Sonos has taken the wraps off its new Era range of speakers, with the new, smaller Era 100 replacing a fairly popular, well-received but now long-in-the-tooth Sonos One.
But the bigger launch – and the bigger question mark – is the new Era 300. This is an entirely new product, designed from the ground up and specifically for spatial audio playback.
Spatial audio has exploded in popularity in recent years, appearing in Dolby Atmos-enabled movies, TV shows, and now music. It relates to Dolby Atmos’ ability to record content on more channels than the traditional two channels, giving creators more freedom and – for listeners – providing a more immersive experience. For most music – which has been in good old stereo for a few decades – that’s quite a big change.
Plenty of songs and albums are being remastered from stereo and/or upmixed to spatial audio, but there is a new influx of artists making new music specifically in spatial audio/Dolby Atmos music – but there’s no way to really heard back at home in a special speaker, says Sonos. (Although we might add: the spatial audio-enabled Apple HomePod 2 exists).
As Sonos’ chief product manager, Ryan Moore, said at our press briefing, “The goal with Era 300 was really to create the best standalone spatial audio experience from a single speaker.”
So Sonos set to work to solve this problem. Enter the Sonos Era 300.
Sonos Era 300: price
Sonos has priced the Era 300 on the premium side, clocking in at £449 / $449 / €499 / AU$749. That’s quite a hefty sum to pay – by comparison, its closest rival HomePod 2 costs £299 / $299 / AU$479.
It’s £50 / $100 shy of Sonos’ most expensive wireless speaker, which is still the Sonos Five at £499 / $549 / AU$700. The big difference here is that Sonos Five delivers stereo music; Sonos Era 300 can deliver mono, stereo and especially spatial sound.
Meanwhile, the smaller, cheaper Era 100 costs £249 / $249 / €279 / AU$399. Both speakers are available to pre-order now and will be on sale from 28 March.
Sonos Era 300: Build and Design
We got our first glimpse of the Sonos Era speakers at a press briefing at Sonos’ offices in Santa Barbara, USA in February 2023. The new Sonos Era 300 has an unusual shape – a “cinched hourglass” design, to be precise. With the spatial audio firing as the focal point, that meant a new and unusual arrangement of drivers and amplification that would fire sound in all directions to deliver that ‘immersive’ audio experience – while maintaining a family feel befitting the Sonos family. family of loudspeakers.
Inside the Era 300 are six drivers: four tweeters (one front-firing, two side-firing, one upward-firing) and two woofers (tilted left and right for stereo reproduction) – with custom waveguides that direct sound forward, upward , left and right to surround you with music. Each of the six drivers is also powered by its own Class D amplifier.
That upward-firing tweeter is Dolby Atmos-specified, loaded into a directional horn, and bounces sound off the ceiling when playing Dolby Atmos music.
Personally, the Era 300 isn’t actually as clunky or bulky as the initial images suggested. Its quirky design makes it stand out, but in a good way, compared to other traditional designs on the market. The Sonos design team made sure the profile is still fairly slim with a very clean design – apart from the Sonos logo on the grille, there are no buttons or displays on the front. And the finish – in matte black or matte white – fits in nicely with the rest of the brand’s products.
One thing that needed to change – in both the Era 300 and the smaller, stereo Era 100 – was the interface on the unit at the top of the products. Both now have a volume control (or a “trough” as Sonos calls it) to better guide people to use it as a gesture control.
The touch-sensitive buttons for playback are also quite subtle. We didn’t actually get to use the speakers during our demo, so how the new controls work in everyday use is something we’ll be sure to test when we get official test samples.
On the Era 300 the upward firing driver requiring room to fire out sound meant moving the control panel a touch forward (not centered as originally intended) and that also meant moving the cinch point moved – hence the unique design.
Sonos Era 300: features
Aside from spatial audio – which we’ll get into more detail shortly – the biggest news is that the Sonos Era 300 and Era 100 speakers can play music over Wi-Fi (of the Wi-Fi 6 variety) and Bluetooth. It’s the first time Bluetooth has been included in the mains Sonos speakers (which were only available on portable Roam and Move models), and we’re told it’s the Bluetooth 5.0 version and the standard SBC and AAC codecs supported. (Note: Spatial audio can only be played over Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth).
AirPlay 2 streaming returns, as does Sonos voice control and Alexa support (you can also disable the microphone for complete privacy). Also new is a USB-C port for wired connection to sources such as turntables. You’ll need a specific Line-In Adapter and Sonos Combo Adapter separately if you want to go the wired route, and the downside is that these accessories apparently don’t come in the box. You’ll have to buy them separately through Sonos, but a slight bonus is that the adapters cost just £19 (which isn’t too expensive compared to certain other brands’ add-ons) and come in black or white to match both Era speakers.
Thankfully, the power cable entry, Bluetooth pairing button, and microphone mute switch are neatly tucked away on the back.
Playback, multi-room grouping and more can be done via the Sonos S2 app, which we’ve always found to be well-featured, seamless to use and the ability to control all your music from one place a handy solution, especially if you play music from various streaming services. Again, we didn’t get a chance to play with the app during the demo, but we expect it to be just as friendly and easy to use when we tested the Sonos Five recently.
Both speakers can also form stereo pairs. The Era 300 (and Era 100) supports playback of 24-bit/48kHz hi-res music from Qobuz and Amazon Music. It’s worth noting that the Era 100 is designed for stereo playback (unlike the outgoing Sonos One’s mono output), but doesn’t support spatial audio playback like the Era 300. Why? The Era 100’s small form factor simply doesn’t do justice to spatial audio, says Sonos, and wouldn’t include the specific six-driver acoustic architecture designed for the Era 300.
Sonos Era: sound – first impressions
We got a short audio demo during our press briefing from the Era speakers. It is usually impossible to get a clear idea of what a product really sounds like in a press launch environment and we wait with full judgment until we see the speakers in our trusted dedicated Which Hi-Fi? listening rooms – the same caveat applies here. In addition, the room we got the demo in also sounded a bit bright, which had an effect on the speakers’ reproduction.
Still, we got to hear a handful of Dolby Atmos tracks on the Sonos Era 300 speaker, from Paul McCartney, Imagine Dragons and Finneas (A concert in six months, the live version). As far as first impressions go, the Era 300 certainly sounded big and wide. There was a good sense of space and it had a full, rich tone. Voices were heard clearly and not swallowed up by the rich, thick bass, and while detail and clarity are hard to judge in a demo, it certainly sounded clean. Again, the clear-sounding room and lack of comparison in our demo still leave the Era 300 a bit of an audio mystery.
How it compares to the five-star Apple HomePod 2 (which also uses AirPlay 2 and supports spatial audio) also remains to be seen.
There’s also the small issue of where you can play Spatial Audio/Dolby Atmos music tracks from the Era 300. Sonos has always been quite cross-platform – a fairly open approach that meant no matter what device or streaming service was used, it could be played with a Sonos product. That was an important pillar of his popularity.
There’s a slight caveat with the Era 300, though. At launch, Sonos states that the Era 300 “only currently supports Dolby Atmos Music through Amazon Music Unlimited.” That means if you use Tidal and/or Apple Music for spatial audio playback (which are the five-star services that Which Hi-Fi? used in testing), miss you – to begin with.
In response to our question about this issue, Sonos seemed to confirm that this will be resolved shortly: “Today, Era 300 does not support Dolby Atmos Music on Tidal. Over time, we will continue to add more listening choices and partners, but we will “We don’t have any further information today. We’ll be adding support for spatial audio through Apple Music soon.”
Aside from the music playback aspect, there’s also big news for AV fans: the Sonos Era 300 can be used as Dolby Atmos surround speakers, delivering multi-channel (three channels) rear sound for the first time. These can be used in conjunction with the Sonos Arc and Beam Gen 2 soundbars and a Sub to create a maximum 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos home cinema experience.
The Era 100 can also be used as rear surrounds, minus any Atmos action, but compatible with a wider range of Sonos soundbars: Arc, Beam Gen 1 and Gen 2, and the cheaper Ray.
In our demo we were shown clips of A quiet place And Top gun: Maverick. While we got a decent sense of the sense of space, the dramatic tension and the effect of rockets flying overhead, we couldn’t hear the full effect of the Era 300s used as rear surrounds from where we sat. It’s one that we’ll reserve judgment on until we get them in our dedicated listening rooms for a good listen.
Sonos Era 300: initial verdict
Sonos’ goal of giving home listeners even a taste of what Dolby Atmos music can sound like in the studio is exciting. The Era 300 (and the new Era 100) is a bold move from the audio company that feels fresh and confident – although we’re curious if it convinces us that spatial audio really is the next evolutionary step in audio.
Of course, we still expect the speaker to perform just as well with stereo music as it does with spatial audio (and in an AV setup), but the addition of Bluetooth, the quirky design and the promise of a seamless Sonos experience in the new Era assortment all add an enticing experience. We can’t wait to explore more and fully listen to the Era 300 in our listening rooms.
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Read our Apple HomePod 2 review
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Sonos Era 100 vs Sonos One: which smart speaker is better?