The Eras work well enough with Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem, but if you’re not interested in smart home compatibility you could try Sonos’ own voice assistant, which promises to preserve your privacy and is for some reason voiced by actor Giancarlo Esposito. It lets you choose an artist, album song, radio station or genre, change volume or even movie music to another room, although I did miss other smart speaker basics like setting timers or checking the weather.
The bigger issue with Sonos Voice Control is that it currently supports Apple Music and Amazon Music but not Spotify, which is likely to be a deal-breaker for many. The Sonos spokesperson did not shed any light on this omission.
So, if you don’t care about voice control, or mostly rely on Amazon or Apple for music, The Era 100 is a brilliant smart speaker and a good upgrade over the old Sonos One. But what about the Era 300?
The addition of spatial audio support is exciting, but it also brings some caveats and quirks of its own. With a good Dolby Atmos track, I think it outshines Apple’s HomePod and even some more expensive soundbar-based setups, but depending on your musical tastes a good Dolby Atmos track isn’t always easy to find.
Streaming services are littered with frankly poor spatial audio mixes, which widen and heighten the soundstage for no reason or mix instruments incoherently. While hearing a favourite song in an Atmos mix can be a fantastic experience — Pearl Jam’s entire Ten album sounds incredible — it can also be massively disappointing. For example Blink-182’s What’s My Age Again? sounds like you’re in a middle-floor apartment and each instrument is located in a different far-flung area of the complex.
Listening to spatial audio also means you’re tied to the Sonos app, as casting from Amazon Music or AirPlaying from Apple only gets you stereo. The Sonos app is generally fine, but for this particular use it feels unsuited; there are no badges or other indicators of which tracks feature Atmos and which do not, meaning you generally have to find what you want in the streaming service’s own app, and then try to find it again in Sonos’.
Worst of all, the Era 300 sounds dull when playing a regular old stereo mix, possibly because of its unique speaker layout. Certainly not bad, just flat, especially compared to dedicated stereo machines like the Sonos 5 or the discontinued Google Home Max.
None of the issues I’ve had with these new speakers are insurmountable, and in fact I’d be surprised if Sonos hadn’t addressed them all through software updates within a year. They remain, characteristically, stable and great-sounding Wi-Fi speakers that work on their own or as part of a whole-house setup.
But at a time when Google, Amazon and Apple are all trying to lock users into product ecosystems by tying their hardware and software closely together, Sonos’ pitch of an agnostic platform that works with everything is an important one, which it hasn’t quite realised just yet.
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