Sonos Roam Review

A Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-connected speaker that looks, feels, and sounds great

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4

Sonos Roam

Sonos Roam

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

What We Like
  • Even, balanced sound

  • Excellent build quality with IP67 rating

  • Seamless integration with other Sonos products

What We Don't Like
  • Fairly expensive

  • Volume is limited by the small format

  • Sonos app is virtually mandatory

The Roam speaker is a tiny version of Sonos’ premium, in-home audio experience.

4

Sonos Roam

Sonos Roam

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Sonos provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for their full take.

The Roam is an interesting release for Sonos. In 2019, the brand came out with the Sonos Move, which amounted to its foray into the portable Bluetooth space. Before, Sonos primarily focused on in-home, multi-room speakers that connect via Wi-Fi and the Sonos app. The Roam is the first true portable speaker because it comes in the same size and shape as something like a JBL Flip or the Ultimate Ears speakers that have taken large ownership of the market.

This is strange mostly because Sonos has historically been firmly against Bluetooth speakers, most likely due to the lossy compression inherent with this wireless technology. The Roam offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, decent water resistance, and the Sonos-tuned sound. So theoretically, you should get the best of both worlds with this thing. I got my hands on one, and here’s how I think it holds up.

Design: Sleek and unique

Sonos has a way of making its speakers look and feel fit for several different types of homes. Rounded corners, rubberized enclosures, and a simple, single-tone color scheme all fit nicely into Sonos’ design language, and the Roam follows suit. Rather than taking a rectangular or cylindrical approach found in many other portable Bluetooth speakers, the Roam is more like a rectangular prism that measures about 6.5 inches long.

Rounded corners, rubberized enclosures, and a simple, single-tone color scheme all fit nicely into Sonos’ design language, and the Sonos Roam follows suit.

It’s available in the Shadow Black version I got and a softer Lunar White. The controls are positioned on one end of the unit, with the power button, LED indicator, and charging port sitting on the side. There’s the classic, rigid Sonos grill covering the entire front of the unit. It all looks nice, fits appropriately into the Sonos line, and also looks different enough from the louder-colored competitors such as JBL and UE.

Portability, Durability, and Build Quality: Small enough to take, durable enough to survive

With all of the Sonos design prowess, the portability and durability of its products does remain a bit of a question mark. After all, the brand has spent a lion’s share of its R&D focusing on high-end bookshelf and Wi-Fi speakers. When I got the Roam in-hand, I was really impressed with just how rugged it feels.

The thick rubber bumpers and condensed, compacted makeup leave me with a lot of confidence that this speaker will survive tucked into a backpack. Add to that an impressive IP67 dust and water resistance rating (enough to sustain even heavy precipitation and debris), and you’ve got an impressive offering.

If you’re looking for an affordable portable speaker, this is certainly not it.

I also really love how small the thing is. It measures less than 7 inches long, and each side of the rounded triangle is only a couple inches. This makes it noticeably smaller than comparable UE and JBL products. It’s also surprisingly well weighted. Sonos has managed to get all the components into the Roam and keep the whole product under 1 pound.

But because that weight is nicely distributed throughout the length of the chassis, it still feels substantial and durable. That is largely because of the classic Sonos rubber and grill built into the device and the set-in plastic lettering of the logo. It all feels premium in the hand without being too cumbersome. It’s an important balance that’s difficult for a speaker manufacturer to achieve.

Connectivity and Setup: Solid, once you jump through the Sonos hoops

This is a difficult category for me to rate for the Roam. Sonos has been stubborn about the connectivity of its speakers, previously forcing you to download and pair the app with your Wi-Fi network to even be able to use your speakers. This is true of the Roam, with the exception of the new Bluetooth functionality.

However, pairing the device as a Bluetooth speaker to a phone and a computer, while more turnkey than going through Sonos’ guided setup, sort of misses the point of a high-end speaker like this. It’s a great option if you want to use it while you’re out and about, but if you have access to a Wi-Fi network, going that route is the superior option.

Sonos Roam

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

My particular experience with setting up the Roam was rocky at best. I received a pre-release unit, so some of this could be chalked up to software/firmware hiccups that will be smoothed out over time, but I was a little disappointed with a brand that should have gotten this “onboarding process” locked in with years of app experience.

To set up your Sonos via Wi-Fi, you have to first download the app, then turn on the speaker using the button on the back. From there, it will guide you through the process of admitting your Roam to your specific Wi-Fi network. I actually had to restart this process halfway through because I couldn’t get the “tap to pair” function to properly work with my iPhone.

Once it was set up, it worked great, but it isn’t the same as a Bluetooth speaker. It’s really best if you use the Sonos app, enable your various music services, and cue up audio through that. If you use your Sonos app as a “command center” of sorts, your experience should be pretty well ironed out. 

Sound Quality: Impressively tight, but lacking some openness

In general, I tend to like what Sonos does on the EQ and sound quality front. Some of my favorite systems use stereo pairs of the Sonos One or Sonos Five (its flagship line of whole-home speakers). It’s not the flattest audio, but there’s usually a good amount of balance between the bass, the mids, and the treble.

The Roam beautifully carries this EQ format and signal processing through to the portable form factor. There’s a tuned, mid-focused woofer and a more nuanced tweeter, both driven by their own class-D amplifiers. This is similar to the individual-amp format Sonos uses on a lot of its products. It’s nice to hear in this case, because if you’re listening to music on a patio table or from your office bookshelf, it provides nice, full, balanced sound in situations where that might not have otherwise been the case.

Where the sound quality falls a bit short is, admittedly, due to more of a limitation of small speakers in general than of this small speaker specifically. Because the sound is coming from a single woofer in a small enclosure, it does sound oddly directional. It will certainly sound different if you’re 20 feet away versus sitting right next to it. JBL and UE have taken major strides in this regard, with 360-degree audio and insanely punchy sound stages. But these other manufacturers usually provide this fullness at the expense of a tight, balanced EQ (resorting to heavy, sometimes flabby bass).

There’s a tuned, mid-focused woofer and a more nuanced tweeter, both driven by their own class-D amplifiers.

And then there’s the TruePlay tuning on the Roam, which aims to adapt the EQ based on what the on-board mics think about your environment. I didn’t notice much practical difference in my tests, but it’s there if you want to give it a shot. The short answer here is if you want a loud, heavy, bass-oriented speaker, then the Roam might not be your best bet. If you want an all-around great-sounding speaker that fits in your bag, this could be it.

Battery Life: Passable at best

At 10 hours of reasonable volume on a single charge, I’m not going to say the battery life on offer here is “bad." In my tests, I pushed the speaker pretty hard, letting the volume hover around 75 percent for most of the time. At these levels, I was tending to get more like 12 or 13 hours of playback. It’s nice to see Sonos offering a conservative real-world estimate, but with other similar speakers giving you 12 to 15 hours on a charge, I can’t help but think the estimate here is selling itself a bit short.

The charge time is pretty nice, especially if you use a higher-wattage brick (sold separately by Sonos) and the included USB-C cable. This will give you a full charge in just about an hour or two. Another nice feature on offer here is the Qi wireless charging capability. Just pop your speaker down onto your wireless charging pad and it will charge up.

Sonos Roam

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

I did notice that my lower wattage charging pads were pretty hit-or-miss with actually charging the Roam, so it’s best to consult the power requirements before relying on these chargers. Sonos does sell a magnetic wireless charging base that would look really nice on a desk as a “home base” for the speaker, but I didn’t opt for that package for this review, so I can’t vouch for that charger’s effectiveness.

Software and Extra Features: All in on the Sonos ecosystem

As discussed in the Connectivity section, the best way to get your full money’s worth out of the Roam is to make sure you’re using the Sonos app. I found the (admittedly limited) two-band EQ to go a long way toward making the sound better.

Out of the box, the high end of the sound spectrum gets a little swallowed by the resonance of the speaker, particularly when listening to heavy pop mixes, so upping the treble was a must. I also find that, once you import your various music services such as Apple and Spotify to the Sonos app, the interface is pretty nice and easy to dial in.

Sonos Roam

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

But the real key here is how this speaker plays with the rest of the Sonos lineup. Just like any speaker, once you’ve got the Roam lined up on your Wi-Fi system, it’ll show up alongside the rest of your Sonos units. This will allow you to fold it into your “whole-home” audio system, making it great for parties and more.

What’s unique is, because the Roam is battery powered, you can make it the “floating speaker” in your system, allowing you to move it to the bathroom during a shower or the backyard during a pool party. Beyond this integration, the Roam will act just about the same as any other Bluetooth speaker you’ve used.

Price: Be prepared to pay the Sonos premium

If you’re looking for an affordable portable speaker, this is certainly not it. Even in the mid-to-high end of the competitor space (like JBL, for instance), you’ll pay less. The current retail price for the Roam is about $169, and that’s easily more than most competitors.

What you’re buying here is a brand. If you like how Sonos handles sound quality, perhaps you have a Sonos-based system already, and you want the convenience of using the Sonos app to control the device. The price tag is probably fine for you in this case, and likely isn’t even that surprising. But this speaker is definitely on the premium end of the market.

Sonos Roam

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Sonos Roam vs. Bose SoundLink Mini II

I’ve mentioned JBL and Ultimate Ears a lot in this review, but the more apt comparison in this case is the SoundLink Mini II from Bose. Both the Roam and the SoundLink use apps and have Wi-Fi functionality. They both play nice with AirPlay 2, and they both have a proprietary approach to EQ and sound quality. Their prices are even within $10 of each other. So, the choice really comes down to which brand sounds better to you.

Final Verdict

A fancy little speaker for Sonos fans.

It’s actually sort of surprising how long it took Sonos to come out with a small-format, portable speaker. Because the company doesn't rely on Bluetooth as a means of connection, the format didn’t fit as naturally into their lineup as the in-home, Wi-Fi-only speakers they’ve come to be famous for. There’s no denying how capable the Sonos Roam is. It sounds great, it’s impeccably built, and it’ll seamlessly fit into a larger Sonos system. And at this price point, you’ll need to be focused on Sonos as a jumping-off point for the rest of your sound system. If you aren’t that specific to the brand, you can get Bluetooth speakers for less money that will also sound great.

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Specs

  • Product Name Roam
  • Product Brand Sonos
  • UPC 840136801467
  • Price $169
  • Release Date March 2021
  • Weight 0.95 lbs.
  • Product Dimensions 6.6 x 2.4 x 2.4 in.
  • Color Lunar White, Shadow Black
  • Battery Life 10 hours
  • Wired/Wireless Wireless
  • Wireless Range 30M
  • Warranty 1 year
  • Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0
  • Audio Codecs SBC, AAC
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