Sonos Roam review: Now you really can take the exceptional Sonos sound anywhere

Small, lightweight, packed with great networking features plus your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant, the sweet-sounding Sonos Roam just became the portable smart speaker to beat.

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Battery life

Sonos claims that the Roam should get about 10 hours of battery life on a single charge, or about an hour less than the far heavier Sonos Move. While I didn’t perform any scientific battery life tests, I repeatedly managed to play the Roam on and off in my house or the backyard for most of a day without the speaker running out of juice (it generally had about a 30 percent reserve left). Personally, I’d feel pretty comfortable taking the Roam out for a day of music without getting stressed about battery life.

Sonos says you can charge the Roam using the included USB-C cable and a minimum 10-watt USB charger, or using “any” Qi charger. In my tests, however, some Qi chargers worked better than others. A popular RAVPower QC 3.0 wireless charger barely worked at all (I own three, and the Roam had trouble with all of them), mainly because the silicon ring that serves as a phone grip prevented the Roam from sitting flat on its bottom (which serves as the speaker’s charging contact). I had better luck with an Anker PowerWave wireless charger, which has a perfectly flat charging surface, although even then, the Roam charged slowly—indeed, if the Roam’s battery was almost depleted when I began charging it at night, it frequently wouldn’t be quite full yet by morning. It’s worth noting that I left the Roam powered on with its voice assistant engaged while charging; naturally, the speaker will charge much faster if you put it into standby mode.

sonos roam wireless charging Ben Patterson/IDG

The Sonos Roam had trouble with an (older) RAVPower Qi wireless charger, but it had better luck with an Anker PowerWave model.

If you don’t want to play guessing games with a third-party Qi wireless charger, you could opt for a custom Sonos wireless charger that snaps onto the bottom of the Roam with magnets. At $50, the Sonos charger is pricey, boosting the overall price of the Roam to $219. Then again, most wireless chargers don’t come with USB adapters, so buying your own would probably cost at least $30 with the adapter included. Sonos didn’t send us its wireless charger for evaluation.

There’s one more interesting side note when it comes to battery life on the Roam. In a note to reviewers, Sonos said that it is “working closely with our partners at Google to issue an update that improves battery life of the speaker when Google Assistant is enabled.” When I enquired further about the Google Assistant battery life issue, I was told simply that “we will let you know when an update is available in the coming weeks.” What I can say is that during my tests and alternating between Alexa and Google Assistant, I didn’t notice any appreciable difference in battery life.

Audio performance

When Sonos first announced the diminutive, .95-pound Roam, I’m sure plenty of Move owners groaned, slapped their foreheads, and/or shook their fists at the sky. Who’d want a Sonos speaker that’s the size of a bowling ball with the featherweight Roam on the scene?

Well, Move users can relax. The Roam and the Move may both be portable, but they’re very different speakers.

Compared side-by-side, the Move sounds way bigger, with deeper bass, greater definition, and far more power. The Move could easily entertain a large crowd at, say, a barbecue or a beach party, particularly once you cranked up the sound. The Roam, on the other hand, sounds somewhat smaller, because it is smaller. But given its compact form factor, the Roam still packs in exceptional—sometimes shockingly exceptional— sound.

I tested a wide range of music on the Roam, ranging from Taylor Swift’s Evermore and Led Zeppelin I-IV to Kraftwerk’s Computer World and a complete set of Maurice Ravel’s solo piano works, both indoors and outside. After about a week of listening, I’d describe the Roam’s sound profile as detailed and tight, with plenty of punch without overlooking the midrange. Indeed, too many portable Bluetooth speakers try to cover up underwhelming sonics with huge, too-boomy bass, but the Roam manages to pack a low-frequency punch that doesn’t swamp the mids.

I’ll give you a couple of examples, starting with Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto in A minor (as performed by Viktoria Mullova and Andre Previn on Philips Classics). As the third movement segues into the fourth, a long violin solo ends with a furious burst of percussion. On the Roam, the pounding timpani sound thrillingly alive, bassy while also controlled and detailed. I played the same piece on Anker’s Soundcore Motion+, a $99 Bluetooth speaker that’s more than twice as heavy as the Roam, and the percussion failed to excite due to the Motion+’s narrower dynamics. Now, the Motion+ is a fine speaker for the price, and you can certainly crank it louder than the Roam, but the Motion+ can’t match the Roam’s subtlety and detail.

Next, we’ll take a sharp left turn to Ciara’s “Level Up,” an addictively pulsing track with a punchy, infectious beat. On a lesser portable speaker, “Level Up” can sound a bit lifeless, with the vocals, percussion and bass all blending together (the Motion+, to be fair, handled “Level Up” somewhat better than the Shostakovich), but the Roam teases out the detail in Ciara’s voice and the thumping low end, which sounds powerfully bassy but never boomy.

The Roam’s audio quality gets a solid assist from Auto Trueplay, which automatically tinkers with the sound whenever you pick up the Roam and place it down in a new location. Because it now works over Bluetooth, Auto Trueplay is available not just indoors and in Wi-Fi-blanketed backyards but also on the beach, in the wilderness, or anywhere else out of Wi-Fi range. At a busy playground, for example, I could still hear the nuances of DJ Grumble’s “Flamed,” while Janelle Monáe’s “I Got the Juice” kept its shimmer even when I put the Roam on the top shelf of a liquor cabinet with a driver-blocking lip.

Bottom line

No, the Sonos Roam doesn’t sound as big as the Sonos Move, but it’s also not nearly as big as the Move, which means you can take that vaunted Sonos sound—complete with vibrant detail, surprisingly powerful bass, and exciting dynamics—practically anywhere. Even better, the grab-and-go Roam packs all the networking and grouping features you’d expect from a Sonos speaker, along with your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant, all for a reasonable (in a decidedly non-Sonos way) price tag. Grab it and go, indeed.

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At a Glance
  • Small, lightweight, packed with great networking features plus your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant, the sweet-sounding Sonos Roam just became the portable smart speaker to beat.

    Pros

    • Exceptional sound for its size
    • Auto Trueplay now works over Bluetooth
    • Sound Swap feature lets you “swap” music with other Sonos speakers
    • Small and light, with a waterproof design

    Cons

    • Slow wireless charging (at least with third-party chargers)
    • Sound Swap doesn’t work across Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay 2 modes
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