It sure took long enough, but the audio gurus at Sonos have finally jumped into the portable Bluetooth speaker arena, and from what we’ve seen—and heard—so far, the Move was worth the wait.
Sonos invited us to a demo on a New York City rooftop last month, so we could see and hear the Move, which is slated to go on sale September 24.
Granted, the $399 Move isn’t cheap (although that won’t surprise anyone who’s ever shopped for a Sonos speaker), nor is this bulky, six-pound smart speaker something you’d want to toss into a knapsack or purse.
We won’t render a final verdict until we’ve spent quality time with the Move, but we certainly liked the speaker’s loud and detailed sound, which was quite impressive given the outdoor setting.
Sonos’ entry into the premium portable smart speaker market comes just a couple weeks after Bose announced its own portable smart speaker. The $349 Bose Portable is set to land on September 19, and it too boasts Alexa and Google Assistant baked in, not to mention AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect support.
Drivers and controls
Going back to the Sonos Move, let’s cover the basics, starting with the drivers: a tweeter that fires down into a waveguide to deliver a wide, omnidirectional sound stage, plus a custom mid-woofer that’s built directly into the Move’s inner cabinet.
Sitting at the top of the Move’s shadow-black, 9.44 inch-tall shell are buttons for play/pause, volume up/down, and microphone on/off, as well as an array of four far-field microphones.
When the Move is connected to your Wi-Fi network (the Move’s antennas sit in the speaker’s silicon base to avoid interference from the metal grill), you can use the Sonos app to fiddle with the speaker’s EQ settings, set up multi-room audio, juggle various music services, or sync the Move with your other Sonos speakers.
When you’re out of Wi-Fi range, you can use the Move’s Bluetooth radio to connect to your iOS or Android device just as you would with any other Bluetooth speaker.
Alexa, Google Assistant, and automatic Tuneplay
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are both baked into the Move, and you can choose which voice assistant you want to use with the Sonos mobile app. Once you’ve taken your pick, you can ask Alexa or Google Assistant to do your bidding in the usual ways, from giving you a weather report or reading the headlines to shuffling a playlist or skipping to the next tune.
Using the Sonos mobile app for iOS and Android, the Move can connect to more than 100 music services, and it’s compatible with both AirPlay 2 (for multi-room audio with other speakers that support Apple’s protocol) and Spotify Connect (so you can use Spotify’s app for direct control).
We’ve long been fans of Sonos’ Trueplay technology, which analyzes a room’s acoustics using the microphone in an iOS device, and then digitally tunes the speaker’s performance so you get the optimum sound for that environment. The Sonos Move has a new version of this that uses the microphones built into the speaker itself to gather the audio data. Both versions of Trueplay use a combination of machine learning and a massive database of acoustic signatures to pull off this trick, but the Move doesn’t rely on an iPhone or iPad to do it, which should make Android users in particular very happy.
A Sonos engineer demoed the Move’s auto Trueplay feature by placing the speaker in a small cubby, which made music from the speaker sound muffled and too bassy. Within about 15 seconds, Trueplay worked its magic, pruning the bass and evening out the sound.
It’s an impressive feature, but automatic Trueplay only works when the Move is connected to Wi-Fi. When the speaker is on the road using Bluetooth, it reverts to a default sound profile that Sonos reps say has been optimized for outdoor playback.
Why no auto Trueplay over Bluetooth? It’s not because the feature relies on the cloud (all the sound analysis happens locally, I’m told); rather, Sonos reps say they want to build up a larger catalog of outdoor sound profiles before letting TruePlay loose on the beach, in a campground, or other remote location.
Speaking of remote locations, Sonos says it’s subjected the Move to all kinds of torture tests, from covering it with dust and splashing it with water to dropping it onto concrete and even pouring mustard on it. The speaker carries an IP56 rating (meaning it’s protected from but not impervious to dust, and it’s safe from water sprayed from up to a 12.5mm nozzle). A Sonos rep told me you’ll be able to take a Move to a soggy beach and then spray the sand off its shell when you get home. But you won’t be able to dunk the speaker in the pool.
You can expect up to 10 hours of music playback from the Move’s rechargeable battery, while a “suspend” mode gives you up to five days of standby time. When connected to Wi-Fi, using the Sonos app (or pushing the Power button) will instantly wake the Move from its suspended state, but because the microphones are turned off when the Move is in standby, you won’t be able to rouse it with a voice command. The Move ships with a cradle that should fully recharge its battery in about two hours, according to Sonos reps.
We’ll have a detailed review of the Sonos Move once we get our hands on one, so stay tuned.
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Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.