Is the Sonos Era 300 is the “just make it work” wireless speaker we’ve all been waiting for?
It’s hard to get me excited about wireless speakers. I’m not saying that the category isn’t innovating, but there’s only so much novelty I can wring out of new products in a fairly mature category. Or so I thought. That was all true before last month when Sonos announced their new Era product line.
Why am I excited? Two words: spatial audio. There’s a sea change taking place from live music in venues like the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas to audio formats that previously existed but hadn’t really taken hold beyond audiophile surround sound systems and AirPods. I’m talking about Dolby Atmos and specifically Apple’s decision to embrace spatial audio, beginning the push into our ears via headphones and now, yes now, we finally have a product where spatial audio will begin to turn us all into audio snobs.
I can hear it now. “Oh, that’s a cute stereo setup you have. How quaint.” Even the fanciest audio video receivers out there aren’t set up to properly decode Apple’s spatial audio signals without some nerdy tweaking to your Apple TV (which needs to be the latest and greatest, natch).
The Sonos Era 300 is the “just make it work” product we’ve all been waiting for to make spatial audio more mainstream. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it. Think of the first time you experienced anything new that made your life better. You never wanted to go back. That’s why I was excited to go on a little spatial audio journey with this latest addition to the Sonos lineup.
Unboxing Sonos Era 300
The Sonos Era 300 ships in what’s become table stakes for Sonos — stunning, well thought out packaging that reminds me of Jony Ive with its clicking latches and magical reveal-style lift off top. The whole affair seems designed for (and succeeds in) building excitement.
In what appears to be a keeper trend for Sonos, there’s the “open this and you sign away your life” EULA-on-a-sticker gatekeeping the impatient customer from tearing open the velvety bag encasing the oblong speaker. I read every word of the EULA carefully and thoughtfully considered the implications of engaging in a legal agreement with Sonos (as I’m sure you do) before peeling the sticker off the way my mother agonizingly opens a single Christmas present over a 45-minute period before saving the wrapping paper for posterity.
I followed the included Quick Start guide which prompted me to place the speaker in an area where none of the audio ports would be blocked. The Era 300 is covered in micro perforations, giving off the vibe that sound is coming from everywhere. This was a huge departure from its predecessors which fired forward and could be tucked away into a corner. The Era 300 begs to be showcased.
After firing up the Sonos app, a splash screen popped up prompting me to configure the new speaker. The speaker then started playing what Sonos calls an “audio PIN” to connect it. I love how they are using the phone more and more for one-time activities like device commissioning and calibration.
The speaker next connected itself to my Wi-Fi network, downloaded a firmware update, then prompted me to run Trueplay, Sonos’ calibration routine. I clicked “Continue” and began the rite of tuning the room reminiscent of a high church priest swinging a pot of incense wildly around, blessing the walls and ceiling, keeping everything safe from the evils of lousy sound.
With everything sorted on the setup front, I launched into my Apple Music playlists within the Sonos app. I quickly found a “Made for Spatial Audio” option and started playing some tunes. Harry Styles was first, filling the room with “As It Was.” I immediately felt the presence of all those speakers firing sound off the various reflective surfaces in the room. It felt like I’d been doing the audio equivalent of watching TV in 4:3 only to see my first 16:9 widescreen HD movie. If we know there’s 30% of the content missing from our music, we want it from then on, especially if it’s easy to access.
I immediately started thinking about all the other applications for the Era 300. They can be used as surrounds for the speaker bars like Sonos Arc and Beam or put in a pair with another Era 300. As if that wasn’t enough, it can be paired with Sonos Sub or Sub Mini (1 or 2).
The Sonos Era 300 retails at $449. How much is amazing sound worth? While the exact number might be up for discussion, I think we can all agree that it’s north of $449. Life’s too short for putting up with stereo sound. Thanks to Sonos, this new speaker has ushered in a new era in the way we all will soon be demanding more from the products we put into our homes. Watch for more spatial audio availability in competing products and traditional audio/video receivers. I can’t wait to see what they launch next!