The Perfect Partner If I’ve Ever Seen One
Contrary to popular believe, I actually like Bluetooth audio. Not so much for the sound quality, of course, but for the convenience. I have my cherished Lemon-California Bluetooth speaker for about 4-5 years which sounds more than decent and I use as a benchmark for Bluetooth speaker quality. Both in built quality and sound quality. This reference unit cost me US$250 and worth every penny. The only problem is the fact that I’m not an outdoor person so while I love the unit, I only use it no more than a dozen times each year. If only I can combine it with my Sonos ecosystem, it will then be perfect.
Back in 2019, Sonos introduced Move which is Sonos weatherproof speaker with Bluetooth capability. It is a step to the right direction, size wise, as it is a transportable speaker but not small enough to be called portable. Typical of Sonos speakers, it sounds amazing for what it is.
This year, Sonos released Roam. Which is aptly named, as it is designed to be used for those who roam about.
The speaker has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and is triangular in a Toblerone shape with the length of a 500 ml bottle. It weighs about 1 lb so it won’t drag down a bag and is the perfect size to grip for carrying about the house or wherever I roam about. The speaker is easy to setup with the step-by-step setup guide while using the Sonos app. It requires a firmware update at the end of the setup but it took only a couple of minutes. The only tricky part in my experience was switching from the speaker’s Wi-Fi mode to its Bluetooth mode. You need to push the power button until you hear a tone — hold it too long, though, and the speaker will turn off. A tad annoying but still manageable as you only need to do this during the optional Bluetooth setup. Once the Bluetooth is setup, the Roam should automatically switch from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth mode when you’re away from home where your pre setup Wi-Fi is no longer detected. I said should because it occasionally fail to switch to Bluetooth mode, although thankfully it never failed to move back to Wi-Fi mode when I get into the home Wi-Fi zone.
The front is a metal mesh, the back is high-quality matte finished plastic and the end caps are rubberized to help absorb impacts if you drop it. The speaker is water resistant and claimed that it can be submerged in up to 1 m of water for 30 minutes (IP67, if you want to be technical), so it is durable enough to survive most outdoor settings. It doesn’t float, of course, due to its weight.
The above features were accidentally tested over the weekend when I rushed to go into my house due to a sudden (albeit light) rain. While busy taking the chairs into the house together with my iPad and iPhone, I left my Sonos Roam on the railing of my steps on my backyard deck. A couple of hours later when the rain stopped, I went back outside to realize that the Sonos Roam have been showered for a couple of hours AND also have been knocked down by the squirrel that always visits me several times a day. The Sonos Roam was wet and on the deck (about a 4-feet fall) yet it still works as new with no scuff whatsoever.
Like all other Sonos speakers, the Roam also brings voice assistant control to the portable speaker experience with three microphones hidden beneath the grille. With Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you can play music, set alarms, play games, check the news… what have you… all with your voice and hands-free. If you’re concerned about privacy, the voice assistant feature can easily be turned off directly from the Roam speaker, which you can confirm when the LED light on the front of the speaker turns off.
Battery life is a critical feature for any portable speaker and the Roam matches the Move with a 10 hour battery life. That’s a good full-day’s worth of listening on a single charge. When not in use, the Roam goes into sleep mode to save power and ready to play again at the press of a button.
The sound quality is typical of Sonos. It’s great as a background music source and inoffensive in both style and sonic quality. Something that none of Bluetooth speakers I’ve tested in that price range ever achieved, regardless of brand. This is obviously caused by the sonic design of Sonos itself plus the ability to self-adjust to its surrounding acoustics using Auto TruePlay technology. To be very honest, I do still prefer the sound of my California Roll speaker from Lemon California, but I can’t fault Sonos for that. After all, my reference California Roll costs 50% more than Sonos Roam and it can’t do Sonos ecosystem (something that constantly use), can’t do Qi charging, heavier and uncomfortable to be held as it is larger too.
So what does that mean? To put it simply, while the California Roll remains to be my reference for portable Bluetooth sound quality, I know for a fact that I will use it even less than what I used to. Why? Sonos is lighter thus making it easier to carry around, feels much better in my hands, and sounds quite amazing too for its size. Besides, especially if you’re already using Sonos ecosystem, why buy anything else? And oh, with the price of merely C$229 (US$179), it’s highly recommended.