It’s not a summer hangout without some jams to fill in those awkward gaps between conversations. Thankfully, Sonos has a new portable speaker that’s up to the task.
Launching on April 20 for $169, the handsome, lightweight Sonos Roam is aiming to be your portable speaker of choice for small group hangs this summer. But with a form factor that can accommodate tight spaces and multiple forms of device pairing, Sonos is also positioning the Roam as the go-to choice for more intimate settings, too.
Combine all of that with top-notch sound quality and your cookouts could become the talk of the town.
Booming sound quality • Several ways to pair • Small and light • but still substantial
Sonos S2 app is limiting • TruePlay tuning is too subtle
Sonos roars into the nice weather months of 2021 with an endearing and great-sounding portable speaker that you can use in just about any way you want.
Triangular tube of sound
The Sonos Roam fits right into what I would consider to be that special “not too big, not too small” category of size. At 6.61 x 2.44 x 2.36 inches, the triangular prism-shaped speaker is roughly the size of a topping-filled stadium hot dog. It’ll fit into any bag you own, though maybe not any pockets — unless you’re still rocking Tripp pants for some reason. At 0.95 pounds, it’s just heavy enough that you probably wouldn’t want to get hit with one, but still light enough that you can throw it in your bag without it being a burden.
The Roam’s speaker grill, emblazoned with the Sonos logo, takes up one of its three long, rounded sides, and is flanked by two LEDs to indicate power and battery life. Volume and playback controls, along with one-button access to your Google or Amazon smart assistant, can be found just to the left of the logo on one of its base ends.
Those “buttons” are a bit mushy and not exactly satisfying to press, but they’re plenty responsive all the same. The Roam’s only other noteworthy physical features are the four rubber feet on one of its long sides to denote that it’s the “bottom” for horizontal placement. There’s also a USB-C port for charging on the back and a power button next to that. Both the port and the power button are very close to the rubber feet, but they’re raised enough that, when using the Roam horizontally, you can still keep it plugged in without the power cable getting in the way.
By the way, the Roam’s battery is rated for 10 hours of playback on a single charge and up to 10 days in sleep mode, which is activated by a short press of the power button. Indeed, I got about 10 hours of playback in my testing before the charge light came on. And even a partial charge lasted four to five days when in sleep mode.
There’s nothing particularly flashy about the Roam’s design, which comes in either black or white, but I dig its utilitarian vibe. It’s plainly intuitive to position it in either horizontal or vertical configurations thanks to the rubber feet and totally blank base end.
That said, nobody buys a portable speaker to just look at it. Sound is the most important aspect, and that’s where the Sonos Roam delivers its best performance.
From the living room to the streets
You know the deal: Nothing about a speaker, portable or otherwise, matters more than sound quality. Sonos could shove every great extraneous feature in the world into the Roam and none of it would make a difference if your favorite tunes sounded like they were coming through a tin can.
Thankfully, that’s not the case here.
For a 6.6-inch device with a speaker grill on just one of its sides, the Sonos Roam belts out rich, full audio. It makes Bruce Springsteen’s second album The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle sound like it was produced in a chamber full of about 700 musicians. I’m also pleased to report that “Rosalita,” the album’s (and the artist’s, truthfully) best track, shines through in all its chaotic glory. Springsteen’s shouty vocals here are in perfect concert with blaring horns and subtle guitar licks that might get flattened out on a lesser speaker.
One new feature Sonos included that didn’t impress, however, is TruePlay audio tuning.
The Roam is supposed to use its built-in microphone to get a sense for the environment around it and automatically tune the audio with that in mind. Sonos even recommended putting the Roam within an enclosed space — such as a bookshelf — to get an idea of how the sound dynamically changes.
So to test this, I moved it around from my bedroom to the windowsill in the shower, to a bookshelf in the living room, and then to the stoop outside my apartment, giving each placement a minute or so to re-tune. And to be honest, outside of the sound being pushed forward just a bit in the bookshelf scenario, I didn’t notice much of a change at all in any position. Audiophiles might get a kick out of this, but for everyone else, I wouldn’t call it a selling point.
Don’t get me wrong, it sounded fantastic everywhere I took it. The Roam can produce big, booming sound at just 40 to 60 percent volume, the low end of which is more than enough for a bedroom. Outside, with Daft Punk bumping from my stoop, its higher volumes were sufficient to draw attention from passersby and even drown out noise from a busy playground across the street.
TruePlay may not have changed much according to my ears, but there also wasn’t anything that needed changing as far as I was concerned.
Swiss army knife
The other thing that stands out about the Sonos Roam, besides its excellent sound quality, is all the different ways you can use it.
To pair Bluetooth devices with the Sonos Roam, you simply need to hold down the power button behind the speaker grill (located next to a USB-C port for charging). Apple device owners can also connect to the Roam via AirPlay. Easy enough.
If Bluetooth isn’t your speed, you can use the Sonos S2 companion app to connect to the Roam over WiFi. This way, you’ll have some extra listening options, as the S2 app has a simple equalizer that lets you adjust bass and treble sliders. The app can also link to more than 100 streaming music services, including:
Unfortunately, during my testing, the S2 app became more of a burden than a boon.
Pairing the speaker and linking Spotify to it were easy enough, but the S2 Spotify interface isn’t a complete replication of what you’d get from the native Spotify app. You can find all of your custom playlists if you scroll down far enough, but it’s a less pleasant user experience than just opening Spotify and connecting via Bluetooth or AirPlay.
As a sidenote, I couldn’t find a way to import purchased iTunes tracks into S2. You can link it to the Apple Music streaming service, but only if you’re paying the subscription fee, as far as I could tell. Bluetooth and AirPlay are totally fine workarounds to this problem, though.
The last noteworthy new feature is Sound Swap. This allows you to virtually group the Sonos Roam with other Sonos speakers and switch audio output between them by holding the play/pause button on top of the speaker. I didn’t have any other Sonos products on hand to test this, so I can’t tell you if it works or not. Still, it’s worth knowing about if you’re an existing Sonos customer.
Built to win
The Sonos Roam feels great to hold — I love its versatile size and shape. Combine that with its light-but-substantial weight and the Roam feels like the real deal, not some chintzy off-brand imitation.
It’s also made of some sturdy stuff.
This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I accidentally dropped the Roam onto a hardwood floor during the review process because, let’s face it, everyone can be a clumsy oaf every now and then. The great news is it survived without a scratch on it.
And for outdoorsy folks, the Roam has an IP67 rating for full protection against dust and shallow water immersion. I ran it under the faucet for several seconds and it handled the experience like a champ. Feel free to bring it on your camping trips, to the beach or pool, or even to the shower.
How Roam stacks up to the competition
The Roam isn’t the cheapest portable speaker in the world, but considering its feature set and audio quality, $169 isn’t an unreasonable ask. Still, there are some noteworthy alternatives:
Sonos One ($199) which can pair with another One speaker for stereo sound but is otherwise pretty similar in terms of features.
UE Boom ($129) which is rated to 15 hours of battery life but doesn’t have voice assistant or Sonos compatibility.
JBL Charge 4 ($179) which is rated for 20 hours of battery life but doesn’t have voice assistant integration.
Whether you’re throwing some dogs on the grill or sipping on some wine near the fireplace, the Sonos Roam will facilitate any and all hot jams you and your pals want to hear as well as anything else in its price range.
The Roam packs big sound into a compact shell, giving you uncompromising audio. It’s more than loud enough for a decently sized outdoor (or indoor) hangout, and with multiple pairing options, everyone can control it in the way that’s most convenient.
That said, the Roam is also pretty excellent for idly listening to podcasts while you work or do chores. Combine that with its more than serviceable battery life, waterproofing, and physical durability, and you’ve got a portable speaker that’s tough to complain about.