A new Era For Sonos?

EI took a long look and a listen to the brand-new Sonos Era 100. Styled as offering an upgrade on the One – is it just more of the same? Or a serious improvement?

The thing with a new Sonos speaker is that it doesn’t have to be the best sounding speaker in the world, the Era 100 costs £249, so you would not expect it to be, but it does have to improve on what came before, and in an ideal world perform better that you might expect from a mass-market compact speaker.

That is exactly what Sonos has set out to try and achieve here, with not just an upgrade on the One, but a reinvented speaker from the ground up, with a fresh design with several new added features. The company says that not one component from the One remains.

Some of the first things to note is that the Era 100 is larger that the speaker it will gradually replace. The Era 100 is an inch taller than the One and weighs in at 2.02kg as opposed to 1.85kg, this might present a few placement issues, but only in the instances where the One was in the tightest of spots, so this is still a compact speaker and available for pretty much the same placement options as its predecessor. Era 100 also has a new look, it has an oval shape (in matt black or white) and the grille now wraps around the product – which gives the speaker a slightly more imposing look. Other exterior changes include touch capacitive buttons for playback, as well as voice control, and a pleasingly tactile indented volume control slider on the top of the speaker. To the rear, users will find the Bluetooth paring button and they can also turn the mic on and off with a physical button. On the rear of the Era 100 there is a handy USB-C line-in connection for connecting other playback devices, the adapter for this is sold separately.

Inside, the larger space has been used to house two angled tweeters, partnering a woofer 25% larger than found in the One. Sonos promises this new arrangement delivers ‘stereo’ playback from the speaker as well as greater reach into the lower frequencies. The speakers are driven by a specially developed Class D amp so the speaker should go louder than the One. Also new is Bluetooth 5.0 (SBC, AAC) powered streaming capability to add to the existing suit of playback options.

Another welcome first is a feature EI has been asking about for a long time; the inclusion of Trueplay for Andriod users. Sonos’ reason for not including this before was understandable, Apple users could use the standard mic found in an iPhone, so the results from the Trueplay system could be predicted and the sound adjusted based on the data accurately. With many different mics on android phones, the same approach was just not possible. However the Era 100 uses updated software and its own mic to unlock the potential of Trueplay for all Android users and installers. 

One final new feature is the availability of Sonos’ own voice control feature alongside Amazon Alexa (there is no Google Assistant). The main thrust of this seems to be for users who don’t want their data stored in the cloud in any way and merely want to simply control playback commands locally.

So how does the Era 100 perform?

The good news is that this is serious step up from Sonos for the compact speaker market, its demonstrably superior to the One, not only sounding a lot better, but also in providing the new features mentioned above, making the product more agile and user friendly for installers and end-users alike. For testing we introduced the Era 100 to an existing Sonos system and moved the speaker from bedroom playback to a home office, via the kitchen. Set up as expected is straightforward, getting the speaker up and running in each position quickly. We employed Trueplay in all three situations, with predictably the best results coming in the kitchen, with lots of hard surfaces and background noise of cooking to cope with. It was genuinely a pleasure for this Andriod user to finally get access to this part of the Sonos world. 

When asked to review a product such as this, the manufacturer often recommends tracks to have a listen to that particularly show off what the maker wants you to notice about the speaker.

A few of suggested tracks here from Sonos (via Amazon or Apple Music) were ceilings by Lizzy McAlpine, Victory Dance by Ezra Collective, One by Amber Mark and The Last One from First Aid Kit.

Nothing wrong with having a listen to these and taking note of what Sonos says should be present, basically more detail, more power, the stereo on offer, a larger dynamic range than before and a more immersive experience all round. However we also plunged the Sonos Era 100 into a normal work day via the Sonos app and this user’s normal Tidal account. We asked the speaker to cope with long hours of playback in the office, bedroom and kitchen, handling everything from John Williams scores (ET and Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ series are some current favourites) early morning ambient cuts from Aphex Twin, heavier stuff in the afternoons from Airbourne and ZZ Top, to some mellow input from Lindisfarne’s Nicely Out of Tune in the evenings.

I’m happy to report that this speaker takes all of this in its stride. The increased power and detail are particularly noticeable and the promised stereo is impressive from a single speaker. The listener definitely feels closer to the music and more immersed. The issue with most budget speakers is that they often sound a little detached, they simply don’t have the range to pull you into the music, so it’s a bit like chewing a toffee with the wrapper still on. The Era 100 challenges that and takes the listener on a pleasing ride into a richer world for a speaker at this price point. For installers that are regular users of this system, the Era 100 will offer a pleasing upgrade path for existing customers and hopefully impress new ones too. Give it a listen and let us know what you think!

Look out for some thoughts on the Era 300 very soon…

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