Sonos Roam First Impressions

Posted on April 21, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Sonos with 9 Comments

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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Comments (10)

10 responses to “Sonos Roam First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    anoldamigauser

    For $169 each, they should sound orgasmic.

    I picked up a pair of Oontz Angle 3 Ultra speakers on a BOGO for $40, and while they are only bluetooth, with all the compromises that entails, they have proven fine for hotel rooms, camping and backyard service by the firepit. Do they sound as good as a set of speakers hooked up to any of the amps around the house? No, but they are good for what they are. The nice thing about speakers of this size, is that you do not have to worry so much about being "those people". The sound is reasonably directional, and they are not driving that much air, so sound stays mostly in the backyard, especially if you aim them towards the house.

  2. Avatar

    bart

    Got mine delivered today. So far, it sounds lovely for what it is. But obviously have to use it a little bit more to make a good comparison to my Bose Revolve (which it should replace).

  3. Avatar

    north of 49th

    Is this speaker good in a home office environment for video calls? A lot of us are working from home and I was wondering if this is a good speaker for those looking for better audio quality than what you get out of a laptop. I'm just not sure of the WiFi versus Bluetooth logic and the role the mic may play.

  4. Avatar

    matsan

    On any Sonos player (at least running S2) you can hold the Play button to cycle through the other grouped zones. If you release the button the current speaker will be joined.

  5. Avatar

    gffisher

    I received my Sonos Roam on Monday. This is my only Sonos device.

    I wanted a portable speaker that I could move from our patio at the front of the house to our deck at the back of the house, and still be able to use Alexa to control lights, heaters etc. The Roam did this perfectly. Previously I had used a Bluetooth speaker which was paired with one or other Echo Flexes that I had at each end of the house. It was a nightmare keeping them paired correctly. Now I can just pick up my Roam and it just works anywhere.

    It is certainly expensive in dollars per pound, but so far it does what I want it to do.

  6. Avatar

    mattbg

    One reason I continue to be a fan of Sonos over bog standard Bluetooth speakers (and particularly due to the fact that they are AirPlay speakers) is that Bluetooth is just not very "stable" in a multi-speaker environment in my experience.


    I was watching a livestream in the basement yesterday via Zoom. Because Zoom doesn't support AirPlay, I was screen mirroring from my iPhone to the Apple TV to watch it on the big screen. Almost at random, about 15 mins into the thing, the audio disappeared and I found out it had started playing on the Bluetooth speaker in my shower 2 floors above.


    This happens regularly, and not only in that context. If I want to make sure it doesn't happen, I need to make sure the Bluetooth speakers are powered off.


    I have a Jabra headset that has Bluetooth capability. I had regular issues with that taking over the audio unexpectedly in some cases as well, so I disabled Bluetooth altogether.


    If I had to deal with that type of thing in use cases where I use the Sonos, I'd have recycled them by now.


    Should also add that I have never once had a problem with my AirPods doing this sort of thing. They did something right there.


    So with that said, it's great that Sonos is continuing to expand on the form factors of their devices.

  7. Avatar

    JH_Radio

    Why do you guys choose sonos over Bluesound? I've never done anything like home audio like this before.

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      I had never heard of Bluesound. Looking at its site, it appears to be to Sonos what Purple is to Casper in the mattress space. A copycat that exists only because of the success of the first company.
      • Avatar

        sunra23

        I 100% disagree with your analogy above. Blusound is much more like a supercharged Sonos for audiophiles. They are owned by NAD a high end audio company in Canada. Primarily, they stream hi-res audio that Sonos is unable to do. They are Roon ready - which is an amazing bit of software. Their Node and Vault systems are amazing streaming devices. I have a bunch of Sonos and also have the Bluesound Vault 2i for my stream and I feel it is a far superior product for audio quality. Sonos can't touch the audio quality that the Blusound delivers.

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