Sonos is probably the biggest name in multiroom audio, but with Apple, Amazon, Google and more joining in, it’s faced stiff competition in recent years. Now the company is striking back with the Sonos Era 300, its most versatile speaker to date.
With Bluetooth, spatial audio and a unique design, it’s certainly an impressive proposition. But is it better than the five-star Apple HomePod 2? We haven’t had the Sonos Era 300 for a full review yet, but the features and specs they offer have already intrigued us and compared them to the HomePod 2.
Let’s take a closer look at the two and find out.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: price
Both smart speakers are premium, well-featured devices, and their prices reflect that. The HomePod 2 launched for £299 / $299 / AU$479, which is on the pricier end of the smart speaker scale. Because this is an Apple device, the price has remained firm – you might find it with a small discount every now and then, but don’t expect hundreds to be knocked off the price.
The Sonos Era 300 contains a lot of technology and a new eye-catching design, so it also has a premium. At £449 / $449 / AU$749, it’s even more expensive than Apple’s smart speaker. Again, Sonos kit rarely goes on sale, but keep an eye out for Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday, you never know your luck.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: design
Sonos has recently branched out into different types of speakers – think soundbars and portable models – but the standard home speaker models have generally looked a little uninspired. They are actually vertical or horizontal rectangular boxes. But the Era 300 takes a whole new approach, with a unique cinched hourglass design that looks like no other smart speaker on the market.
And it’s not just for aesthetic purposes. Like all best designs, it also serves to enhance the speaker’s functionality – in this case, firing sound from all angles to help with the spatial audio function.
There are also some neat details. The control panel on the top has an improved volume control (which is recessed like a trough) and works seamlessly with other Sonos speakers.
The HomePod 2 looks a bit bland by comparison, but we can’t fault the quality of the device and the woven mesh coating. From a design perspective, it’s nearly identical to the original HomePod, albeit slightly shorter. The touch panel on the top has also shrunk a bit, although more light shines when chatting with Siri, which is a very pleasing effect to the eye.
It’s also slightly lighter than the original HomePod, but feels just as solid.
Apple has stuck with its winning design, which makes sense given the quality of the original HomePod. But for innovation alone, Sonos could win this round.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: Features
This is where the Sonos Era 300 could really shine. It’s Sonos’ first home speaker to offer Bluetooth – previously exclusive to the Roam and Move portable models – so you can stream content wirelessly from your mobile device. It also comes with a USB-C line input, so you can connect an external sound source, such as a turntable. (Note: You’ll need the Sonos Line-In Adapter and an auxiliary cable for wired connections, but both are sold separately).
Again, this isn’t entirely unfamiliar territory for Sonos (line-in features on the flagship Sonos Five), but having both features is a real selling point, making the device much more versatile in terms of what music source you can pair it with . .
Of course, as this is a Sonos device, it also has Wi-Fi 6 for streaming and multi-room capabilities. And it can handle 24-bit/48kHz audio from Qobuz and Amazon Music.
But the real credit is spatial audio with Dolby Atmos. The Era 300’s unique shape and six-driver arrangement make it perfect for creating the kind of immersive soundscape that makes spatial audio so immersive. There’s a subwoofer on both the left and right sides, with waveguides on top. The upward-firing tweeter bounces audio off the ceiling to help create the spatial audio/Dolby Atmos effect, while a front waveguide should provide crystal-clear vocals and instruments.
At a briefing, Sonos’ chief product manager (hardware), Ryan Moore, told us, “The goal with Era 300 was really to create the best standalone spatial audio experience from a single speaker.”
That’s quite a claim. While we were impressed during our short demo, we’re reserving judgment until we’ve tried it out in our test labs. The only major drawback is that you can only play Dolby Atmos spatial tracks from Amazon Music at launch; Tidal and Apple Music’s vast libraries of spatial audio with Dolby Atmos tracks, it seems, have not yet been released for playback on Era 300.
Other extras include voice control and audio optimization with both Android and iOS devices thanks to Trueplay for iOS and, for the first time, Android. It works with the Sonos S2 app and can work as a stereo pair with another Era 300, and as Dolby Atmos rear speakers in a surround sound setup (up to 7.1.4) with Sonos’ Arc and Beam Gen 2 soundbars.
The HomePod 2 turns convention on its head, with a woofer on top and tweeters on the bottom. Like the Era 300, it can analyze its environment and optimize its audio output accordingly, and the speed at which it does so is nothing short of astonishing. A ‘Reduce Bass’ feature (accessible via the Apple Home app) is a nice touch – and a godsend for housemates who don’t like to party – and voice control comes courtesy of Apple’s Siri.
Spatial audio plays a key role in the HomePod 2’s prowess, with Apple Music integration key to its musical success. And while Spotify, Tidal, and Amazon Music are supported services, you can’t control them with voice control. Rather, you have to play them via AirPlay 2 from your mobile device, which introduces an unnecessary middleman in the process. The same goes for non-Apple radio stations.
As with the Era 300, the maximum resolution files supported are 24-bit/48kHz. And the HomePod 2 has added smart home capabilities – in addition to controlling devices such as smart lights, thermostats, blinds and security cameras, it also has integrated humidity and temperature sensors so it can turn on a dehumidifier when the humidity reaches a certain level, for example. We know, we’re What Hi-Fi?, not Good Housekeeping, but it’s all part of the HomePod package anyway.
The HomePod 2 has Bluetooth, but crucially there are no ports to connect audio sources like a turntable. And for us, no humidity sensor can make up for that. However, for Sonos’ Era 300 to really succeed as the best “standalone spatial audio single speaker,” we want it to support songs from all music services.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: sound
Now it’s worth noting that we haven’t tested the Sonos Era 300 yet. We’ve had a demo with a handful of songs (Fineas, Paul McCartney and xx songs played) but that’s nowhere near testing it ourselves in our dedicated listening rooms. So we wait until we have put the speaker to the test before passing judgment.
It’ll be especially interesting to see how it compares to the HomePod 2 in terms of spatial audio with Dolby Atmos tracks. Apple’s smart speaker is well versed in the technology, presenting additional vocal tracks with plenty of warmth and clarity. But the HomePod 2’s sound has much more to offer than just spatial audio. Apple Lossless tracks also sound great, bursting with energy and excitement without any edginess. And there’s more bass than you’d expect from a speaker of this size – that ‘Reduce Bass’ knob could get a lot of use.
The bass is also nicely defined, acting as a seamlessly integrated and nimble bottom end with plenty of flexibility at the lower end of the frequency scale.
A more traditional, front-firing speaker will project sound further into the room, but if you’re looking for a more open, less directional approach, you can’t go far wrong with the HomePod 2.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: Verdict
Until we’ve tested the Era 300, we can’t definitively comment on the sound quality or full features. As such, we can’t recommend it – yet. But we can see that from a design and spec standpoint, it certainly gives the HomePod 2 value for money. That added versatility could be the deal-breaker that convinces non-Apple users — or those with only one foot in the Apple ecosystem — to choose it over the HomePod 2.
But the HomePod 2 remains an excellent smart speaker. Well built, effortlessly usable and with great sound quality, it’s a great showcase for Apple Music. And if Apple’s streaming service isn’t your cup of tea? We’ll update this article once we’ve tested the Era 300, so stay tuned…
Read our Sonos Era 300 hands on review for our first impressions
Apple HomePod vs HomePod 2: what is better?
Here’s ours HomePod 2 vs Sonos One shooting
Which Sonos speaker should you buy? Find out here