap. Indeed, at £159 it’s at the upper end of the compact Bluetooth speaker spectrum.

It’s very small and neat, too, and sounds almost impossibly good for such a tiny thing but there’s no getting past the fact that it costs nearly as much as an Amazon Echo Studio, and more than double the price of a decent Bluetooth speaker like the Tronsmart Force.

That being said, the Sonos Roam does squeeze a lot into its diminutive, Toblerone-shaped frame. In addition to Bluetooth connectivity, which is a given for any battery powered speaker, the Roam connects to Wi-Fi while you’re in range of your home network for full integration into an existing Sonos multi-room system –  and it covers off every type of music streaming technology you can think of.

There’s support for Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect. It works with both Alexa and Google Assistant (although not simultaneously) so you can request tunes with your voice, control smart home devices and the like. Via the Sonos app, there’s full integration of all the major streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, TuneIn, Qobuz – any major streaming service you care to think of –  as well as network share and UPnP server playback. There’s very little this tiny speaker cannot do.

There’s more to the Sonos Roam than broad audio streaming standards support though. Not only is the Roam extremely compact, measuring 168 x 60 x 62mm (WDH), it’s also weatherproof to the IP67 standard, meaning it can be submerged in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. It’s drop proof and light enough to sling in a rucksack to take with you wherever you want to go.

Battery life is up to a stated 10 hours, which isn’t the best in the world, but the use of USB-C charging means you can keep it topped up from a portable USB battery pack and, if you own a wireless charging pad you can use that since the base of the speaker supports Qi-compatible wireless charging.

The killer feature, however, is that it supports Sonos’ Auto Trueplay EQ tuning. This scans the speaker’s surroundings whenever you move it and tweaks the EQ to make the best of the room it’s in.

Pop it on a shelf, surrounded by books, or shunt it back against a wall and the EQ will ramp down the bass to avoid boominess; place it on a coffee table in the middle of your living room and it pulls the bass back up. The idea is you get a balanced sound wherever you happen to be and it works beautifully.

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Sonos Roam review: What’s it like to use?

Generally, the Roam is a joy to use. Once you’ve added it to your existing Sonos network – or set it up with Sonos for the very first time – using it is child’s play.

In the home, you’ll probably gravitate towards using the Sonos app as this brings all of your streaming services together in one place. And there’s proper integration here: unlike most rivals, it doesn’t kick you out into the Spotify app or the Apple Music app when you choose a track from that service: you search, browse and and construct playlists all within the confines of Sonos’ elegantly conceived S2 app.

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In the garden or the park you’ll probably want to use Bluetooth and setting this up is a fairly simple affair, too. Just hold down the slim power button at the rear of the speaker for a couple of seconds, pair with your phone in the usual way and you’re good to go.

Whichever method you choose to use, you can control the volume, pause and play via your phone or the simple control panel on the Roam’s rubber end cap, where you’ll also find a mic mute button for extra privacy.

The speaker’s microphone is effective, too, picking up voice commands for Alexa and Google Assistant reliably, even with the volume turned up quite loud. Set up is a different matter entirely, though, and proved to be far from straightforward.

I struggled to get either assistants working on the Roam by simply using the Add Voice Assistant option in the Sonos app. In the end, I got both working by unlinking and then relinking the Sonos service in the Alexa and Google Home apps, but not before wasting a good hour of my time trying to work out what had gone wrong. Sonos needs to improve this area of setup because it’s not good enough.

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Sonos Roam review: What’s the sound quality like?

Fortunately, once you’ve got everything set up, you’ll love the way the Roam sounds. It’s a phenomenal speaker. In fact, for its size, it’s probably the best speaker I’ve ever listened to,  delivering all types of music with poise and balance.

It has a surprisingly wide soundstage, its presentation is agile and dynamic and, although it’s limited by its size, it’s capable of dishing out plenty of low-end fun as well.

It can’t match the Sonos Move when it comes to sheer muscle but there weren’t too many times during testing when I hankered after something more powerful. It’s the perfect speaker for carrying with you around the house and works just as brilliantly outside as it does on the kitchen worktop.

The only time the Roam gets out of shape is when you turn the volume right up. This is not a party speaker by any means and it starts to sound harsh and strained at the upper end of its volume range. Keep it close by, however, and there’s enough volume for all but the loudest of living room raves.

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Sonos Roam review: What could be better?

Most of the things that I didn’t get on with relate to those irritating voice assistant setup niggles detailed above. Sonos really needs to sort this out because I’m not the only one to have had similar issues with Sonos speakers. It’s a fairly widespread issue lots of Sonos owners have experienced.

There are things I don’t like about the speaker itself, but these are fairly minor. There’s no 3.5mm jack for analogue input, for instance, although that can be forgiven since fewer and fewer phones come with headphone jacks these days.

The combined power/Bluetooth pairing button on the rear doesn’t have much click to it either, which makes it tricky to know when you’ve pressed it. I’d also prefer a separate Bluetooth button, which would make switching between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth less of a guessing game. Switching is easy, but you have to hold the button in for a few seconds and if you hold it too long, the speaker turns off.

The speaker also doesn’t come with a charger; there’s only a USB-C to USB-A cable in the box, but since so many laptops and phones have adopted the USB-C standard, the likelihood is that you’re going to have one hanging around somewhere anywhere. It’s also offset by the fact that you can charge the speaker via any Qi-compatible charging pad.

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Sonos Roam Review: Verdict

There are niggles, then, but once you’ve dealt with the voice assistant setup and learned how to switch sources, the Sonos Roam is as near as any Bluetooth speaker I’ve tested has come to being perfect.

It’s compact and light enough to be called truly portable, weatherproof for use outdoors, and yet the sound quality is good enough for this to be your main wireless speaker, with Auto Trueplay tech that tunes the sound perfectly, wherever you put it.

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With support for every wireless music streaming service you can think of, multiroom audio support via the Sonos system, voice assistant and AirPlay 2 support, Sonos has left no stone unturned in the development of the Sonos Roam.

So yes, the price may be high, but I challenge you to find a more fully featured, rounded and better-sounding compact speaker than this. It’s genuinely brilliant.

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