Review: Sonos Roam Is One of the Best Portable Speakers on the Market

There's a lot of power (and some nifty features) in this portable sound system

April 29, 2021 12:26 pm
The new Sonos Roam lying on a blanket outside. The portable speaker goes is currently up for preorder.
Sonos makes its first foray into a truly portable speaker with Roam.

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I was happy with my Sonos One smart speaker in 2017. Two of those paired with my Sonos Beam makes for an excellent and simple-to-install home theater/surround sound setup.

While I thought the sound of the more-recent Sonos Move would be great for a backyard soiree, I also found it bulky enough that I’d never really consider dragging it more than a few feet. It was still a home speaker for me.

The Sonos Roam is different. The tallboy-sized triangular speaker is essentially all the things I liked about the Move, but now in a tiny, handheld package that’s easy enough to transport anywhere. 

Given that I’m moving between apartments — so lots of upheaval and shuffling around — and trying to get outside more to do safe, spring/summer-y meetups, I figured the Roam might be an ideal sound system for the warmer and less homebound days ahead.

I tested out a review unit for a week, utilizing the speaker in Bluetooth and wifi modes, and I listened to music via Sonos Radio and Spotify. 

The specs:

  • Streams on both wifi and Bluetooth
  • IP67 waterproof rating
  • Up to 10 hours of continuous playback on a single charge. When not in use, Roam falls asleep to save power for up to 10 days.
  • Charges either through USB-C cable or wirelessly (a custom-designed magnetic charger is not included and costs an extra $49)
  • Alexa/Google Assistant available
  • Two class-H amplifiers, one tweeter, one custom racetrack mid-woofer
A woman pairing her phone with a Sonos Roam while sitting on a blanket in a park
Pairing your Sonos Roam via wifi or Bluetooth is a snap

What we liked:

  • The sound, obviously. Switching between the Roam and my Sonos home system did show off a noticeable difference — this isn’t going to replace your Sonos One. For a small, portable speaker, however, the depth, bass and power was noticeably better than other models I’ve tried, including the Marshall Emberton and various Ultimate Ears models. 
  • Set-up on all systems and through Bluetooth and wifi was a breeze, with one exception (see below). Adding Alexa to the speaker was also painless. 
  • If you’re familiar with the Sonos architecture, nothing here will surprise you, and you’ll be using the same app to control things. 
  • The Roam’s size and weight is ideal. There’s just enough “heft” here that the unit feels durable, but it wouldn’t bother you at all to carry it for a while or throw it in a bag.
  • Turning up the speaker to full volume did not seem to cause any distortion whatsoever. 
  • I was able to cross several rooms and go on the opposite side of a 1,000-square-foot apartment and still keep my Bluetooth connection. 

What we sort of liked:

  • Not having an included wireless charging unit was frustrating, but the USB-C cord (the plug lay flush against the unit, so it stuck out less) was fine, and the speaker powered up on my own Qi-cerified charger. 
  • The Sound Swap feature was cool — holding down the play/pause button allowed me to one-touch switch my music from the Roam to my living room Sonos system. The same action also caused it to switch back. The first time I did this, my living room speakers arbitarily stole back the music after 30 seconds on the Roam, but that only happened once.
  • The review guide for the Roam suggested we crank up Tame Impala’s “Lost In Yesterday.” Then it suggested dropping the speaker in a bowl of water. I did both. Turns out that waterproof statement is true, and there was no noticeable effect to the music or Roam unit. That said, I probably won’t do the water experiment again, but feel free to use this by the pool or on the beach. 
  • The Trueplay technology here is supposed to adjust for wherever you place the speaker. I moved it around quite a bit, even hiding it in a cabinet. The sound was always clear and strong — but I can’t tell if that was due to the quick adjustments of the speaker or just its general quality. 
Two Sonos Roam units, sitting vertically and horizontally
The triangular shape of the Sonos Roam means you can rest it multiple ways

What needs work:

  • The initial set-up. The app told me to “tap” my phone to the back of the speaker to complete the first connection. It didn’t work after two tries, so the app then suggested utilizing a “ping” sound from the speaker to connect. That worked fine. 
  • I noticed some real differences when I laid the speaker down vertically or stood it up horizontally (the former was better for taking up a small footprint, the latter superior for sound quality). It would also depend on the song; a Tiesto track on the Sonos Radio Hit List was dynamic in all configurations; a Knox Fortune song, meanwhile, felt muffled when the speaker was standing up, but great on its side. 

Final words: $169 seems like the right price for an elevated take on a portable speaker. I’m excited to try this more outdoors when the weather improves. And unlike the bulky Sonos Move (which, yes, sounds better), the Roam name really captures what this unit is all about. 

Where to buy it: The Sonos Roam is available for preorder on the Sonos site; it ships starting May 21. 

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