This is how you follow up on what was already a good product. Over the course of my time reviewing the new Era 100 speaker, which succeeds the Sonos One introduced in 2017, that’s been my consistent takeaway. It’s gone up in price slightly — now $249 compared to the One’s $219 price (itself an increase over the $199 launch price) — but that increase wasn’t just for the sake of it. The Era 100 outperforms the One in every category when it comes to sound: it’s now capable of stereo playback and has improved bass response.
But the most exciting aspect of the Era 100 is the way Sonos has broadened its functionality. It’s still a smart speaker that can stream from every music service you can think of, supports hands-free voice commands, and includes extra features like AirPlay 2. Those things were all true of the One, but the Era steps up to another level by tacking on Bluetooth playback and line-in audio via the rear USB-C port. The former lets anyone who comes over easily play their own music on the speaker, while the latter allows you to run a turntable or other external audio source through your entire Sonos system.
It’s not a flawless report card: the Era 100 no longer offers Google Assistant as a voice platform. Instead, you’re left with Amazon Alexa and Sonos’ own music-focused Sonos Voice Control, which is slowly expanding its potential with timers and other capabilities. Fundamentally, that leaves the Era 100 feeling less “smart” than its predecessor if you’re tied into Google’s ecosystem. But in every other way, the Era 100 is a clear upgrade over the Sonos One, which has stood as the company’s bestselling product. Within the company’s lineup, this is the unassuming speaker that you can put in any nook or room where you want music.
The speaker’s design is more rounded than a squircle this time, though it’s still not perfectly circular when viewed from above. The Era 100 is a hair taller than the Sonos One and ever so slightly deeper, but it’s not big by any stretch. It’s often surprising how much sound comes out of the One given its size, and the Era is no different.
When flanked by the company’s portable speakers, it barely stands above the Roam and is a good deal shorter than the Move. Sonos used a slightly warmer shade of white plastic for the 100, which comes through in some of these photos but is one of those things you wouldn’t notice if I hadn’t told you.
Inside the speaker hidden from view are repairability improvements: the company has moved away from sticking adhesive throughout the product’s internal structure and now uses screws wherever possible. This is the case for both Era speakers and will make them easier to disassemble and fix, though Sonos is stopping short of rolling out a self-repair program for now. We’ll have to see how much demand arises for that over time. Also worth noting is that the Era 100 uses less power than the One when idle and contains a fair amount of recycled plastic (between 40 to 50 percent).
Compared to its past speakers, Sonos took a new approach with the top controls on the Eras. There are dedicated track controls — no need for swipe gestures anymore — and a separate indented bar that handles volume. You can slide your finger across for quick adjustments or tap either side for more granular volume changes. It took more time than I expected to retrain myself to this new arrangement, but I got there within a couple of days.
At the back of the top surface is a button for temporarily disabling your chosen voice assistant. If you want to shut off the built-in microphones altogether, you can do so with a new toggle switch on the back of the speaker. When it’s flipped down, the Era 100 cuts power to its microphones. The top button is meant more for briefly pausing voice interactions, while the latter is a measure for privacy diehards who want them off off. There’s no “Era 100 SL” at the moment, so the hard switch is as close as you can get.
The other new button around back is for Bluetooth pairing: just press and hold to pair a new device. The Era 100 is shipping with Bluetooth 5.0 and will eventually be bumped up to 5.2 with a future firmware update. There’s nothing particularly fancy here — it’s music over Bluetooth, but until now, it was something Sonos reserved for its portable speakers. You know exactly what to expect, and it works without a hitch. I appreciate the added convenience, and the flexibility means your guests won’t have to deal with the Sonos mobile app just to play a song or two.
Sonos has added a USB-C port to the back of the Era 100 to allow for line-in connections via an optional $19 dongle. The port is for audio only and not intended for power to or from the speaker. Plug the dongle into the Era 100, and you can run a record player or another audio source through it and sync everything across your other Sonos speakers. The company advises that line-in isn’t a good fit for live TV since there’s latency to account for. A Sonos soundbar is still the best way to play TV audio throughout your home. (If you’re curious, USB-C-to-3.5mm adapters you may already have are unlikely to work. Sonos does an analog-to-digital conversion instead of the other way around.)
You can also purchase a $39 combo adapter that supports both ethernet and line-in. Some longtime Sonos customers have bemoaned that the Era speakers do not support SonosNet, a feature that created a private network for the speakers to communicate over whenever one of them was plugged into ethernet. Sonos seems to believe the inclusion of more robust Wi-Fi 6 connectivity makes up for that omission. Keep in mind that if you’re using Sonos speakers as surrounds for any of the company’s soundbars, they communicate directly over a 5Ghz connection, so you don’t need to worry about wireless interference in that scenario. I don’t know many non-techies who have run out to upgrade their routers to Wi-Fi 6, so I can understand some of the frustration. But I’ve yet to notice any music cutouts or streaming issues while testing the Era 300 and Era 100.
Despite being a similar size to the Sonos One, the Era 100 really steps up audio performance by moving from a mono to stereo driver configuration. There are now two tweeters, enabling proper left and right channel reproduction. Sonos stuck with a single midwoofer, but it’s significantly larger than before, and as a result, the Era is more adept at handling bass output.
The Era is a small single-unit speaker, so it’s unrealistic to expect much stereo separation or a vastly wide soundstage. But with each track I tested, the audio of the 100 was clear, detailed, and full-bodied. You don’t have to settle for certain instruments or vocals being drowned out in the mix, which can happen with the mishmash produced by mono speakers. The sound is rich, remains consistently strong across genres, and there’s just more room for everything to breathe. I have no doubt there are “audiophiles” who will just keep rolling their eyes at the notion of a Sonos speaker sounding very good, but this is objectively a substantial leveling up compared to the Sonos One.
The Era 100 sounds quite decent out of the box, but like other Sonos gear, Trueplay can help it reach maximum potential. For the first time, Sonos is supporting its Trueplay tuning feature on both iOS and now Android. Android users can run a new “quick tune” procedure in the Sonos app that uses the Era 100’s built-in mics to gauge a room’s acoustics and optimize the sound for that environment. This process can finish within a matter of seconds, I’ve found, although Sonos says it can take up to a minute. Either way, that’s quicker than the advanced tuning that remains present on iOS. With the latter, you still have to walk around the room waving your iPhone or iPad around and use that microphone for a more thorough reading of the acoustics.
Sonos claims that the advanced approach will ultimately produce superior results and is best for larger spaces, but at least Android customers finally have some measure of Trueplay support. (iOS users have the option to use quick tune as well if they don’t want to fuss with the longer walkabout version.) One thing I’ve observed is that Trueplay can produce different-sounding results even when a speaker hasn’t moved. If you’re not loving the initial adjustments it makes, it’s worth trying the process again (and ensuring that your phone’s mic holes are clean).
Before covering voice, I should preface that I’m not big on voice assistants. Like so many other people, I largely stick to weather inquiries, setting timers, and playing a song or playlist on demand. My apartment is neither filled with smart home gadgets nor deeply wired into Alexa (or Google Assistant for that matter). But during the review period, I’ve made an effort to regularly use both Alexa and Sonos Voice Control to play music and leave my phone in my pocket. That experience has been positive, and even at moderate volume levels, the far-field microphones do a good job of recognizing your voice (and the “Alexa” or “Hey Sonos” hotwords) over whatever music is playing.
But make no mistake: there will inevitably be potential buyers disappointed about Google Assistant being left out of the party. Sonos claims Google has made it more technically burdensome over the last year to include Assistant on third-party speakers and says this has nothing to do with the ongoing legal battle between both companies. Whatever the reasoning, it’s consumers who lose out in the end. Hopefully, a solution can be reached that brings Assistant back into the equation for those who’ve built their smart homes around it.
As with the Sonos One, you can stereo pair two Era 100s for wider, more immersive listening or use them as rear surrounds for any Sonos soundbar. Just be aware that each speaker switches over to mono in home theater mode; you’ll get dedicated left and right rear channels but not the multidimensional surround (with Atmos height effects) offered by the much pricier Era 300. You can also pair a Sonos Sub or Sub Mini with the Era 100 if you want to lend more power to its already adequate bass response.
It’s easy to buy a less expensive smart speaker like the Nest Audio, HomePod Mini, or Amazon Echo. Anyone looking for a smart home controller first and music speaker second will still find some appeal in those devices.
But with the Era 100, Sonos has succeeded in its goal of remastering and bettering the Sonos One. It sounds nicer than lower-cost competitors. From basically any perspective (outside of voice assistant options), this speaker is a winner. It sounds better and is truer to stereo music than the Sonos One. The onboard controls are more comprehensive. And Sonos has improved upon the One’s formula by adding genuinely useful new features like Bluetooth and line-in.
Even if it can’t go head-to-head with the $299 HomePod in audio fidelity — Apple’s speaker takes that victory — it’s far more flexible in how you can listen to music. You’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of the Era 100 on day one, which isn’t as easy to say about the costly Era 300 and the uneven early showing of spatial audio that Sonos is betting so heavily on.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge
Source: The Verge