SONOS Roam review | Can the home sound experts go portable?
Quick Verdict: The SONOS Roam brings big, clear, auto-calibrating sound and a rugged compact design, but doesn’t have the freedom to fully stretch its legs in the great outdoors.
- Wonderful sound with Trueplay
- Compact and weatherproof
- Feature rich
- Set-up can be a pain
- Some audio dropout on Wi-Fi
- Battery life disappointing
The in-house SONOS audio solution has become somewhat legendary over the last decade. The company has consistently expanded upon its ecosystem and offering, allowing audiophiles to deck out their entire home with one consistent, communicative network of speakers. But what about when you're not at home?
SONOS has dabbled previously in the notion of portable speakers with the SONOS Move, but that wasn't really all that transportable. However, the SONOS Roam is a genuine ultra-portable speaker. It's smaller than a stubby of your favourite beer and will survive a night outside by the campfire with ease. But can it still deliver SONOS quality sound on the go? Can it be one of Australia's best portable Bluetooth speakers?
- Trueplay support via Bluetooth
- 2 amplifiers, 1 tweeter and 1 woofer
- Range of connectivity options
- IP67 waterproof
The SONOS Roam is, as advertised, ultra-portable. It's 168mm long, just 62mm wide and weighs only 430g. It's got a bit of brain too, for what it's worth. You'll find a Quad Core 1.4GHz CPU inside supported by 1GB of RAM.
On to the more important stuff! The sound is delivered via 2 Class-H digital amplifiers, 1 tweeter and a dedicated mid-to-low end woofer. No sound output wattage is advertised.
The speaker features a number of far-field microphones set up in an array that serves 2 purposes. The first and most important is Trueplay, which I will go into more detail about when we talk about performance below. The other is to allow for the use of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant (your choice) voice commands. Notably, it can be muted so you don't have to have Skynet listening in to your witty repartee.
Connectivity comes in the form of Bluetooth 5.0 and/or 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5 GHz Wi-Fi, or via Airplay 2. The system will intelligently switch between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi depending on where you are. The 18Wh battery can provide up to 10 hours of life, which is on the disappointing side.
Adding to the portability is the shock and dust proof chassis, which certainly feels robust in your hand. It has an IP67 waterproof rating, and can hang out 3 feet under water for 30 minutes. Great if you have a fishpond and some jive carp. But in all seriousness, this gives it the protection it needs to go just about anywhere.
The SONOS app is a handy way to interact with and unify your entire SONOS ecosystem. Even if that ecosystem is just the SONOS Roam, it's a straightforward way to add services, pull songs off connected devices like your PC, set up voice assistants and so forth. Most of its features function as part of the "at home" experience, but they still give the device a level of sophistication, at least subconsciously.
What the app doesn't have is much in the way of equaliser support. Perhaps it's redundant with Trueplay, but if you do want to give the sound a nudge in a different direction you have but 2 options: bass and treble. And changing the slider doesn't provide too much audio variance. There's no EQ presets or the ability to control the sound by frequency range.
- Lovely form factor
- Top controls easy to use
- Power button too finicky
- No funky lighting or colours
Considering how big the SONOS Move is, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the company's idea of "portable" was out of touch. However, the SONOS Roam is very compact indeed. It's about a sixth of the size of the SONOS Move. And it's dwarfed by the competing LG XBOOM PL7, as well as coming in under the UE Boom 3.
I love the triangular, albeit with rounded corners, shape. It feels great in your hand and is well balanced; dense without feeling heavy. It also stands just as well vertical as it does horizontal. It reminds me a bit of the legendary Soundmatters Foxl speakers of the 2000s.
On one end you'll find the moment-to-moment buttons, such as pause/play, mic mute and track skips. These are all responsive and easy to use. The power button on the back however, I really dislike. It's so slight that you can barely tell if you've pressed it. And as it's also your means of switching Bluetooth off and on, it's a clumsy and frustrating system.
There are no flashy disco lights or anything like that, a hallmark of the LG XBOOM. In fact, the LEDs displaying information regarding the device's activities are subtle to the point where you might not even notice them. That's a matter of taste, really. The coloured lights are fun, in my opinion, but far from necessary.
In keeping with that understated approach, SONOS Roam only comes in white or black forms. As part of the larger SONOS ecosystem, I can understand this approach. But again, I'm left wondering whether SONOS is truly embracing the category here. An all-black, LED-less Bluetooth speaker may be all classy and mature, but it doesn't really shout "party" or "you can leave me outside at night and still be able to find me when your drunk and the battery has run out."
At least it's properly weatherproof, but the cost would seem to be the omission of an audio-in jack. Competitors do retain this feature and remain waterproof, so I think that is a missed opportunity. When you're out bush and want to conserve your phone's battery, being able to facilitate a wired connection over juice-draining Bluetooth is key.
- Fantastic sound
- Perfect size and shape
- Erratic performance over home Wi-Fi
- Low battery life
The big win for SONOS Roam when compared to not just the Move, but also other ultra-portable speakers in the market, is the evolution of Trueplay. This feature allows SONOS speakers to actively and automatically adjust the sound experience based on the environment. It sounds like marketing balderdash, but it actually works a treat. Play the speaker in your lounge room, in your bathroom and on your deck and listen in awe at the way the sound adjusts.
With the SONOS Move, Trueplay was hamstrung by the fact that it only worked when connected to your home Wi-Fi. However, with the SONOS Roam that feature extends to Bluetooth. This is vital for the device and a genuine point of difference. Although it's worth noting that voice control is still limited to home Wi-Fi only.
In terms of the sound quality, it's, well, music to your ears. I listened to it until the battery ran out on shuffle, skirting across a vast range of genres. The SONOS Roam did a good job balancing its bass within the overall sound structure. It was clear and precise across the ranges and held its consistency of sound when I pumped the volume up. And it sure can pump for such a small device – it is loud!
It's not legs ahead of its competition, though. I had an LG XBOOM on hand when testing the Roam and when I switched between the two on the same songs, the difference in quality was negligible. This was in a nice open space, typical of general use. However, Trueplay then gives SONOS Roam the edge as it can adapt in unusual environments.
I did notice some struggles when operating over home Wi-Fi though. It's hard to know just how much of that is my network, but I can say that speedtest showed no issues, nor was there any buffering with video streams or skips when listening to Spotify via PC. However, listening to Spotify on SONOS Roam over home Wi-Fi and Airplay, it would skip slightly at an annoying regularity. I found myself relying on Bluetooth as a result.
I'm also unimpressed by the battery life. The advertised 10 hours isn't too far off the mark from my experience, but it falls well below the 24 hours of the LG XBOOM. It also lags behind the UE BOOM 3 (15 hours) and JBL Flip 5 (12 hours). While 10 hours may suit single nights, it's not the multi-day life you want out of a portable speaker.
- Connects well to the SONOS ecosystem
- Forced set-up through the app
- Bluetooth set-up confusing at first
- Only one Bluetooth device at once
I'm really happy to see SONOS extending its range into the ultra-portable speaker space, but it has made a bit of a misstep with the set-up processes. Its competitors have a clear pairing button that allows anyone to easily connect their phone and begin spinning beats instantly. This works well for the use case of a portable speaker – especially at gatherings such as camping, where everyone wants to have their turn.
The SONOS Roam, on the other hand, wants to be first set up via the SONOS app and herded into the home ecosystem that you may already have. Indeed, it took me quite a while, and even Google searches, to work out how to get Bluetooth functioning. I had to update the device, create an account, get the SONOS app set up, and then hold and press buttons in non-obvious ways. After much trial and error, it eventually worked and, at the time, I felt like I had just got lucky.
Judging by the commentary online, I'm not the only one to be frustrated by the set-up process.
So rather than a portable Bluetooth speaker that you can also use at home, this is a home speaker that can also be used on the go. I think it should have been the other way around. You can't even have multiple Bluetooth devices, such as a friend's phone, paired at once.
I understand that its ecosystem is SONOS's thing, and that some features like Trueplay, Sound Sharing and AI assistants may be intimately linked to the set-up process, but that's not the expectation of the category. An ultra-portable speaker shouldn't be so tethered, when its use case is to operate away from home.
Should you buy the SONOS Roam?
- Buy it if you're already part of the SONOS ecosystem and you want to extend that experience beyond the home.
- Don't buy it if you want an easy, straightforward Bluetooth sound system that will get you through weekend getaways.
Viewed solely as a portable speaker, the SONOS Roam is impressive. It's compact, sleek, weatherproof and powerful. The sound quality over Bluetooth feels balanced and rich, offering clarity and texture across genres. It has, in that regard, the SONOS quality that many homeowners around the world have come to expect.
However, it doesn't want to fully let go of the home. There are expectations that users have for a truly portable speaker that the SONOS Roam isn't willing to meet. The set-up process is tedious and needs the Internet. Multiple people can't link to it with their devices at once. The battery life won't get you through a weekend away. There's no AUX in. And it's easy to lose in the dark.
So, in short, it has teething issues. A great companion for people already in the SONOS ecosystem for sure, but not the first choice for those focused primarily on a good Bluetooth speaker for trips away.
Pricing and availability
SONOS is a premium brand in home audio and its first outing into the ultra-portable Bluetooth speaker space looks to retain that perception. At $279 RRP, the SONOS Roam is on the expensive end of the spectrum, although not stupidly so, especially given tech like Trueplay. It's only just over the LG XBOOM PL7 ($259), but a stretch over the UE Boom 3 ($199.95) and JBL Flip 5 ($169.95).
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