The New Bluetooth Sonos Feels Like a Time Warp

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

You don’t need the new Sonos Move. It’s a $400 Sonos speaker that sounds an awful lot like a $180 Sonos speaker but with the added benefit of being portable. You can pick it up and carry it around. If you wander away from your wifi, no problem! The Move is the first Sonos that can stream music over a Bluetooth connection, which is a big deal for any Sonos fan who’s sick of leaving their favorite speakers at home when they’re doing outdoor activities.

So you’d think the new Sonos speaker is a glimpse at the future of premium audio. Instead, after a week of testing the Move, it feels like I’ve gone back ten years to the early days of Bluetooth speakers. The Move is as good a wireless speaker as the Sonos One is a wired one. Like the Sonos One, it comes with built-in support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. The Move also sounds excellent, especially outside, thanks to some specific design tricks Sonos engineers used to project the sound further. But as a portable speaker, specifically, the Move is a bit of an awkward monster.

Advertisement

This is not to say the Move is ugly. The new Sonos portability informs its design in some interesting ways. It has the same elegant curves as other Sonos speakers, including a fine mesh grill that wraps around two-thirds of the thing. On the bottom, there’s a removable battery that Sonos recommends replacing every three years. That battery comes with up to 10 hours of play time and connects to a slim dock, so all you have to do to move it is pick it up and to charge you just drop it right back on the dock. (You can also charge it with a USB-C cable.) Also on the back is a slick little handle that makes lugging the Move around surprisingly graceful. Sonos told me designers went through many iterations to get this handle right. And I will admit that I don’t hate carrying it, which is something since it’s heavier than your average Bluetooth speaker at 6.6 pounds.

The other big deal design upgrade with the Move is its durability. The speaker has an IP56 rating, which means it’s water and dust resistant. Unlike bombproof speakers like the Ultimate Ears Boom, however, the Sonos Move cannot be submerged in water, so the extent to which it’s a good poolside companion is limited to the clumsiness of your friends. I would also worry that the Move’s pretty metal grill might get banged up over time, although I didn’t have any issues in my time with the speaker. I did notice that the special black finish is prone to smudges and fingerprints.

The handle blends in with the body of the speaker, and there’s a new button that lets you toggle between wifi and Bluetooth connections.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)
Advertisement

So I’d call it a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Sonos Move is bulkier and somehow more unseemly than my favorite Bluetooth speakers. It’s also less durable. But on the other hand, the Move is sturdy and handsome. Its clean lines remind me of the $400 Bose Home Speaker in the best of ways, and the fact that you can easily lug it anywhere you want, switching from wifi to a Bluetooth connection, is a feature no other Sonos speaker offers.

For a lot of serious Sonos fans, the Move will be a no-brainer. Folks have been wondering for years when Sonos will make the jump to Bluetooth and make its famously exceptional multi-room wireless speaker systems more versatile. A lot of those people have invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into their Sonos systems, and the idea of adding one more—one that has Bluetooth, that can go anywhere—is exciting. The Move sounds like a Sonos speaker. It works with all the other Sonos speakers. Sure, a Sonos diehard will love this thing. The average consumer just looking for a portable speaker, however, might not be so enthusiastic.

Advertisement

The real trouble is, moving the Move is not the seamless experience I’d hoped it would be. Sonos describes the transition from wifi to Bluetooth as an easy one-button situation. Indeed, there is a button on the back of the speaker that toggles the speaker between wifi and Bluetooth mode. But it’s not like you carry the speaker out of wifi range and press the button without the music stopping. Any time I tried this, I’d lose the wifi connection, press the button, wait for the Move to connect to my phone, go into my Bluetooth settings if it didn’t connect automatically, and then hit play again. That’s maybe three more steps than I want the switch to take. It’s also arguably more trouble than just buying a separate Bluetooth speaker that I’d keep on hand as a portable music solution.

The charging cradle is almost too minimal.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)
Advertisement

There’s a good chance that changing my habits would make the Move easier over time. (Sonos recommends switching to Bluetooth while you’re still in wifi range so that the music never stops.) It would be nice if the speaker just did all of this automatically. It would also be nice if the Move could connect to more than one device over Bluetooth, but for now, whoever is the master of the music can control the playlist without the fear of someone else connecting. I do suspect things could get confusing if the speaker is paired, for instance, to your phone and your partner’s device. Then again, a trip into the old Bluetooth settings is familiar turf for anyone who’s had a portable speaker before.

So none of these connectivity issues are new or unique to Sonos. And quite frankly, mild moving-it-around frustration aside, the Move is a valiant little sound system. It features a brand new technology called Auto Truplay that uses the speaker’s built-in microphone array to constantly scan its surroundings and change the tuning of the speaker accordingly. In my testing, Auto Truplay didn’t produce dramatic results. Like, if I moved it from a tabletop into a corner on my roof, I’d notice a subtle shift after a few seconds, and I think subtlety is what Sonos is after here.

Advertisement
The Move comes with a microphone array as well as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa powers.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

As for sound quality in general, the Move has a lot in common with the Sonos One. That means energetic bass response, well-balanced mids, and a bright upper range. It’s that Sonos sound, and the Move keeps that energy up surprisingly well outdoors. This, the company told me, is thanks to a downward-firing tweeter and a custom-designed cone that projects the sound out in every direction. So even though the woofer only faces forward, you get a semblance of 360-degree sound even several yards away from the Move.

Advertisement

If this all-around sound pitch sounds familiar, that because it’s pretty much the same thing that the Move’s portable speaker competitors claim, minus the fancy sound cone. The UE Megaboom 3, for instance, is famous for getting loud outside, and its cylindrical design is good at filling up a lot of space. I tested the Move and Megaboom 3 against each other, and while I do think the Move has a more sophisticated sound, I can’t say it’s twice as good. The Sonos Move costs $400. The Megaboom 3 costs $200. The Sonos Move has 10 hours of battery life. The Megaboom 3 has 20. The Sonos Move is splash-proof. The Megaboom 3 can stay submerged for 30 minutes. You get my point.

The Megaboom 3 (left), the Sonos Move (center), and the Sonos One (right)
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)
Advertisement

But again, it’s not totally fair to compare the Sonos Move and even the best Bluetooth speakers out there. The Move is something different, something that will surely appeal to die-hard Sonos fans. It connects to an excellent multi-room speaker system, and then disconnect whenever you want, all while taking advantage of all the Sonos features. In that sense, the Sonos Move is a glimpse into the future of Sonos. The famously home-based speaker world is expanding. At the same time, the experience of using a portable Sonos speaker feels a bit like the mistakes of Bluetooth’s past.

If you’ve gone all-in on Sonos, the proposition is simple. Now, for the first time and for $400, you can retreat from your home’s wifi network, take the Move into the woods, and play music over a Bluetooth connection. If you’re just looking to get into the Sonos lifestyle and also want a portable speaker, you could just buy a cheap non-Sonos Bluetooth speaker as well as a Sonos One and deal with the difference. For about the same price, too.

Advertisement

READ ME

  • Great wireless speaker, really nice sound and all that
  • Imperfect portable speaker, quite big and not as durable as others
  • Sonos fans will like it
  • Too expensive for the beginner
Advertisement

Share This Story

About the author

Adam Clark Estes

Senior editor at Gizmodo.

EmailTwitterPosts
PGP Fingerprint: 91CF B387 7B38 148C DDD6 38D2 6CBC 1E46 1DBF 22A8PGP Key
OTR Fingerprint: D9330D9B 6CF5E271 7FAC6194 DAA9B51B E09A99B2