Is the Sonos Roam portable speaker worth buying? We review the new Bluetooth speaker for 2021
Built to make noise outside when you’re out and about, the ultra-lite Sonos Roam is the new entry into their speaker family. How well does it work?
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If part of any given product launch is fortuitous timing, then Sonos Roam is impressively serendipitous. The release of the portable speaker - smaller and less bulky than the (more expensive) Sonos Move - has happened just as the country is taking to parks and beaches to socialise, meaning this hardy, handily sized Bluetooth speaker can provide a Summer soundtrack to all of our far-flung outdoor fetes.
At £159, its price-point is much more within reach for many than the somewhat cumbersome £399 Sonos Move, but still a decent wallop of cash in the realm of battery-powered portable speakers. So what do you get for your hard-earned pound?
Size and shape
Compact and triangular, the Roam is handily designed to allow it to rest on any of its multiple sides (they love palindromic design, Sonos). At 430g, it’s awfully light, and comes in as ever so slightly bigger than a 500ml can of beer, but altogether handier to grip. It’s a pretty little unit, cleverly designed.
With a metal mesh frontage, matte plastic back, and rubber end caps, it’s designed to absorb a reasonable amount of impact, but we confess we haven’t dropped it from anything more than a foot to test that, and advise you don’t either. It’s water resistant but not proof - again, we haven’t put it in a sink of water, but it can withstand the vicissitudes of U.K summertime weather no trouble - rain won’t harm it.
£159 for a portable speaker? Why?
That sum makes the Sonos Roam the cheapest speaker in their range by a margin, but also pricier than much of their competition. Cynics may declaim the price tag as paying for a label, but we found there’s more to it (although we’ve listed a few alternatives at the bottom of the article).
Because the Roam uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, setup is the work of moments, via the Sonos app, and you can incorporate the Roam into any multi-room setup, so if you’re already part of the Sonos family it’s a natural addition: you can share music being streamed with other speakers on your home wifi network. We’re a fan of the instant group setting, allowing you to pair it with the nearest Sonos speakers, and use the Roam as a base unit to control them.
Software updates come automatically and without issue. Using the Sonos app, the speaker also finds Spotify Connect instantly, or any streaming service you can think of.
As a downside, though, it can’t be used as part of a home cinema setup, or paired to an external sub-woofer.
It lasts for ten hours of playback on battery, but you can also play it as it recharges, so it’s home life is just fine - if you’re partying outside for longer than ten hours, congratulations on your staying power, frankly. A wireless charging pad to match the Roam costs £44, but a standard USB-C works, too.
The three LED lights on the ends of the speaker show when the microphone is turned on, the speaker is on, or when the charger is engaged. The built-in mic allows your Roam to connect to most standard voice assistants, including Alexa. Unfortunately, at the minute, using Google Assistant drains the battery swiftly, though purportedly a bug fix is being worked on for this.
Ok, but what does Sonos Roam sound like?
If you have a Sonos in your home already, you’ll know they’re good on the sound front. The Roam is a worthy entry into their stable. It’s more nuanced than you would expect for a portable speaker, offering well balanced sound, crisp and clear.
It doesn’t fall victim to the most common issue we’ve found with portable speakers, the many that up the bass in order to assure you it can make a decent sound despite its diminutive stature. A separate mid and tweeter speaker allows the intricacies of songs to shine through - pop synth and sweet melodies can be discerned as readily as raspy hi-hats and lilting strings.
It features ‘Truplay’; a system designed to tune the speaker automatically. It utilises its in-built microphones to monitor its surroundings and optimise its sound accordingly, adjusting for orientation, environment and obstacles, though you’re also able to control the treble, bass, and volume within the Sonos Beam app.
What we will say is that sound starts to fall apart when the speaker is cranked to full bore, but it ‘twas ever thus with most speakers. Also, it’s not got enough welly to fill an entire backyard - this is background music if you’re throwing a party - instead, it’s far more suited for a circle of friends at a picnic. If you want a portable speaker that will bring the noise when there’s throngs of people around (in the future, of course) the Sonos Move is your beast.
Sonos Roam Key Specs: Dimensions: 168 x 62 x 60mm Weight: 430g Connectivity: Wifi 5 (ac), Bluetooth 5, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect Battery: 10 hours playback, 10 days standby, Charging: USB-C (up to 15W; 5V/1.5A or higher), Qi wireless, Water resistance: IP67 (1m depths for 30 mins)
Sonos Roam portable speaker
In short: the Sonos Roam is a joy to listen to, with great, nuanced sound, perfect for small to medium side outside gatherings or around your house. It’s a natural fit if you already have a Sonos sound system in your house, is water and shock resistant, and looks terrific. On the downside, it’s more expensive than other speakers, takes a long time to charge up, and the sound taps out when it’s cranked to 11. All in all, though, we love it.
Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
This was the industry leader before the Sonos Roam dropped, and it’s a fun, fantastic number.
The sound is punchy. The cylindrical design allows 360 degree sound, it has a whopping 20 hours battery life when being played outdoors - and it floats in water.
The sound is natural and well balanced, too. Ever so easy to use and with terrific, large controls, as well. A great speaker.
Marshall Emberton Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Of course Marshall - legendary amp creators - are good at making machines designed to make loud sounds. Their portable speaker, the Emberton, is a wee gem, a brick shaped block, easy to carry, that produces a good, clean sound.
Unlike the other portable speakers we’ve used, this one is designed to be played LOUD, so crank up the dial. A stellar battery life - 20 hours - and quick charge option - round out this handsome bit of machinery. Be warned, though, at 700 grams, it has a bit of heft to it.
Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2
If you’re after a big, booming sound in a compact, affordable package, the Wonderboom 2 is a terrific buy. At 420grams, it’s a light little number - think of it as the speaker equivalent of Edith Piaf, a tiny thing that belts out amazing sound with clarity and precision.
It will comfortably fill a room, and outdoors, it’s sound resonates well, with a a 13 hour battery life. Simple to use and providing 360 degree sounds, it’s a canny purchase.