Sonos is probably the biggest name in multi-room audio, but with Apple, Amazon, Google and more getting in on the act, it's faced some stiff competition in recent years. Now the company is hitting back with the Sonos Era 300, its most versatile speaker yet.
With Bluetooth, spatial audio and a unique design, it's certainly an impressive proposition. But is it better than the five-star Apple HomePod 2? We haven't had the Sonos Era 300 in for a full review yet, but the features and specs they offer already has us intrigued and comparing it against the HomePod 2.
Let's take an in-depth look at the two and find out.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: price
Both of these smart speakers are premium, well-featured devices, and their prices reflect that. The HomePod 2 launched at £299 / $299 / AU$479, which is at the pricier end of the smart speaker scale. This being an Apple device, its price has held firm – you might find it on a slight discount every now and again, but don't expect to see hundreds knocked off the price.
The Sonos Era 300 packs plenty of technology and a new eye-catching design, so it too commands a premium. In fact, at £449 / $449 / AU$749, it's actually more expensive than Apple's smart speaker. Again, Sonos kit rarely goes on sale, but keep an eye out come Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday, you never know your luck.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: design
Sonos has branched out into different types of speakers of late – think soundbars and portable models – but its standard home speaker models have generally looked a bit uninspiring. They're basically either vertical or horizontal rectangular boxes. But the Era 300 takes a whole new approach, boasting a unique cinched hourglass design that looks like no other smart speaker on the market.
And it's not just for aesthetic purposes. Like all the best designs, it serves to enhance the functionality of the speaker too – in this case, to fire sound out at all angles to help with the spatial audio feature.
There are some neat touches too. The control panel on the top has an enhanced volume slider (which is recessed like a trough), and it works seamlessly with other Sonos speakers.
The HomePod 2 looks a little dull by comparison, but we can't fault the quality of the unit and woven mesh coating. From a design perspective, it's nigh-on identical to the original HomePod, albeit slightly shorter. The touch panel on the top has also shrunk a little, though more of it illuminates when chatting with Siri, which is a very pleasing effect to the eye.
It's also slightly lighter than the original HomePod, though feels just as solid.
Apple has stuck with its winning design, which makes sense given the quality of the original HomePod. But for innovation alone, Sonos might take this round.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: features
This is where the Sonos Era 300 could really excel. It's Sonos' first home speaker to offer Bluetooth – previously this was exclusive to its portable models the Roam and Move – so you can beam content to it wirelessly from your mobile device. It also comes with a USB-C line-in, so you can hook up an external sound source like a turntable. (Although note: you'll need Sonos's Line-In Adapter and an auxiliary cable for wired connections – but both are sold separately).
Again, this isn't completely uncharted territory for Sonos (line-in features on the flagship Sonos Five), but having both features is a real selling point, making the device much more versatile in terms of what music source you can partner it with.
This being a Sonos device, of course it has wi-fi 6 as well for streaming and multiroom capabilities. And it can handle 24-bit/48kHz audio from Qobuz and Amazon Music.
But the real feather in its cap is spatial audio with Dolby Atmos. Thanks to the Era 300's unique shape and six-driver arrangement, it's perfect for creating the kind of immersive soundscape that makes spatial audio so immersive. There's a subwoofer on both the bottom left and right sides, with waveguides on the tops. The top-firing tweeter will bounce audio back off the ceiling to help create the spatial audio/Dolby Atmos effect, while a waveguide in the front should make for crystal clear vocals and instruments.
During a briefing, Sonos' principal product manager (hardware) Ryan Moore told us: "The goal with Era 300 was really to create the best standalone spatial audio experience of any single speaker."
That's quite a claim. While we were impressed during our short demo, we'll reserve judgement until we've put it through its paces in our testing labs. The one big drawback is that, at launch, you can only play Dolby Atmos spatial tracks from Amazon Music; Tidal and Apple Music's huge libraries of spatial audio with Dolby Atmos tracks, it seems, isn't cleared for playback on Era 300 yet.
Other extras include voice controls, and audio optimisation with both Android and iOS devices thanks to Trueplay for iOS and, for the first time, Android. It works with the Sonos S2 app, and can work as a stereo pair with another Era 300, and as rear Dolby Atmos speakers in a surround sound set-up (up to 7.1.4) with Sonos's Arc and Beam Gen 2 soundbars.
The HomePod 2 flips convention on its head, with a woofer at the top and tweeters at the bottom. Like the Era 300, it can analyse its surroundings and optimise its audio output accordingly, and the speed at which this happens is nothing short of astonishing. A 'Reduce Bass' function (accessed through the Apple Home app) is a nice touch – and a godsend to party-averse housemates – and voice controls come courtesy of Apple's Siri.
Spatial Audio plays a starring role in the HomePod 2's skillset, with Apple Music integration key to its musical success. And while Spotify, Tidal and Amazon Music are supported services, you can't control them with voice controls. Rather you have to play them via AirPlay 2 from your mobile device, which introduces an unnecessary middleman to the process. The same goes for non-Apple radio stations.
Like the Era 300, the maximum resolution files supported are 24-bit/48kHz. And the HomePod 2 has added smart home skills – as well as controlling devices like smart light bulbs, thermostats, blinds and security cameras, it also has integrated humidity and temperature sensors, so it can turn on a dehumidifier when the humidity hits a certain level, for example. We know, we're What Hi-Fi?, not Good Housekeeping, but still, it's all part of the HomePod package.
The HomePod 2 does have Bluetooth, but crucially, there are no ports for hooking up audio sources like a turntable. And for us, no number of humidity sensors can make up for that. For Sonos's Era 300 to truly succeed as the best 'standalone spatial audio single speaker' however, we'd like it to support tracks from all music services.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: sound
Now, it's worth noting here that we haven't yet tested the Sonos Era 300. We have had a demo with a handful of songs (Fineas, Paul McCartney and xx tracks were played) but that's nowhere near the same as testing it for ourselves in our dedicated listening rooms. So we'll wait until we've put the speaker through its paces before passing judgement.
It'll be particularly interesting to see how it compares to the HomePod 2 in terms of spatial audio with Dolby Atmos tracks. Apple's smart speaker is right at home with the technology, showcasing additional vocal tracks with plenty of warmth and clarity. But there's a lot more to the HomePod 2's sound than just Spatial Audio. Apple Lossless tracks sound superb too, fizzing with energy and excitement without any rough edges. And there's more bass than you would expect from a speaker this size – that 'Reduce Bass' button could see plenty of use.
The bass is nicely defined too, acting as a seamlessly integrated and dexterous bottom end with plenty of flexibility at the lower end of the frequency scale.
A more traditional, forward-firing speaker will project sound further into the room, but if it's a more open, less directional approach you're after, you can't go far wrong with the HomePod 2.
Sonos Era 300 vs Apple HomePod 2: verdict
Until we've tested the Era 300, we can't comment conclusively on its sound quality or features in full. As such, we can't recommend it – yet. But we can see that from a design and specs perspective, it certainly gives the HomePod 2 a run for its money. That extra versatility could be the deal-breaker that convinces non-Apple users – or those with only one foot in the Apple ecosystem – to pick it over the HomePod 2.
But the HomePod 2 remains a superb smart speaker. Well-built, effortlessly usable and with awesome sound quality, it's a great showcase for Apple Music. And if Apple's streaming service isn't your bag? We'll update this article once we've tested the Era 300, so watch this space...
Read our Sonos Era 300 hands-on review for our first impressions
Apple HomePod vs HomePod 2: which is better?
Here's our HomePod 2 vs Sonos One shootout
Which Sonos speaker should you buy? Find out here