No, of course you don’t buy a speaker to watch it. But should your gaze fall on your speaker while enjoying the sound, the sight of it should ideally not make you wince. So that’s a good thing Era 300the latest Sonos wireless speaker and the company’s first foray into spatial audio (except Dolby Atmos enabled sound bars, of course), is such an impressive and accomplished performer – his physical appearance is easy to overlook. Unless you somehow unexpectedly find it in your field of vision, in which case it never ceases to be surprising.
It’s fair to say that Sonos’ ubiquity so far has been based as much on the supremely painless ownership experience as on the sound the products actually make. “Fairly competitive” sound quality is good enough for many listeners when it’s paired with industry-leading ergonomics, a flawless control app, and the simplest, most straightforward multi-room audio ecosystem available.
But with Era 300 – and with the smaller, more affordable ones Era 100 stereo speaker launched at the same time – Sonos has kept all its established virtues and added audio performance to match any price-matching size-adjacent alternative. And in the case of the Era 300, spatial audio performance to boot.
Spatial audio (which basically means “more than two channels” and is almost always based on Dolby’s Atmos format) is gaining popularity beyond its original home in the cinema, thanks in no small part to evangelical support from the likes of Amazon Music Unlimited , Apple Music and Tidal music streaming services.
Sonos does not support the Tidal catalog of Dolby Atmos content (boo!), but at least it supports Amazon and Apple’s spatial audio offerings. And although Apple, thanks to his Home pod smart speaker, is a full service provider of spatial audio music, we can safely say that when it comes to the hardware, the Sonos Era 300 wipes the floor with the Apple Homepod. Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s worth it, and then some.
The Era 300 uses six speaker drivers to create an impression of immersive, enveloping sound. There are four tweeters: one facing the front, one to the left, one to the right, and one loaded into a horn and shooting up to bounce sound off the ceiling and create a sense of sonic height. Then a pair of mid/bass drivers are tilted left and right to generate some width (and provide separation when the speaker is playing stereo content). Each driver gets an individual block of Class D amplification – this being Sonos, the amount of power available is privileged information.
Section Four now ends: “And the Era 300, among other things, marks the end of an era for Sonos. The company used to have the clearest, most logical naming convention for its loudspeakers, but now we are in the Era era, where a pecking order is much less easy to distinguish.”
On the top of the cabinet – so unhappily angular and shakily proportioned that my youngest daughter physically flinched at the sight of it – there are a few physical controls. Touch surfaces cover play/pause, skip forward/back, and voice assistant interaction (the Era 300 is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Sonos Voice Control), and there’s an indented (and very nicely implemented) volume slider. Other than a brand logo and LED to beat, the front of the case is characterless. The bottom has a pair of small rubber feet and mounts for the cost option stand. And on the back there’s a socket for mains power, a switch to turn off the mics, a USB-C shaped aux input (unforgivably the bespoke line-in adapter for use with this input is also a cost option) and a button for Bluetooth pairing.
Sonos sees the blue light
Oh yes, bluetooth. After who knows how many years of Bluetooth being dismissed as an inferior technology fit only for its portable speakers, Sonos has undergone a Damascene conversion. So in addition to using the exemplary control app, into which any number of streaming services can be integrated, it is possible to stream to the Era 300 using Bluetooth 5.0 with SBC and AAC codec compatibility according to the bog standard. Apple AirPlay 2 is also available, as is Wi-Fi streaming: Wi-Fi 6 is supported.
As well as grouping together all your favorite streaming services, the app offers some EQ customization and the latest version of Sonos’ admirable Trueplay room calibration software. Newly available for Android (albeit in a slightly truncated form) and iOS, Trueplay doesn’t last long and proves brilliantly effective at tailoring Era 300 to your particular environment.
The app also offers multi-room, multi-channel capabilities (if you have a pair of Era 300, they can act as rear speakers in a home theater system, along with the likes of the Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos soundbar). The app remains the paradigm, the gold standard… and it makes Sonos ownership a very sensible option regardless of other considerations.