The Sonos Roam had the odds stacked against it. A whole host of speakers have tried to transcend the limits of mere Bluetooth and failed. Even Amazon, bringing the full weight of Alexa to bear, couldn't make it work.
But after more than a week with the Roam — at the golf course, the park, all over my house — I can tell you that Sonos has managed to put a crack in the dam and build an almost perfect speaker for the home and on-the-go. And while a last-second change has put a damper on some of the speaker's promised potential, it's still a standout addition to any Sonos system.
Have a Sonos system? Then it's a no-brainer.
If you have a Sonos system already, the Roam is really the best portable speaker for you. Full stop. It works like all other Sonos speakers and can be grouped into a larger multi-room system just like any other Sonos speaker. It also can add an additional voice assistant (Alexa or Google Assistant) just like a Sonos One. It gives you an additional speaker in your home, and lets you extend your system wherever you go.
I have two Play:1s, one One and one Play:5, and the Roam fits right in. But in contrast to its cousins, it's not tethered to a single room. Like Sonos's bigger and much more expensive Move, it's a dream for just bringing around the house which is essential if you want to listen to music in more rooms than you care to buy speakers for. Unlike the Move, it's small enough to leave the premises.
What's more, it opens up some additional (nerdy) Sonos use cases. Because my turntable is connected to a Play:5 by line-in, and my Roam is connected to my Sonos system, I can throw on some vinyl and just carry it around the house with me. And since I set my Roam with Google Assistant and my One is set up with Alexa, I'm able to control all my speakers with either virtual assistant.
Roam brings new powers to your existing Sonos setup...
One of the coolest (and strangest) things to come out of the Roam's antenna combination — which marries Bluetooth and Wi-fi into a single unit — is that it opens up Bluetooth streaming to all your other Sonos speakers. When you group a Roam with other Sonos speakers, they will share the incoming Bluetooth feed from your phone. And while that's not notable if you're just streaming some Spotify, I was definitely surprised the first time I called up a YouTube video on my iPhone and heard the sound come out of my Play:5 and Play:1 speakers. As Sonos owners will know, it's historically been a bit of a hassle to make the speakers play anything other than music orchestrated through the official Sonos app (or Airplay), though workarounds have been possible.
I didn't test this but, according to Sonos, you can pair any Bluetooth-enabled turntable with the Roam and stream its audio throughout your other Sonos speakers. There will be a sound quality sacrifice (Bluetooth can't carry audio data as well as a wire can), but it would be a much more affordable way to stream vinyl to a Sonos system, which has until now required the purchase of either The Five ($499) to connect with line-in, or a bridging device like the Sonos Port ($449).
But the coolest feature got canned.
At its launch event last month, Sonos promised this functionality would go even further, and that the Roam would automatically switch between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modes. Specifically, you were supposed to be able to pick up Roam while it was streaming music over Wi-Fi, take it anywhere you wanted, and once it got out of Wi-Fi range it would connect to your smartphone over Bluetooth without stopping the music. A seamless transition.
I was never able to get Auto-Switching — specifically when going from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth modes, i.e. leaving the house — to work on my Roam review unit. And now, before launch, Sonos has confirmed that auto-switching feature has been updated. Or really, partially removed. Now the music will stop when you leave the house, by design. To start it back up again, you just have to manually switch the Roam to Bluetooth mode by pressing the back power button or by just going to the Bluetooth Settings menu on your smartphone. A small hitch, but one that significantly downgrades the magic factor.
According to Sonos, this change to Auto-Switching was made out of an abundance of caution to prevent a Roam from automatically connecting to an unintended device — like an unsuspecting person's smartphone — suddenly broadcasting its audio for all to hear. The Roam can remember up to eight Bluetooth devices, and the feature was designed to run down this list when looking for devices to connect, which should mean it would only have found devices that had been attached to it before. Apparently that leaves too much space for error for Sonos to be comfortable leaving that feature enabled, though it never worked for me before it was pulled.
The sound is good, but don’t expect miracles.
OK, connectivity is great, but it’s a speaker and so how is the sound?
It’s good! It’s nice! It’s not going to blow you away, but at the end of the day that’s not quite its job. Sound requires size, and the Roam only has so much. Sonos likes to compare the Roam to the stationary One or Play:1, but just not as loud, and that is about right.
Automatic Trueplay, the Roam's ability to adjust its audio settings depending on its immediate environment, definitely makes for better quality than simpler speakers; the mids and highs, and even some of the bass, sound just a bit sharper than on my other portable Bluetooth speaker, the Sony SRS-XB23 ($98). However, the sound quality difference between Roam and other tiny portable speakers isn't night-and-day. In fact, the Sony speaker (which is slightly larger than the Roam) gets a little bit louder and is a heck of a lot cheaper.
Also, unlike some purely Bluetooth options, the Roam is a front-firing speaker, not a 360 blaster. At home and plugged in, that’s not much of an issue; walls are where the outlets are. But in an outdoor party environment, like a bonfire or a barbecue, proper placement might pose a puzzle.
In this specific scenario, cheaper options like UE’s Boom actually claw out an edge over the Roam. But they don’t seamlessly improve your home stereo system while you aren’t partying.
It's the first truly rugged Sonos speaker.
Technically, the Move is Sonos' first portable speaker, but it's also a near-seven-pound goliath that's mainly designed for people with patios and porches. The Roam is Sonos's first truly portable speaker in that it's small enough that you'll want to take it places. During my testing, I've brought the Roam golfing, the dog park, and I've had it in my car as I've driven all over the place.
Fortunately, it's pretty rugged and sports an IP67 rating, which means it can survive brief immersion in shallow water (though I would not recommend it). The end result is that it's not a speaker you have to baby, but if you take it around it will get dinged up. The Roam returned from its first weekend out of the house, after hours of blasting music and rattling around in a golf cart's cup holder, with its fair share of dings and dents in the top and bottom of the speaker, both of which are made of soft plastic. So brace yourself for that.
I also found myself wishing that Sonos gave the Roam a bungee strap or cord so that I could it on something. I often us the strap on the Sony SRS-XB23 when I'm outside and not near a table or flat surface, and it's just really convenient. I imagine that some third-party maker will release some accessories, like a strap, for the Roam, but it's not there now.
You're going to want a wireless charger.
The Roam is a fairly expensive portable speaker to start with — you're paying the Sonos tax for the enhanced abilities and dual connectivity, of course — but I'd argue that in practice it's even more expensive than its $169 price tag. That's because to get the most out of the Roam, meaning using it as smart home speaker most of the time and a portable speaker some of the time, you're going to want to buy the wireless charger, which costs an extra $49, driving up the total price of the Roam to $218.
You can use any Qi-wireless charging pad — which I did during my review testing— and it has the same basic effect. The advantage of the Roam's special wireless charger is that it has magnets and will quickly lock the Roam in place. But if you're not particular, you can definitely get an alternative for cheaper. (Also, Roam doesn't ship with a wall adapter — only a USB-A to USB-C cord — so you'll need to have a spare lying around.)
Sonos brand or not, a wireless charger is key in that it prevents Roam going into its low-power mode, which turns off its microphones and prevents you from using the Roam as a smart speaker. You can, or course, just charge the Roam with its included USB-C power cord, but then it doesn't have the same grab-and-go effect that really makes the Roam feel so special.
All in all, the Roam is a bit more expensive than its main portable speaker competition, but that purchase pays dividends in ease. If you've already got a Sonos system and you're considering expansion, a Sonos Roam will make an excellent addition — wherever you wind up taking it.