Sonos launched its latest smart wireless multiroom speakers — the $249 Era 100 and $449 Era 300 — effectively rebooting the company’s entry-level product. It marks the end of the Sonos One and its mid-size offering, which was noticeably absent since the Play:3 was discontinued in 2018. We’ll have reviews in due course, but I spent some time with the new kit, and here are my first impressions.
I had the chance to hear the Sonos Era 100 and 300 in action at a private launch event in New York. The demo room was not an ideal location from an acoustic point of view – a wide, shallow shape and curtains hanging on some walls, while others were constructed from highly reflective glass – and yet j I was able to get an idea of the potential of the two speakers.
If I had to sum up Sonos’ unifying philosophy for the Era Series in one word, it would be “immersion.” One look at where the smart speaker market is today and it’s not hard to see why immersion is the goal. Amazon’s $200 Echo Studio is a Dolby Atmos-enabled smart speaker that can act as a soundbar when connected to the company’s Fire TV streamers, and Apple’s new launch HomePod generation 2 follows an identical path, for an additional $100.
With competitors like these, the aging (and mono-only) Sonos One looked a little clunky, and other than its soundbars, Sonos has nothing to offer people who want a little more of their high. wireless speakers.
For the Era 100, that means delivering stereo sound from a single speaker. It is not an easy task. Stereo sound depends on being able to send different information to your left and right ears, which is why stereo speakers usually come in pairs so you can create the necessary distance.
The only way to achieve this using the narrow enclosure of the Era 100 is to angle two speakers relative to each other, so they direct that left/right sound outward. , then towards the listener, perhaps taking advantage of all surfaces to bounce off like walls.
From where I was sitting, I wouldn’t say the Era 100 offered strong stereo separation. But I definitely felt like it projected a wider soundstage than I’m used to with a single Sonos One. We also noticed the improvement in the bass response, which seemed heavier and more musical than the One. Given that Sonos didn’t let us hear an Era 100 side-by-side with a One, these sightings are purely what I could muster from memory.
For the Era 300, Sonos gave us two demonstrations: using a pair of Era 300s as a rear surround for a Sonos BowDolby Atmos home theater and using a single Era 300 for stereo and Dolby Atmos Music listen. Our music video was courtesy of the film Uninterrupted, which features a World War II American bombing seen from the perspective of bomber crews. It’s a clip I’ve seen before, and there’s no doubt that the Sonos setup delivered a powerfully emotional performance, putting me right in the center of the action. How much of this was due to the Era 300 surrounds and how much was produced by the Arc itself? It’s hard to say, but it’s obvious that the Era 300 is a powerful addition to a Sonos home theater.
I was more impressed with the audio-only demo, where we went from standard two-channel stereo to Dolby Atmos Music, with samples from Lizzo’s About fucking time and Finneas’ A concert in six months. The stereo track sounded as expected – Sonos really knows how to generate sound that’s proportionally much bigger than the speaker it’s coming from – and the Atmos Music track showed just how bigger and immersive that sound can be when you include Atmos in the mix.
The Era 300 will work with Spatial Audio tracks from Amazon Music Unlimited, and when the speaker becomes available on March 28, Sonos will also add Spatial Audio support for Apple Music on its three compatible speakers. Atmos (Era 300, Arc and Beam Gen 2).
The nagging question I have about the Era 300 as a speaker for Dolby Atmos Music is the same question I have for Dolby Atmos Music when played through any sound system (eg versus headphones or headphones): Given Atmos’ need for a target listening area to deliver its immersive soundstage, will people really take the time to sit down and listen to Dolby Atmos Music? And if the answer is no, is the Era 300 still the right choice for those looking for a really good wireless speaker?
I hope to answer that, and many more questions about using the Era 100 and 300, once the speakers are available on March 28.