Bluetooth speaker Pro Max: Sonos Roam reviewed

Bluetooth speakers come in all shapes and sizes, and they usually amaze me with how loud they can go – even the tiny, cheap ones. The Sonos Roam isn’t tiny or cheap, and while it impresses with the sheer volume of sound that emanates from the relatively small package, it is the feature set that really impresses.

What is it?

Sonos is a company that pioneered “multi-room sound” systems – speakers that connect and stream wirelessly across the household. The idea being, that you put one in each room and can have a single source of music playing across the house. Typically, their products have been reasonably-sized and convenient to place, but certainly not as small as the Roam is. This speaker is their debut in the portable Bluetooth speaker category, and they’ve brought all their heritage and firepower to bear.

The hefty Sonos Roam speaker appears well-built and sturdy, and has an understated design. Image: Sonos

Physically, it’s oblong, with a rounded triangular cross-section that makes it easy to position flat, or standing up. The suggested position appears to be standing up, but I found that flat works just as well. The Sonos Roam has some heft to it, appears well-built and sturdy, and the design is understated. If anything, the basic “SONOS” logo may be a bit too large for this discreet device. The ends are rubber-coated and on one of them, you have clicky buttons in relief, making them waterproof. This is good, since the Roam is rated IP67 water-resistant, for use near the pool, at picnics or wherever.

A Bluetooth speaker with Wi-Fi?

The Sonos Roam, as part of the Sonos family of multi-room speakers, is Wi-Fi-equipped and integrates into the Sonos system you may already have in the house. This means you can put it down anywhere and it adds to the music already playing across your other speakers. As a Bluetooth speaker, this is beyond the scope of what I might be buying such a device for, but in the home, it makes sense, since you’re likely to get much better quality and range via Wi-Fi than you would with plain Bluetooth. The system itself is mature, which is reflected in the excellent Sonos app that allows you to control the music being played, update firmware, name and position your system’s speakers etc.

Around the house, Wi-Fi was my preferred method of using the Roam, but this is not without caveats. At this point, I am most used to Spotify and its excellent “Connect” protocol that connects seemingly to everything. All my Amazon devices (one in each room) are able to stream Spotify content, so the Roam, requiring another app to do the same thing, became somewhat of a bother. It wouldn’t be, were I in their system already, but since Spotify, AirPlay et al are so ubiquitous now, this relatively new (for India) system may be a hard sell. The Roam does support AirPlay 2 for iOS users, however, so there’s that.

Performance: Very good, but not ground-breaking

To reiterate, speaker makers have become very, very good at making very tiny speakers sound surprisingly large. The Sonos Roam is not alone in this capability, nor is it astonishing. My initial impression of the speaker playing music over Wi-Fi was that of being par for the course. One cannot really expect thumping bass from a device this small, but I’ve heard more authority from competing devices. Frequencies beyond the bass appeared well represented and the speaker was pleasing to have around, playing ambient music. There may be some benefit for the bass if you stand it upright as opposed to lying it down flat, but I can’t be sure. The Sonos Roam also appears to be somewhat polite compared to other speakers of its size that I’ve heard. Most of my Amazon Echo devices get louder, though admittedly, don’t sound as refined when they do. The Roam didn’t break up at all even at maxed-out volume levels, which I sadly needed to use because of said politeness.

Sonos includes a technology called “Trueplay” which uses “spatial awareness” to optimize the sound output of the speaker. The Roam includes an on-board microphone which it uses for this purpose, adjusting equalisation based on where it’s placed. I’ve heard good things about this and other such room-correction tech in the past, but on the Roam, I was hard-pressed to tell if it was making any difference. Turning it on and off in the app made a mild difference in the sound signature, at best. Still, I know it’s a technology that does work, and I will continue experimenting to see where it performs.

As a vocal critic of Bluetooth devices in general, I was pleased to find that the Roam behaves itself as a Bluetooth speaker. Connecting to my phone was quick and seamless, as was connecting to Wi-Fi. The speaker has a dedicated power/sleep button at the back; the sleep function is particularly nice, since the speaker comes back to life with a single touch. A neat trick the Sonos manages is that of seamless switching between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Walk away from your Wi-Fi network with your Roam, and the speaker will continue to stream music using Bluetooth instead. You can also switch the music from your Roam to the nearest other Sonos speaker in the house with the press of a button. Additionally, you can also use media servers you might have in your house (uPnP) to stream music to the speaker via the Sonos app.

The Sonos Roam is priced at Rs 19,999 and is available in two colours. Image: Sonos

So, we’ve got a water-resistant Bluetooth speaker that also does Wi-Fi, connects to your home server and automatically optimises sound. How else could they over-engineer this? Well, there’s 15 W USB-C charging as well as wireless charging on any Qi-compatible pad, and there’s even an optional magnetic charging unit just for the Roam. The company claims a battery life of ten hours, with ten days of standby time: plenty for day out. The Roam can also be paired with another, making a stereo pair, if you so choose. However, at the asking price, you’d be much better off buying one of their higher-end units.

Verdict: Well-thought out, good performance, expensive

Apart from Spotify Connect, there is very little you’re likely to miss in the Sonos Roam. It has an incredible swathe of features for a device in this segment. I love the well-thought-out interface, convenient LEDs to indicate charging, microphone use, the quick stand-by and resume, and the Wi-Fi connectivity. It worked flawlessly at everything I threw at it and will remain my go-to portable speaker for these reasons. Until something comes along for review that sounds significantly better and doesn’t mess up basic Bluetooth. The Sonos Roam is available in black or white colourways for Rs 19,999. At that price, you might be tempted to look at similar offerings from Bose, which has always had significant brand cachet in India.

Post a Comment