There’s a trick that hi-fi companies sometimes do when demoing products: They set up several systems in the same room, with speakers of various sizes present, and then play some tunes. When people start nodding their heads in approval of the sound, the company rep reveals that it’s actually the smaller set of speakers producing the sound, leaving everyone in awe at their performance.
You could easily do a similar trick with the Sonos Era 300. It’s the new smart speaker from Sonos, nested in between the Era 100 and the Sonos Five, and it singlehandedly produces sound that can often match larger speakers, perhaps even entire hi-fi systems.
The Sonos Era 300 is the company’s first speaker to support spatial audio and, like most other Sonos speakers, can be integrated with other audio products from the brand, but is designed to work perfectly fine on its own.
Having had a single Era 300 speaker for review the last couple of weeks, I can say that it achieves this feat wonderfully. But I wasn’t as thrilled when I first pulled the Era 300 out of the box.
The Era 300 is quite big, much larger in size than any other smart speaker I ever had at home. It’s also heavy; at 4.47kg it’s still fairly portable, but it’s not something you’ll want to move around very often. Design-wise, it’s quite different from most speakers, which are portrait-oriented; the Era 300 is wider than it is taller, and looks a bit like a speaker that was placed on its side. And though it has tons of fancy tech inside – six amps, four tweeters, and two woofers – on the outside it’s covered in fairly bland, white plastic (it also comes in black; I haven’t seen that variant in person). It doesn’t look bad, but it suffers in comparison both with hi-fi speakers which are typically clad in wood, and Apple’s HomePods which are far more elegant and covered in a mesh material that’s soft to the touch.
A small design flaw: if you want to connect a source to the Era 300 via a 3.5mm audio jack, you’ll need to use an adapter that’s sold separately.
Setup is simple and only takes a minute; download Sonos’ mobile app, let it find the speaker, and it takes it from there. Using the speaker is similarly easy. It comes with nifty touch controls on top, but I mostly controlled it via either the Sonos app. You can also use the Spotify and Apple Music apps which require you to set the Era 300 as the audio output before playback. The Era 300 also supports Bluetooth 5.0 and AirPlay 2. And if you like to use voice commands, you have Sonos’s Voice Control for your music-related needs, and Alexa for the rest.
The Sonos app lets you directly access other services, such as Apple Music, but the implementation leaves a few things to be desired. For example, searching for tunes on the Sonos app simply won’t get you the same results as you get in Apple Music. After a few tries of being unable to find the album or playlist I needed, I’ve given up and switched to using the Apple Music app instead.
It works, but it’s not as seamless as using the Apple Music with Apple’s HomePods, which is nearly completely effortless. Sometimes, it would take an extra second for the playback to start on the Sonos Era 300. And sometimes, I’d point an audio source to the Sonos Era 300, and it simply wouldn’t comply, so I’d have to repeat the process. It’s not a dealbreaker, but little issues like this do add up over time, and can become annoying.
You will be ready to forgive those details when music starts playing on the Sonos Era 300. The sound is better than anything I’ve ever heard from a single smart speaker. Everything just sounds great: from Black Keys’ latest studio album, ‘Dropout Boogie’, to Ryan Adams’ delicate live performance at Carnegie Hall, to the Weeknd’s massive-sounding ‘Live at SoFi Stadium’. Most smart speakers are built from compromises, and I typically want to equalize the sound this or that way, depending on what’s playing. Not the Sonos Era 300; it sounds great no matter what you play.
I was constantly surprised by what the Era 300 could do. It effortlessly captured the dynamics of an intimate Paco de Lucia live performance, where the only instrument was the flamenco guitar; on the other hand, when the bass drum kicked in on All Them Witches’ ‘Workhorse’, the speaker moved the air as if real drums were played in my room.
Sonos Era 300 supports spatial audio via Dolby Atmos, too, though only on Amazon and Apple Music, but not Tidal. The Sonos Era 300 fills the room with sound no matter what you play, but spatial audio stretches the stage upwards and gives it more depth. In the Sonos’ app settings, you can tune the sound further, adjusting the volume of the upwards-firing speaker, which is handy when the speaker is positioned lower than you might want.
The Era 300 has an uncanny ability to make the music sound good regardless of where you stand in the room. It also produces a decent stereo effect for a single speaker, though I really wish I had another Era 300 to pair it with and hear what the sound was like in proper stereo.
On smart speakers such as this one, the sound typically deteriorates when you play something complex, like an orchestral classical piece or a prog rock tune. It happens on the Sonos Era 300, but to a lesser degree; I was amazed how this single speaker can hold it together during an incredibly over-the-top Liquid Tension Experiment song.
If you don’t mind the design, and want a simple solution for great sound, Sonos Era 300 is a great choice. Even more so if you already own other Sonos products, or plan to add them later.
At $449, however, the Sonos Era 300 is also pricey enough for any prospective buyer to consider actually dishing out for an entire hi-fi system (especially if you’re considering buying two Era 300s for a stereo sound). As always, it’s a tough choice, but I can assure you of one thing: If you do choose the Sonos Era 300, you’ll get a lot of sound out of it.
Stan is a Senior Editor at Mashable, where he has worked since 2007. He’s got more battery-powered gadgets and band t-shirts than you. He writes about the next groundbreaking thing. Typically, this is a phone, a coin, or a car. His ultimate goal is to know something about everything.