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February 28, 2024
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Sonos Era 300 review: too ahead of its time

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I shut my eyes. When “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones begins enjoying, her charming jazzy vocals sound like they’re coming from instantly in entrance of me, and I may very well be fooled into considering there’s somebody enjoying a stand-up bass proper there within the room. Then comes “Growth” by Sevenn and Tiësto, which has a very 3D soundscape that engulfs me within the thumping beat. Taylor Swift’s Folklore by some means feels much more intricate, and “Exile” is brimming with depth and heat as Bon Iver joins in. After I attain “Two of Us” by The Beatles, the voices of John Lennon and Paul McCartney sound extra distinct and are available by way of with higher separation than I can recall — and I’ve listened to that music numerous instances.

These are simply a few of the standout listening experiences which can be attainable with the brand new Sonos Period 300, a $450 speaker designed from the bottom as much as showcase spatial audio and Dolby Atmos extra convincingly than any standalone speaker earlier than it. It’s additionally the primary third-party speaker that’s capable of play Apple Music’s spatial library. (Amazon Music is supported as nicely.) All through the couple weeks spent testing the Period, I’ve been floored at instances by what it might do.

However the present choice of spatial audio music is so uneven in high quality that it may be a jarring and unpredictable listening expertise. A terrific monitor will depart you thrilled concerning the funding you’ve made; a poorly blended one can immediately deplete that pleasure.

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In the event you’re not acquainted, spatial audio (additionally generally known as “3D audio”) is supposed to place you in the midst of the music and depart you feeling enveloped by instrumentation in a manner that goes past conventional stereo. There are completely different implementations of spatial audio: in case your music service of alternative presents it (presently Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal, and extra), you possibly can pay attention with just about any pair of earbuds or headphones. I’m nonetheless a skeptic in relation to that method, however listening to Dolby Atmos music tracks on an precise multichannel encompass system has been extra encouraging.

The Period 300 helps Apple’s AirPlay 2 and in addition presents Bluetooth and USB-C line-in.

With the Period 300, Sonos is attempting to ship a reputable spatial audio expertise from a person speaker — no small problem. Apple and Amazon have tried the identical with the HomePod and Echo Studio, respectively. The one solution to actually pull it off is to depend on room acoustics, phasing, and bouncing pontificate the partitions in your house to trick your mind into considering that audio is originating past the speaker’s bodily footprint.

Sonos has firmly strayed from the well-beaten path of cylindrical audio system with this gadget: it’s received an unconventional sideways “hourglass” form loaded with six drivers that direct sound ahead, left, proper, and up. Extra particularly, there’s a middle channel, left and proper drivers mentioning the perimeters, an upward-firing channel, and two woofers that additionally face the left and proper. On prime of that, Sonos constructed waveguides into the 300 to assist disperse sound additional. Due to these guts, it’s considerably bigger than the Sonos One (and new Period 100), which is value contemplating should you’re excited about pairing two 300s as rear channels for a Sonos Arc or Beam soundbar. Extra on that later.

I don’t really feel strongly concerning the design come what may, although listening to the Period 300 made me purchase into Sonos’ rationale that the unorthodox form advantages spatial output. I’d suggest choosing the white choice if attainable: the black fashions I’ve been reviewing simply present smudges, and I’ve seen mud getting caught within the perforated holes. White plastic would assist conceal these items, in order that’s the way in which I’d go.

Sure, it’s an odd-looking speaker in comparison with the competitors from Amazon, Apple, and Google.

The Period 300 carries over a few of the finest new options of the extra reasonably priced Period 100 — specifically, Bluetooth playback and USB-C line-in help — and is simpler to disassemble and restore than previous Sonos merchandise. The 2 audio system share an an identical topside structure, with devoted monitor controls, an indented bar for simple quantity changes, and a button that may briefly mute the mics to stop unintentional voice assistant responses. If that’s not sufficient for the privacy-minded amongst you, there’s a toggle round again that may absolutely lower energy to the mics when flipped.

Cautious placement of the Period 300 is crucial if you need the most effective sound, and Sonos has some guidelines to comply with when discovering the fitting spot for it. (TL;DR: be sure there’s ample open house to the perimeters and above the speaker.) The corporate claims there’s no candy spot to pay attention from, however if you need essentially the most engrossing spatial expertise, I’d advise sitting a number of toes away centered with the speaker, very similar to you’ll do for a standard speaker.

For the primary time, Sonos is extending Trueplay help to Android customers. A brand new “fast tune” function makes use of the built-in mics to regulate the Period 300’s audio output for optimum sound in no matter room it’s in. iPhone and iPad house owners can go a step past this with the “superior” tuning that makes use of their gadget’s mic to get a greater learn on a room’s tonal traits.

When it comes to its complete dimension, the 300 slots in between the Period 100 and Sonos 5. That’s naturally made for comparisons to the long-discontinued Play:3 speaker, however the two merchandise have a lot completely different functions. The Play:3 was a reasonably small stereo speaker with outdated internals and parts in comparison with what Sonos has been utilizing in newer years. The Period 300 can play stereo audio simply high-quality, in fact, and does a greater job at sound diffusion than the Play:3 was ever able to.

Just like the outdated Play:3 (left), the Period 300 fills the hole between Sonos’ entry-level and flagship audio system. However the two sound nothing alike.

Nonetheless, if stereo is your foremost manner of listening, the Period is outclassed by the Sonos 5. Keep in mind that solely one of many 300’s drivers is forward-facing, so stereo music doesn’t really feel as direct or full-bodied as when it’s coming at you from the extra standard 5. The 5’s bass response carries extra smoothness and refinement than the 300’s — significantly with stereo content material. If you need the most effective music constancy that Sonos can provide, the reply remains to be a stereo pair of Sonos Fives. Finish of dialog.

However the 300 isn’t a slouch by any means. Vocals at all times come by way of with pristine readability by way of that middle channel, and the side-firing drivers make for good stereo separation from a unit of this dimension. In opposition to the remainder of the Sonos area, the Period 300 simply ranks above the Period 100 and Sonos Transfer. In the event you’re not capable of swing the 5, this isn’t a foul different to land on.

Don’t purchase the Period 300 should you’re glad dwelling in a stereo world

However stereo isn’t what the Period 300 is about. In the event you take nothing else away from this assessment, it ought to be that. Whether or not you’re listening to music or utilizing the 300 as Atmos-capable surrounds, immersion is that this gadget’s entire purpose for being. 

I’m not right here to stroll throughout the minefield of some “spatial audio versus stereo” debate, and also you gained’t hear me argue that that is the end-all-be-all way forward for how we eat music. I’m a music lover, so I can get a dopamine enhance with the fitting music no matter how I’m listening to it. Will I take the high-end headphones or fancy audio system given a alternative? Certain, however I’ve received many nice recollections tied to crummy Bluetooth audio system and throwaway earbuds.

I’ll say this: I don’t imagine spatial audio goes away. This isn’t 3D TV yet again. The music business is deeply invested in Dolby Atmos manufacturing, Apple can’t get enough of the format, and most main new albums are being launched in spatial audio most of the time. However rattling, have there been rising pains. Again when Apple Music rolled out spatial audio, I lamented that many Atmos album mixes have been objectively inferior in comparison with their stereo counterparts. Producers have been leaning in to gimmicks and making songs sound too expansive and ill-defined. As we identified in our Echo Studio assessment, some Atmos reissues have included new parts that have been by no means current within the authentic launch. 

The Period 300 accommodates six drivers that create a large, immersive soundstage.

Extra not too long ago, we’ve seen that tumult begin to ease. With extra time and expertise, audio engineers have gained a greater understanding of Atmos and the way to get essentially the most from it with out detracting from the supply materials. As Giles Martin informed Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel on Decoder, an excellent spatial combine doesn’t at all times want to make it sound such as you’re surrounded by devices; the improved spaciousness may be extra refined than that and nonetheless work nicely. (It ought to come as no shock that Martin’s Beatles remixes, like the newest for Revolver, sound terrific on the 300.) 

As a normal rule of thumb, trendy albums which were blended for Atmos from the start are likely to fare higher than remixes that artists might need zero involvement in. If you need good examples and check materials, take a look at current releases by The Weeknd, Billie Eilish, St. Vincent, and Lana Del Rey. However generally there are older classics by the likes of Frank Sinatra which can be revitalized with stunningly good Atmos therapies. And the brand-new 2023 Atmos mix of The Dark Side of The Moon is great. Right here’s my private playlist of spatial audio highlights:

Drawback is, these learnings got here after an early wave of second-rate spatial audio releases. And plenty of of these subpar mixes stay on Apple Music and Amazon Music right this moment. Listening to many rock songs in spatial audio may be dire. (I’m you, “Buddy Holly” by Weezer.) There are a lot of misses, they usually diminish the Period 300’s potential to a substantial extent. I anticipate that we’ll see numerous artists quietly push out do-overs of spatial audio albums as extra audio system are launched that expose the shortcomings of these rushed preliminary efforts. It’s not an excellent feeling when a file that you just adore in stereo feels like an aural mess in Atmos.

The Sonos app is the one solution to play spatial audio music on the Period 300.

You’ll be opening the Sonos app an entire lot

I’ve by no means been as down on or essential of the Sonos cellular app as some individuals, however with the Period 300, you’ll end up utilizing it greater than ever earlier than. That’s as a result of spatial audio and Dolby Atmos music tracks can solely be performed instantly by way of the Sonos app. You possibly can’t AirPlay them out of your Apple Music app or solid them from Amazon Music. Hopefully, it’ll simply be a matter of time till there are extra methods of beginning spatial tracks, however for now, that is the way in which.

And if that’s going to stay the case, Sonos must do some critical renovating. For one, there’s no manner of understanding if a music is in spatial audio till you begin enjoying it. You don’t see any of that context when looking for a monitor or album: the Atmos emblem solely pops up after you hit play. I’d prefer to see some sort of spatial audio badge or indicator instantly in search outcomes. Proper now, it’s only a sport of pecking round till you discover a music in Atmos. With so many alternative editions of a given album out there from streaming companies as of late, that may get irritating and be time-consuming. If individuals are going to be dwelling within the Sonos app to get essentially the most from their Period 300, I hope to see some UX upgrades. Sonos is rolling out a brand new search expertise, a high-quality first step, however there must be a clearer marker for spatial content material.

Are any of those songs out there in spatial audio? Who is aware of! Sonos may positively make this clearer in search outcomes.

All through the Period 300 assessment interval, there’s been no manner of turning off spatial audio for tracks that provide it. I may solely hearken to the Atmos model, with no manner of falling again to stereo in circumstances the place I received caught with a wretched combine. Sonos tells me there can be an choice added to settings by the 300’s March twenty eighth launch day for disabling spatial audio, however even that’s somewhat too ham-fisted. Ideally, you’d be capable of change backwards and forwards between spatial and stereo proper from the now enjoying display and rapidly get a way of which you favor. Amazon Music handles this higher than another music app, in my view, and contemplating how horrible at software program Amazon typically is, that’s saying one thing. 

The brand new Bluetooth and line-in capabilities have labored with out a hitch, although you’ll want Sonos’ $19 USB-C adapter to get line-in working. (Your different dongles are unlikely to work since Sonos is doing an analog-to-digital conversion as a substitute of the opposite manner round that’s frequent for headphone adapters.) And spatial audio doesn’t work over Bluetooth, not that anybody ought to be stunned by that. Sonos has outfitted each Eras with extra strong connectivity: they embrace Wi-Fi 6 now, however you’ll want a suitable router to make the most of the extra dependable, sooner wi-fi sign.

The Period 300 is the one Sonos speaker that may play rear Atmos top results when paired with an Arc or Beam (Gen 2).

Period 300 as Atmos house theater surrounds

In the event you mix two Period 300s (a $900 spend) with both the Sonos Arc or second-gen Beam, the brand new audio system can act as rear surrounds that now embrace upward-firing Atmos channels. Additionally they ship extra expansive horizontal sound in comparison with the Sonos One or One SL since there are extra drivers to work with. The Arc setup (together with a Sub or Sub Mini) can be a 7.1.4 configuration, whereas the Beam can be 5.1.4. (The Period 300 isn’t suitable with the Ray, first-gen Beam, Playbar, or Playbase.)

In comparison with the Ones and Symfonisk audio system I’ve beforehand examined as surrounds, the Period 300 noticeably outputs extra atmospheric audio due to the upper driver depend. The widened rear left and proper soundstage are very obvious. However as for any Atmos top channels, these closely depend upon components like ceiling top and different standards that impression room acoustics. My ceilings are a reasonably commonplace top, so I used to be capable of discern the peak results when watching Dune, Black Adam, or nature documentaries on Netflix.

If it’s good to place the Period 300 towards a wall, the 90-degree energy cable makes that simpler.

In the event you’re spending a lot on a pair of Period 300s, you need to completely run Sonos’ Trueplay course of to make sure you’re getting peak efficiency from your house theater system. You’ll want an iOS or iPadOS gadget for this goal because the Period 300s can’t fine-tune the audio coming out of your soundbar. Fast tuning solely optimizes sound from the Period itself, so this requires the superior course of and waving your iPhone round to gauge a room’s traits.

I don’t assume anybody buying the Period 300 for encompass functions can be dissatisfied or underwhelmed. It’s only a very costly manner of bettering upon what you may have already got with two One SLs or Symfonisk image body audio system. It’s objectively higher and the most effective Sonos lounge setup you will get, nevertheless it’ll value you.

Beta testing the way forward for music

There are moments when the Period 300 is genuinely spectacular. If you land upon a thoughtfully produced spatial music monitor, there’s no different particular person speaker in the marketplace that feels like this. It may be mesmerizing and brain-deceiving. In the event you’re prepared to spend over $400 to maintain chasing that feeling, and should you don’t thoughts ignoring all of the dud mixes, the Period 300 is a promising glimpse of the way forward for house audio. And it takes Sonos’ house theater powers to a brand new degree, which can be purpose sufficient for some individuals to splurge on two of them.

The Period 300 shares the identical capacitive controls because the Period 100.

Stereo music isn’t going anyplace — ever — however when all the pieces clicks and Sonos’ new speaker is acting at its finest, stereo can begin to sound somewhat strange by comparability. Even understanding how a lot work lies forward for the music business to make this expertise extra constant, I’m beginning to change into a believer in spatial audio. The HomePod didn’t get me there, however the Period 300 has met the problem.

The Period 300 isn’t a must-buy but except you need the easiest you will get from Sonos’ house theater soundbars.

That stated, I’m nonetheless feeling some internal turmoil concerning the route we’re heading. This new “period” of getting no alternative however to subscribe to music streaming companies indefinitely to get pleasure from Atmos content material — you possibly can’t purchase spatial audio albums digitally, and the one bodily media that has it’s Blu-ray discs, which, come on — continues to strike me as unusual.

I’ve received reservations, positive, however I’m nonetheless going to stay with Sonos’ Period 300 speaker over the following a number of months and can revisit this assessment to see if the worth proposition modifications as extra deliberate Atmos mixes proceed to achieve streaming companies.

However except you’re flush with money and wish absolutely the most out of your Sonos house theater system, there’s no rush for most individuals to leap in proper on the outset.

Images by Chris Welch / The Verge

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