Sonos Era 100 Review: Now streaming in stereo
Sonos Era 100 Review: Now Streaming in Stereo
Note: This review was first published on 1 June 2023.
Say hi to Sonos' new entry-level speaker
One of the things that I really like about Sonos speakers is how they tend to blend into the background. They don't stick out visually like some other speakers do. Their inconspicuousness gives them this ability to infuse a room with music, which is a very neat trick if you are particular about both audio and the way your home looks. Coming from a setup that features a combination of Sonos One SL and the Symfonisk speakers by Ikea and Sonos, the new Era 100 speakers don’t skip a beat visually and can just as easily sit in just about any corner in the home – as long as there’s a power socket nearby. Like its predecessors, the Era 100 easily fits onto any shelf, tabletop, or corner of the room.
The TLDR version:
It's not exactly cheap for an entry-level smart speaker, but it sounds goods, works well, looks smart, and gives users the option to upgrade their setups in the future.
Visually, the new Era 100 looks more of an oval shape and it yet retains the standing tube-like form factor that's typical of the Sonos One line-up. It measures 13cm wide and 18cm tall, which means it's pretty compact. Part of the reason why the Sonos designers went with the oval shape is to accommodate the new drivers inside the Era 100. The Sonos One was only capable of delivering mono sound, meaning that you needed a pair to properly enjoy stereo music. The Era 100 on the other hand, now comes with two angled tweeters with custom waveguides inside to better disperse sound, alongside a single mid-woofer that takes care of the lower frequencies. In other words, the Era 100 now features stereo capability.
Sonos also saw fit to include a USB-C line-in connection to hard-wire external sources like your turntable. However, you'll need to get additional USB-C to 3.5mm adapter from Sonos for that bit of functionality to work. There's also a Sonos Combo adapter which provides the Era 100 with an Ethernet connection and a 3.5mm connection. Strangely, you can't use the USB-C to connect directly to sources like your notebook or phone output audio digitally. That seems like a missed opportunity. You also can't use the USB-C port to charge devices. This limits the functionality of the USB-C port.
At the rear is a button that enables Bluetooth pairing with the Era 100. The speaker will ship with Bluetooth 5.0 support, with an update to 5.2 coming via a future firmware update. At any rate, the important thing here is that music over Bluetooth is now a possibility, giving the Era 100 that little bit more flexibility.
Consumers who like to live on the cutting edge of home networking will be pleased to note that the Era 100 comes with support for Wi-Fi 6 out of the box. However, the speakers no longer supports SonosNet – the private network that enabled Sonos speakers to communicate when any one of them is connected to Ethernet.
A visual inspection
While Sonos has in the past issued different versions of the Sonos One in different colours, for now, the Era 100 only comes in a matte black or matte white finish, with the wraparound grille lending a polished and seamless finish to the whole package.
On the outside, the Era 100 features capacitive buttons on the top that manage music playback and voice control. While you can disable the voice assistant this way, there's also a physical kill switch behind the speaker that cuts power to the microphones and completely defeats the voice assistant for added security and privacy.
While we’re on the topic of voice assistants, a notable omission from the Era 100 is support for Google Assistant – you’re left with either Amazon Alexa or Sonos’ own Voice Control. If you’ve set up your entire home to respond to work with Google Assistant, this might be a dealbreaker.
Sonos Voice Control only works for music playback, responding to “Hey Sonos” as its wake word. It won’t work as well as Apple’s Siri, for example, but is just as handy for those who aren’t keen on having requests sent to the cloud. Sonos Voice Control processes all requests locally on device.
There is a groove on the top panel that acts as a volume control slider; you can either slide your finger across to adjust the volume or tap either side for more granular adjustments to playback. Generally, this worked quite well.
How does it perform?
One of the biggest draws of Sonos speakers is their integration with just about every music streaming service out there, whether it be Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, or Tidal. It can also play music from internet radio stations and even from your home servers. Nothing’s changed in this regard, except maybe where Bluetooth integration now also makes it easier for guests to share their tunes when visiting.
Setting up the Era 100 is simple enough; the current Sonos S2 platform is super easy to navigate even for tech novices; this can include adding a new speaker to your setup, controlling which speakers are in which room, grouping rooms together, and much more.
In terms of audio playback, finally getting stereo capability does help the Era 100 to sound much better, with better-defined bass. What you can also do to keep everything sounding great is to use Sonos’ TruePlay for room calibration, where the app optimizes the speaker’s audio output depending on where you placed it in the room. Originally a feature that was limited to iOS users, Android users can now use this feature in combination with the microphone in the Era 100 for calibration. In contrast, iOS users have the tuning done using their iPhone’s microphone. Sonos recommends using TruePlay for larger spaces, but I’ve found TruePlay to be just as useful in improving the overall audio performance in a smaller room.
Sonos has done very well designing small speakers that produce room-filling sound, and the Era 100 is no exception. Regardless of the genre of music you prefer – K-pop, disco, rock, or jazz – the Era 100 performs satisfyingly well. It sounds projects a fairly wide soundstage and it sounds remarkably crisp and detailed, and with surprisingly deep bass from a speaker this small. As we mentioned during our hands-on, it sounds like a much larger speaker. Throw in a second Era 100 into the mix, or a Sonos Sub or Sub Mini, and you can instantly get a more immersive sound with even deeper and more palpable bass.
Is the Era 100 worth buying?
Overall, the Era 100 is a great entry-level offering from Sonos, but before you run out and get one, know that the existing Sonos One family isn't exactly formally being discontinued yet, and this may lead to some great deals down the road if you’re looking at completing your Sonos surround setup for a couple of dollars less.
However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that existing accessories such as wall mounts for the Sonos One don’t work with the Era 100, so its probably more prudent, longevity-wise, to just go for the new Era 100s (or even the Era 300s) in that case, even though Sonos had generally been quite good about making sure their products function for as long as possible.
The bottom line is that Sonos generally already stands above the competition when it comes to versatility and feature set, and new additions to the line-up like the Era 100 are only helping to increase their lead over the rest of the pack.
For those of you interested in the Era 100’s green creds, Sonos says they use 48% post-consumer-recycled plastic in the Era 100’s build, while the product packaging is now made from paper, with both exterior and interior packaging 100% recyclable. From an energy usage perspective, Sonos claims reduced power consumption both with audio playback and when idle but given that I lacked a watt meter during my time with the Era 100, I was unable to verify this, so we’ll just have to take Sonos’ word for it.
Even if you’re not planning on investing heavily into the Sonos ecosystem, the Era 100, at S$449, is an excellent option for an entry-level smart speaker. It's not exactly affordable but it offers users headroom to expand (multi-room audio or surround sound) and upgrade their setups if they decide to get more serious in the future. But crucially, it sounds good, it's super easy to set up and use, and it now has proper stereo sound and Bluetooth connectivity for greater flexibility.