Sonos has launched its latest wireless multiroom smart speakers — the $249 Era 100 and $449 Era 300 — effectively rebooting the company’s entry-level product. It marks the end of the Sonos One, and its midsize offering, which had been noticeably absent since the discontinuation of the Play:3 in 2018. We’ll have reviews in due time, but I’ve spent a little bit of time with the new kit, and here are my first impressions.
I got a chance to hear both the Sonos Era 100 and 300 in action at a private launch event in New York City. The demo room was hardly an ideal spot from an acoustics point of view — a wide and shallow shape and drapes slung on some walls, while others were built from highly reflective glass — and yet I was able to get a sense of both speakers’ potential.
If I were to sum up Sonos’ unifying philosophy for the Era series in a single word, it would be “immersion.” One look at where the smart speaker market is today and it’s not hard to understand why immersion is the goal. Amazon’s $200 Echo Studio is a Dolby Atmos-capable smart speaker that can double as a soundbar when connected to the company’s Fire TV streamers, and Apple’s newly relaunched HomePod gen 2 follows an identical path, for $100 more.
With competitors like these, the aging (and mono-only) Sonos One was looking a bit frumpy, and other than its soundbars, Sonos has had nothing to offer folks who want a little more from their wireless speakers.
For the Era 100, that means providing stereo sound from a single speaker. It’s not an easy task. Stereo sound depends on being able to send different information to your left and right ears, which is why stereo speakers usually come in pairs so you can create the necessary distance.
The only way to get there using the Era 100’s narrow enclosure is to angle two drivers away from each other, so they direct that left/right sound outward, and then back to the listener, perhaps taking advantage of any surfaces to bunce off of like walls.
From where I was sitting, I wouldn’t say that the Era 100 delivered strong stereo separation. But it definitely felt like it projected a wider soundstage than I’m used to with a single Sonos One. Also noticeable was the improved bass response, which felt weightier and more musical than the One. Since Sonos didn’t let us hear an Era 100 side-by-side with a One, these observations are purely what I could muster from memory.
For the Era 300, Sonos gave us two demonstrations: using a pair of Era 300s as the rear surrounds for a Sonos Arc-based Dolby Atmos home theater, and using a single Era 300 for stereo and Dolby Atmos Music listening. Our movie clip was courtesy of the film Unbroken, which features a World War II American bombing run as seen from the bomber crews’ perspective. It’s a clip I’ve seen before, and there’s no doubt that the Sonos setup provided a powerfully emotional performance, putting me very much in the center of the action. How much of that was thanks to the Era 300 surrounds and how much was being produced by the Arc itself? That’s hard to say, but it’s obvious that the Era 300 makes for a potent addition to a Sonos home theater.
I was more impressed by the audio-only demo, where we switched from standard two-channel stereo to Dolby Atmos Music, with samples from Lizzo’s About Damn Time and Finneas’ A Concert Six Months From Now. The stereo track sounded predictably good — Sonos really knows how to generate sound that is proportionally much bigger than the speaker it’s coming from — and the Atmos Music track demonstrated just how much bigger and immersive that sound can get when you include Atmos in the mix.
The lingering question I have about the Era 300 as a speaker for Dolby Atmos Music is the same question I have for Dolby Atmos Music when played through any sound system (as opposed to headphones or earbuds): given Atmos’ need for a target listening area to deliver its immersive soundstage, will people really take the time to sit and listen to Dolby Atmos Music? And if the answer is no, is the Era 300 still the right choice for folks who want a really great wireless speaker?
I hope to answer that, and many other questions about using the Era 100 and 300, once the speakers are available on March 28.
3 thoughts on “Sonos Era 100 and Era 300 first impressions: it’s all about immersion”
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