In the rapidly evolving realm of wireless speakers, packing as much into each fabric-jacketed box as possible – drivers, streaming service support, features – has long been the route to success. More has definitely always been more.
So why has Sonos released a product that looks identical to its latest five-star smart speaker, the Sonos One, but left out the smart aspects, including those little microphone dots around the top, and the built-in voice assistant?
Our review of the Sonos One described it as “essentially a Play:1 with voice control built in”, and concluded that it was “a fine combination in our book”. Which begs the question that if the Sonos Play:1 is the Sonos One without voice assistant smarts, what is the point of the newer Sonos SL?
The Sonos One SL looks almost identical to the Sonos One, with a touch-sensitive top plate and pairing button at the back. But as for the purpose of the SL, our review of the Sonos One hinted at one possibility.
“As with the Play:1, two Sonos Ones can be combined to create a stereo pair capable of filling a room with hi-fi-like focus,” we wrote. “Given the sonic similarities, it’s a shame you can’t form a stereo pair consisting of one One and one Play:1. Buying two Alexa-powered speakers for one room just feels like overkill, particularly if you already have a Play:1.”
You’ve guessed it: you can now pair a One and One SL in stereo, a set-up that looks and sounds good for the money. Simply give your two speakers different names then click on either speaker in the Sonos app and select ‘create stereo pair’. You are then prompted to press and release the pairing button on whichever speaker you want to be the left of the pair. Do that and you’ve created a pair of stereo speakers where the One can handle voice activation.
Of course, the Sonos One SL is designed for both Sonos system integration and solo use – you don’t have to pair it with another. So for the purposes of this review, we tested it alone, in its own right.
Two sonic features of note within the app’s sound tab are Trueplay and, in the EQ settings, the Loudness toggle. Trueplay analyses the One SL’s surroundings and adjusts its sonic balance accordingly. It also involves walking around our listening room (having positioned the One SL where we want it) waving an iPad around (an iPhone will also do the job), which is accompanied by lightsaber noises emitted from the Sonos’s drivers.
Amplifiers 2x Class-D amps
Stereo pairing Yes
Home theatre no
Dimensions (hwd) 16 x 12 x 12cm
Despite the obvious draw for Star Wars fans, the Trueplay feature is worth doing; when the performance is complete and our One SL notifies us with a pleasing musical power chord, the sound has been optimised to our room. As with our Sonos One, we also recommend keeping the Loudness feature on to maximise the breadth and depth that such a speaker can offer.
Another One SL addition is AirPlay 2, although the intuitive Sonos app handily corrals your music streaming services into its ‘Browse’ tab for easy access so you may not need it unless heavily ensconced in Apple’s ecosphere. The app will also find songs stored on your local network (from a NAS drive, for example). Our one gripe here is that there’s still no Bluetooth (you'll need a Sonos Move for that), which means if the wi-fi is down you’re out of luck.
The touch-control panel on the Sonos can be disabled via app settings, and the status light can be turned off if you find it distracting – all small yet useful features. Of course, if you want to add voice-activated smarts to the SL without purchasing a Sonos One, adding an inexpensive Echo Dot would also allow this.
Having set all EQ presets to neutral, deployed Trueplay and kept Loudness toggled on, we cue up Every Other Freckle by alt-J on Tidal. The rumbling bass at the outset is agile, solid and remarkably weighty for a speaker of this size. Vocals and strings through the treble and midrange frequencies are well-placed and notably reminiscent of the sophistication displayed by the Sonos One.
Exploring the SL’s low end further, we set up Dave’s rap-heavy Question Time. Vocals are upfront and central, set apart from the low bass tones, which are both perceptible and musically cohesive in relation to the high hat. Bass-wise, it’s every bit as energetic, punchy and detailed a performance as you’d get from its voice-controlled sibling.
Eric Clapton’s strummed acoustic guitar at the outset of Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out is both textured, bluesy and three dimensional, layered with the meandering and sparkling piano notes and Clapton’s quieter vocal. As always, his axe takes centre stage, but there’s plenty of space for backing vocals and bass to shine too, all of which are kept in check within a clean, open and expansive mix.
While the price difference between the Sonos One and Sonos One SL is negligible, for those who see no benefit in speaking to their speaker, the SL is a viable proposition. The sonic performance, streaming options and app-support are among the best we’ve tested at this level.
The Sonos One SL is a justified update on the Play:1, a definitive, malleable companion to the Sonos One, and a musical, punchy, pleasing piece of kit when used completely alone.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Build 5
Read our Sonos One review
Read our Sonos Play:1 review