Sonos on Thursday announced its first portable Bluetooth speaker: the Sonos Move.
The new device will be available on September 24 for $399, with pre-orders beginning on Thursday.
Here’s the short pitch: the Move is like a chunkier Sonos One when connected to Wi-Fi in the house, but it has Bluetooth audio functionality and a weather-resistant design that allows it to stream audio outdoors. It’s “portable” in the more literal sense: the speaker is too large (9.44×6.29×4.96 inches, or 23.9×15.9×12.6cm) and heavy (6.61 lbs, or about 3kg) to comfortably fit in a backpack, but a cutout around its back functions as a carrying handle.
While the Move’s sparse oval design wouldn’t look out of place next to previous Sonos speakers, the company is stressing the new speaker’s improved durability. Sonos says the Move’s rubberized base and metal grille is better suited to withstanding drops and bumps than before. It has also given the speaker an IP56 rating, so while the Move is not water- or dust-proof, it should survive spills and dustings that are more than accidental. At a media briefing in New York City last month, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence pitched using the Move at the beach or an outdoor picnic, to give you an idea.
In the home, the Move works much like the Sonos One smart speaker Sonos launched in 2017. It can connect to a home Wi-Fi network, sync up with whatever other Sonos speakers you have in the house, and work with Sonos’ desktop and mobile apps. The Move is compatible with the same wide variety of streaming services within those apps as any other Sonos device.
Like the One, the Move supports Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant for voice controls, though Sonos still makes it so you can only use one assistant with the speaker at a time. There’s the usual set of touch playback controls on the top of the device, including an option to mute the microphone if you don’t want an assistant to be listening. There’s still a small LED light on top of the device to indicate when that microphone is active. Sonos says the Move has a quad far-field mic array for better capturing voices and adjusting sound indoors and out. It streams audio over Bluetooth 4.2 and supports Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol out of the box; the latter allows Apple users to beam audio and Siri controls from their iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Switching from WiFi to Bluetooth is as simple as hitting a small button on the Move’s back. While the ability to stream audio over Bluetooth outdoors is certainly a convenience, the Move loses a bit of its smarts when disconnected from WiFi. A company representative said the Move won’t utilize the full slate of features from the Sonos app over Bluetooth, nor will it have integrated voice assistant support. Instead, it’ll work like most portable Bluetooth speakers, pairing with a source device and serving as a simple output for whatever audio (or voice command) you play through that. Sonos says the Move supports the basic SBC and AAC audio codecs when connected to Bluetooth, not the higher-quality aptX or aptX HD (which iPhones don’t support regardless), and that it will remember up to five paired devices at a time.
Automatic TruePlay and battery life
I was able to briefly listen to the Move at the aforementioned media briefing, but there’s little point in making any declarations until I’m able to test the speaker for myself in a less-controlled environment. For what it’s worth, the Move’s internal components are similar to those of the One on paper—two class-D digital amplifiers, a downward-firing tweeter, and a mid-woofer—but the company says it’s aimed for a wider dispersion of sound to better suit outdoor environments. (There aren’t as many walls for sound to bounce off of outside, after all.) It’s still shooting for a neutral sound on the whole, so things shouldn’t stray too far from the clean, balanced profile of past Sonos devices. Expect there to be the usual drop-off in sound quality when connected over Bluetooth, though, since that has less bandwidth for sending audio information.
One new feature is “automatic TruePlay.” This is an automated version of the TruePlay audio calibration tech available on existing Sonos devices. In simple terms, the feature tunes the sound of a Sonos speaker to better suit the acoustics of the room in which it’s located. This is important: no two rooms or outdoor settings accommodate sound in the same way. In order to know a room, though, Sonos has previously required users to physically walk around and wave their phone’s microphones up and down. The Move can complete this process on its own.
Sonos gave a brief demo of this in action, shifting a music-playing Move from an open area to a small nook on a shelf, where the audio immediately became noticeably boomier. After about 20 seconds, the Move indeed evened out its sound to a more balanced level. Rival home speakers like Apple’s HomePod and Google’s Home Max have had similar functionality for some time now, so the addition brings Sonos up to parity—though, again, we’ll have to test this ourselves before making any judgments. That said, the Move is the only Sonos device confirmed to support automatic TruePlay for now—a company representative would neither confirm nor deny that the feature will be available on other Sonos devices in the future. (Though I’d be surprised if that wasn’t eventually the case.)
Sonos rates the Move’s battery life at 10 hours, though as usual that will depend on how loudly you play music. The company expects the internal battery to last roughly 900 charges before it starts to degrade, which it equates to roughly 3 to 5 years of portable use. Sonos says it will offer battery replacements if and when they are needed. The device comes with a thin proprietary charging stand for use inside the house, spares of which will run for $80, but it can also be charged via common USB-C PD travel chargers so long as they support an output level of 12V/3A, 15V/3A, or 20V/2.25A. The company says the Move can fully recharge in two hours. A power button on the back puts the speaker into a suspend mode that the company says will reserve the battery for up to five days. Plenty of portable Bluetooth speakers last longer than 10 hours, but that’s the trade-off of more powerful sound.
Replacing the Play:1 and Sonos Connect
The Move is the big announcement, but Sonos took the wraps off two more devices on Thursday as well. First, the Sonos One SL is a like-for-like replacement for the older Sonos Play:1—it’s a Sonos One without built-in microphones or integrated voice assistants. Unlike the Play:1, it has native support for AirPlay 2 and can form a stereo pair with other Sonos One speakers, but as noted above it does not support automatic TruePlay. It’ll be available on September 12 for $179, which is $20 less than the One but $30 more than the Play:1, which Sonos will be phasing out.
Lastly, there’s the Sonos Port, which is the successor to the aging Sonos Connect. This connects to a home stereo or receiver and adds Sonos streaming functionality, allowing it to work with the app and other Sonos devices you may have in the house. The company says it has upgraded the digital-to-analog converter (DAC) here for stronger sound. It also supports AirPlay 2. It has an audio line-in, RCA and digital line-out, and an Ethernet port built into the device; it also has a 12V trigger to quickly turn on amplifiers from the app. The Port itself has a boxier, more Apple TV-like design than the Connect and now comes in a matte black finish instead of a white one. Sonos says it will be available in “limited quantities” on September 12, with a wider release in January 2020. It’ll cost $399, which is $50 more than the older Connect.
Listing image by Jeff Dunn