No, of course You wouldn’t buy a speaker to watch it. But if your gaze rests on your speaker while you’re enjoying the sound, ideally the sight shouldn’t overwhelm you. So just like the Era 300, Sonos’ latest wireless speaker and the company’s first audio into space (apart from Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbars), it’s a stunning and masterful performer — its physical appearance is simple. Ignore it. Unless you suddenly find it in your field of vision, anyway, in which case it never ceases to be shocking.
It’s fair to say that Sonos’ anywhere has been a completely painless ownership experience so far, just as much based on the sound its products produce. With class-leading ergonomics, a seamless control app, and the simplest, most intuitive multi-room audio ecosystem, “reasonably comparable” sound quality is good enough for most listeners.
With the Era 300, however—and the smaller, more affordable Era 100 stereo speaker that launched around the same time—Sonos has retained all of its established virtues and added audio performance that’s comparable to any price-comparable, mid-size option. And in the case of the Era 300, to launch spatial audio performance.
Spatial audio (which basically means “more than two channels”, and is almost always based on Dolby’s Atmos format) is getting more attention outside of its original home in the cinema, though it’s not easy with the support of evangelists like Amazon Music. Unlimited, Apple Music and Tidal Music streaming services.
Sonos does not support Tidal’s Dolby Atmos content (Boo!), but at least it supports Amazon and Apple’s spatial audio offerings. And while Apple is a full-service provider of surround sound music thanks to its HomePod smart speaker, when it comes to hardware, it’s unlikely that the Sonos Era 300 will wipe the floor with Apple’s HomePod. Yes, it’s more expensive – but it’s worth it, and then some.
The Era 300 uses six speakers to create an immersive and enveloping sound experience. There are four tweeters, one forward, one left, one right, and one mounted on the horn that shoots upward to reflect sound from the ceiling and create a sense of sonic height. Then a few mid/bass drivers to generate some width to the left and right (and provide separation when the speaker plays stereo content). Each driver gets a single block of Class D amplification—even though it’s a Sonos, the amount of power available is unique.
Paragraph four now ends: “And Era 300 marks, among other things, the end of an era for Sonos.” The company used to have very clear and logical naming conventions for its speakers – but now we’re in an era where the pecking order is much easier to understand.
On the top of the cabinet—so haphazardly angled and so lopsided that my youngest daughter saw it in person—are a few physical controls. There’s touchpad play/pause, skip forward/backward, and voice-assisted interaction (the Era 300 is compatible with Amazon Alexa and the Sonos Voice Control), and a nearby (and very nicely implemented) volume slider. Apart from the brand logo and the telltale LED, the front of the cabinet is featureless. The bottom has two small rubber feet and fixings for the cost-optional stands. On the back there’s a mains power socket, a switch to kill the mics, an auxiliary input in the form of USB-C (although, forgivingly, a line-in adapter for use with this input is an optional extra) and a button. For Bluetooth pairing.
Sonos sees the blue light
Oh yes, Bluetooth. For who knows how many years it dismissed Bluetooth as a low-tech fit only for its portable speakers, Sonos has made a Damascene change. So in addition to using an exemplary control app that integrates any kind of streaming service, Bluetooth 5.0 can be ported to the Era 300 with bog-standard SBC and AAC codec compatibility. Apple AirPlay 2 also supports Wi-Fi 6 – just like streaming via Wi-Fi.
As well as grouping all your favorite streaming services together, the app offers some EQ tweaking and the latest Sonos’ amazing TruePlay room tuning software. New for Android (albeit in a somewhat patchy form) as well as iOS, Trueplay takes no time at all and ensures the effectiveness of adjusting the Era 300 to your specific environment.
The app offers multi-room and multi-channel possibilities (if you have two Era 300s, they can work as rear speakers in a home cinema system with a Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos sound bar). The app is symbolic, the gold standard… and Sonos ownership makes it seem like a deeply intuitive option without any other considerations.