The Expensive New Sonos Bluetooth Speaker Baffles Me in Many Ways

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

Sonos is expanding its horizons with a rugged new portable outdoor speaker. It’s called the Sonos Move, and it costs $400. Also, as its portability might suggest, the new device will be the first Sonos speaker that can stream music over a Bluetooth connection. As I held the thing from its gracefully designed handle at a recent Sonos press event, I wondered one thing: Why?

That’s not to say that I’m not impressed with the new Sonos speaker. The company went to great lengths to design its acoustic architecture in such a way that it would sound great both indoors and out. That involved turning the tweeter downward and so that it fires into a specially crafted, wave-like cone that shoots the sound out farther than your average Sonos speaker. Sonos also re-engineered its signature custom tuning feature, Trueplay, so that the portable Move speaker can continually tune itself to sound better in different surroundings. The company calls this Auto Trueplay, and it works. In a demo, Sonos engineers showcased how the speaker’s sound changed when it was moved from a tabletop to a bookshelf.

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The new Bluetooth functionality, I should point out, is somewhat limited. While it’s designed to work primarily over wifi, the Move can switch to Bluetooth mode with the press of a button. Only one device can connect to the speaker at a time, so there’s no easy way to have multiple DJs at the party. It wasn’t immediately clear to me how well the Bluetooth option worked, either, as I didn’t get a chance to test the speaker out of wifi range.

The mid-woofer is integrated directly into the speaker’s frame while the tweet fires downwards into a wave guide for better range.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

The Move’s design stands out in other ways, too. Sonos says it’s waterproof, dustproof, and drop-proof, although, its IP56 rating reveals that it’s not quite as indestructible as the excellent UE Boom 3, which can survive being submerged in three feet of water for half an hour. The Sonos Move is not submergible at all. Meanwhile, the Move has a battery life of just 10 hours, while the latest Boom lasts up to 15 hours. The Sonos Move’s battery, which also serves as its base and center of gravity, is easily replaceable, however. All it takes is a screwdriver and about five minutes. Sonos says the battery will need a refresh every three years but hasn’t revealed how much a replacement battery will cost.

Looking at this list of features, I’m left scratching my head. Sonos is finally breaking into the Bluetooth speaker market with a speaker that costs more than three times as much as the UE Boom, a speaker that has been the best in its class for years. The Sonos Move is also less durable than a lot of other portable speakers, and its battery life seems a little bit lacking. It is handy that Sonos includes a charging cradle with the Move. But heck, shouldn’t the company include a second speaker at that $400 price tag? At this price point, a single Sonos Move speaker costs as much as the existing Sonos outdoor speakers, which are stationary but much more robust.

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But there’s a serious counterpoint to this skepticism. Sonos speakers have always been necessarily tethered to the spot where they live. The idea that you could pick one up and move it to another spot in your home, somewhere away from a power outlet, is immediately fun. Once you factor into that equation that the Sonos Move lets you move out of wifi range and switch to Bluetooth opens up a whole avenue in the Sonos experience so many people love. We didn’t see how seamless that transition might be in our demo, but still, a portable Sonos speaker is a new and exciting idea.

Along with the Move, Sonos also announced a new wireless speaker: the Sonos One SL. This $180 speaker replaces the Sonos Play:1 in the company’s lineup, and it looks nearly identical to the Sonos One. The only differences is that it lacks microphones and, thus, voice assistant capabilities. (The Move comes with support for Alexa and Google Assistant.) Sonos also revealed the Port, a sleek little $400 device that lets you stream music from an old school stereo or receiver to your Sonos system. It replaces the Sonos Connect in the lineup.

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Behold, the handle.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

I’m eager to spend more time with the Sonos Move, if only because I have more questions to answer. Does it really sound so much better than cheaper Bluetooth speakers? Do I really want to haul this clunky thing into the woods when I go camping? Will I even notice when Auto Trueplay magically tunes the speaker? Expect a full review with some answers in the coming weeks.

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The Sonos Move starts shipping on September 24, while the Sonos Play One SL and the Sonos Port ship on September 12. At that time, the Sonos Play:1 will be discontinued, and Sonos says it will sell off its remaining inventory. So at least there might be a good deal there.

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Adam Clark Estes

Senior editor at Gizmodo.

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