Sonos Roam Review: Punching well above its weight, even with a few drawbacks

At 430g, the Sonos Roam is the company’s lightest speaker to date. That’s no surprise, seeing as the Sonos Roam is named so for a reason. It’s the first Sonos speaker designed to compete in the very competitive market of lightweight portable Bluetooth speakers that have been specifically designed for outdoors use. You know, the campfire karaoke sessions, the long hikes and longer descents, the pool parties. This is a market typically dominated by the likes of JBL and Ultimate Ears. No more.

Well, Sonos would have to be as prolific in this space to compete with those aforementioned brands, but the Roam is good enough to count for numerous releases. It is everything we’ve come to love about the chunky but portable Sonos Move, smartly reduced into this diminutive package.

Design

The Sonos Roam looks unlikely anything else out there right now. If catching attention was the goal, consider this a resounding success.

The 17cm tall triangular speaker can be oriented both vertically and horizontally. The front is a nice metal mesh while the back is matte plastic, while each end is coated in rubber to help with impact resistance and further help maintain the sturdy IP67 water and dust proof rating. You’ll be able to submerge the speaker up to 1m for 30 minutes without concern.

Despite it’s lightweight, the speaker’s build is still solid and feels as premium as it looks. It is quite awkward picking up a Sonos after you’ve become accustomed the speakers like the Sonos One and Sonos Move though. It’s the kind of light, weightless feel I’ve come to expect from something like the Bose SoundLink Mini, which before the Roam was my favourite portable to date.

The package is big enough for a built-in battery that offers 10 hours of playback on a single charge. While that is a fair – and accurate – rating, it still falls behind some competition in terms of juice. The forthcoming Bang & Olufsen Beosound Explore, for example, is promising roughly 27 hours on a single charge (of course given the Danish company’s reputation, I also expect it to be much pricier than the Sonos Roam).

You’ve got trusty USB-C charging here, while is both expected and appreciated. Standard Qi wireless chargers can also be used, and Sonos have their own magnetic charging base for the Roam like they have with the Sonos Move. Except with the Roam it’s sold separately.

If you’re standing the Roam vertically (which is obviously the intended position given the design), then you’ll notice several standard physical buttons on the top. The problem here is that they don’t really stand out, rather just fading into the rubber. It’s an odd design choice – grey buttons on a grey background (or black buttons on a matte black background) that blend so well you can hardly see them. Regardless, most people will be using the brilliant and clean Sonos app to control playback anyway.

As with all modern Sonos speakers, the Roam can be used with Trueplay tuning. For the uninitiated, this involved using the speaker’s built-in microphone to tweak the EQ and calibrate it as a function of the speaker’s surroundings. You can bypass this and just control the EQ anyway, but it’s a useful feature if you’re mostly going to be using the Roam at home.

If you are at home, WiFi is the way to go for the speaker. But of course there’s also support for Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2. Connection is easy. Just hold down the button on the back of the speaker until the indicator light turns blue.

Sound

The internal architecture is a fairly standard mono set up that still manages to milk sound with plenty of impact. Behind the grille you’ve got one tweeter and a large mid-bass woofer, both powered by separate Class-H digital amps. That set up is more than enough for the Roam to seriously impress when it comes to both volume and balance.

Unlike most Sonos speakers, the treble seems to have been an afterthought to the lows and mids. The bass is particularly impressive here, with an obvious design to muscle out competition from party-minded JBL. Bass is magnificently full and rounded, sounding incredible with more aggressive styles like hip hop and electronica. The weakness in the highs is most obvious with jazz, but even then the sound is still fairly impressive for such a small speaker, that can reach surprising volume and still not topple at the top.

Sonos has always been incredibly expressive with their high-end and is still my go-to brand when I need something with clarity and balance in a premium package. The Sonos Roam disappoints slightly here, but given the size, placing it behind the Sonos One and Sonos Move isn’t saying much.

Features

One of the key features that separates the Sonos Roam from competing Bluetooth speakers is that it can plays around with its role in a larger Sonos ecosystem. Walk into the home and any music that happens to be streaming to the Roam via Bluetooth can essentially be flung to nearby speakers (like a Sonos Move) to start playing via WiFi. You transfer music by holding the play/pause button, and almost immediately the Sonos Roam uses your WiFi connection to mirror its performance on nearby speakers.

You’ve also got support for both Google and Amazon’s respective voice assistants, but only over WiFi.

Battery

As mentioned above, the Sonos Roam offers 10 hours on a single charge. And really, that’s not much when compared to similarly priced competition. But it isn’t the worst.

The USB-A to USB-C adapter that comes with the Roam can juice it from 0-100 in about 2 hours. However, the device doesn’t ship with a brick. This is becoming increasingly common with devices now, mostly because it’s assumed that people have multiples bricks already from their smartphones and what not. It’s still annoying and while I personally appreciate not having yet another brick to lose, some people may find it off-putting.

When the Roam first came out there appeared to be issues with the battery life shortening if Google Assistant was enabled. Sonos have recently fixed this issue with an update that can be downloaded through the app.

Verdict & Value

The Sonos Roam is an impressive little device and a successful foray from the high-end audio company into the world of portable sound. At $279, it’s reasonably priced and one of the most affordable Sonos speakers out there. Although it’s still quite pricey seeing as there are some features (namely battery life) where less expensive competitors have the edge.

I would have expected Sonos, who always are slow to market but manage to blow away competition (the perfect example being the genuinely five-star Sonos Arc), to be a bit more aggressive with this release. Yes, The Roam still defined by that premium package, sleek and dependable performance, and genuinely helpful features, but the relatively short battery life and a lethargic high-end (at higher volumes) put a dent in what I usually expect from this brand.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Sonos’ first truly portable lightweight speaker; fantastic lows and mids; can ‘shift’ music from Bluetooth to WiFi with ease; doesn’t take up much space in the home (making it a perfect Kitchen speaker); very responsive when it comes to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa; easy set-up with TruePlay.
Lowlights: the highs lose a bit of attack at the higher volumes; battery life falls behind competition; physical buttons are dulled.
Manufacturer: Sonos
Price: $279
Availability: Now

Unit supplied by Sonos for review.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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