Sonos Move review: Glorious audio performances at home and on the road Credit: Michael Brown IDGIDG
Business Management

Sonos Move review: Glorious audio performances at home and on the road

I’ve been pining for a portable outdoor Sonos speaker for years. I suspect anyone who’s bought into the Sonos ecosystem has. The Sonos Move not only scratches that itch, its Bluetooth radio gives me the option of taking the speaker on the road. What could be better than that? Audio performance rivaling the mighty second-generation Sonos Play:5, plus real-time room compensation and your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant onboard.

The Move isn’t Sonos’ first outdoor speaker. The company partnered with Sonance in late 2018 to produce the weatherized Sonos Outdoor by Sonance speakers, but those are wired, passive, and expensive at $799—plus the cost of an amplifier to drive them. You can buy them direct, but they’re really intended for the custom-installer market. The Move isn’t exactly cheap at $399, but it is self-amplified, battery-powered, and—weighing in at 6.6 pounds—luggable, with a deep handle molded into the back of its enclosure.

sonos move handle 2 Michael Brown / IDG

A deep handle molded into the back of the Sonos Move’s enclosure makes the 6.6-pound speaker easy to pick up and move.

At home—and everywhere else

To listen to the Move at home, you’ll want to connect the speaker to your Wi-Fi network. The onboard dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter provides significant range that should enable you to listen just about anywhere in even a large yard, provided you have a good router. That will also enable you to sync it to all your other Sonos components in a multi-room audio system. You can pair two Move speakers as a wireless stereo pair when connected to Wi-Fi, but you can’t pair the Move with the Sonos Sub. The Move also supports Apple’s AirPlay 2 audio technology.

I evaluated the Move while connected to a three-node Samsung SmartThings Wifi router that I’m in the process of reviewing, and I was able to wander impressively long distances around my rural property without the speaker dropping off my network. In fact, the Move maintained its Wi-Fi connection even at the end of my more-than-300-foot-long driveway.

Unfortunately, my Pixel 2 XL couldn’t match that performance, so I had assumed that left me with no way to control the speaker apart from touching the play/pause and volume-control buttons on the speaker itself. But then I remembered that I could use voice commands! This worked with Alexa, and while I didn’t switch over to Google Assistant to verify that it would also work, there’s no reason I can see that it wouldn’t. That is a remarkable performance for an 802.11n device. Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on the quality of your router and the density of competing Wi-Fi networks where you live.

sonos move wifi range Michael Brown / IDG

The Sonos Move’s Wi-Fi range is incredible. The speaker remained connected to my network despite being more than 300 feet from my house (which you can see in the background).

Take the Move on the road—or anywhere beyond the reach of your router or personal hotspot—and you’ll switch to a Bluetooth connection. The Move supports Bluetooth 4.2 with AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile). Just push the mode button on the back of the speaker to switch from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth and then pair the speaker with your smartphone or tablet. Once paired, you need only push the button on the speaker to switch modes.

You will experience a slight compromise in audio quality with Bluetooth compared to Wi-Fi, depending on what you’re streaming. You won’t notice it while playing tracks on services like Spotify that stream lossy, relatively low-resolution tracks (compared to 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC files, for instance). Wi-Fi can provide the bandwidth for FLAC and other codecs in resolutions much higher than that, although Sonos components are limited to a maximum resolution of 16-bit/48kHz.

That means you won’t get full quality from lossless streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz, or the new Amazon Music HD when the speaker is in Bluetooth mode. And you won’t be able to take advantage of the high-resolution (24-bit/192kHz) streaming options available from Qobuz or Amazon Music HD using either connectivity option. Support for aptX—or better yet, aptX HD—would help the Move’s Bluetooth performance, but Sonos supports only the SBC and AAC codecs over Bluetooth.

sonos move charging cradle Michael Brown / IDG

The Sonos Move’s unobtrusive charging cradle and associated AC power adapter.

Weatherization and battery life

Any outdoor speaker that can’t stand up to the elements would be useless, so Sonos built the Move to an ingress protection level of IP56. That means the speaker is protected from dust (though it’s not dust tight), and it’s protected from powerful water jets sprayed from up to a 12.5mm nozzle. It probably won’t survive being knocked off the ledge of your pool and into its depths, but you can spray it with a hose to rinse off beach sand. If you live in area subject to harsh weather, the Move will continue to operate at temperatures ranging from 14 degrees Fahrenheit all the way to 131F.

Sonos says the Move is also engineered to withstand a drop from a height of nearly 30 inches. I didn’t test that claim, and Sonos would say only that the Move has a one-year limited warranty in the U.S. and a two-year warranty in Europe, dodging my question: Would damage resulting from such a drop would be covered under warranty?

True portability requires battery power, and Sonos put a big one in the Move. The company says it should deliver 10 hours of uninterrupted play on a full charge. The speaker will go into a power-conserving suspend mode after 10 minutes of inactivity if it’s not on its charging base. Said base is an unobtrusive ring with a moderately large wall wart at the end of its six-foot cable. The cable emerges from the side of the AC adapter, so it doesn’t block the adjacent outlet in a duplex or power strip. When there’s no AC power available to charge the battery, you can use a USB-C charger to replenish it, but the charger must support one or more of these output levels: 12V/3A, 15V/3A, or 20V/2.25A.

Sonos says users don’t need to worry about discharging the battery to a certain level before recharging it, and that they will be able to leave the Move on its charging base for extended periods of time without worrying about damaging the battery. “We created the charging base for this exact use case,” said a Sonos spokesperson via email. “Our team actually designed the chemistry of the battery to not see faster degradation if always plugged in.”

sonos move poolside Sonos

The Sonos Move can withstand exposure to water, but not to the level of being submersed.

When I asked if Sonos had any best-practice recommendations for battery management, this same spokesperson said “No, we did find that many Bluetooth speakers would go uncharged when returned from the outdoors, meaning they were often dead the next time users wanted to listen to music. The dock gives Move a ‘home’ within the home, ensuring the battery is topped off for your next adventure.”

Regardless of how big a battery a device has, it will eventually fail to hold a charge. We’ve all experienced this, whether it’s with our smartphone or our car. Sonos is one of the few battery-powered speaker manufacturers I’m aware of to offer a means of replacing a failed battery, although the company has not yet published a price for the component (you can also replace the batteries in Soundcast’s line of outdoor speakers, including its since-discontinued Outcast, but they’re not cheap). The Sonos spokesperson declined to explain how users will go about replacing the Move’s battery, but said “It’ll be a simple process that can be done at home.”

Controls

The top of the oval-shaped Move will look familiar to any Sonos user. There’s a capacitive touch button for play/pause that’s flanked by buttons for volume down (left) and volume up (right). A mic button in the center mutes the array of six far-field microphones used to summon either Alexa or Google Assistant (you’ll need to choose one or the other—both cannot be active concurrently). An LED next to this button glows white when the mic is active, and the only way you can turn it off is to mute the mic. A second LED, right above the play/pause button, glows white when the speaker is connected to Wi-Fi, and blue when connected to Bluetooth. Unlike the mic button, this status LED can be turned off.

sonos move top Michael Brown / IDG

Capacitive touch controls are provided for play/pause, volume up/down, and for muting the microphone array. Or you can use voice commands if the speaker is on Wi-Fi.

The Move is a smart speaker only while it’s connected to Wi-Fi, of course, but it’s remarkably capable of detecting the wake word even while it’s pumping the jams. I needed to raise my voice when I had the volume cranked, but I never needed to shout to get its attention. If you want the services of a smart speaker while you’re on the road, and you have a solid data plan, I’d suggest tethering the speaker to your smartphone instead of relying on Bluetooth.

Auto Trueplay

Using the Move as a smart speaker isn’t the only reason you’ll want to stick with Wi-Fi while listening. I’ve long been a fan of Sonos’ Trueplay technology, even though its implementation in every other Sonos speaker has required walking around the room waving an iOS device through the air like a witch doctor summoning the power of the spirit world (Sonos says the diversity of microphone components in Android devices makes it impossible to predict how Trueplay will work with that class of mobile device). You obviously wouldn’t want to do that every time you move the speaker to a different location.

On the Move, Trueplay relies on its own embedded microphones to evaluate the sonic environment it’s playing in, and then it equalizes its audio output accordingly. What’s more, this happens automatically and within about 60 seconds. You will need to enable Auto Trueplay tuning in the Sonos app and leave the mic array unmuted. If you don’t like the idea of a digital assistant listening in on you, you can disable that feature and still use Trueplay. The mics will continue to record, but the speaker won’t send any data to the cloud. Auto Trueplay is also disabled while the speaker is in motion and when it’s out of Wi-Fi range.

sonos move buttons Michael Brown / IDG

You can switch between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with a push of a button, and there’s a USB charging port in back if there’s no AC outlet nearby.

The Trueplay EQ changes are palpable on the Move, reducing bass boom when you have no choice but to put the speaker in sonically challenging locations, such as a corner of your countertop, and widening the sound stage when you take the speaker outdoors. Sonos won’t say if it plans to bring Auto Trueplay to its other speakers that have onboard mics (e.g., the Sonos One and the Sonos Beam), but I hope it does.

Listening tests and verdict

The Sonos Move is a two-way mono speaker with one Class D amplifier driving a down-firing tweeter and a second Class D amp driving a front-firing woofer. Sonos has declined to reveal much beyond that, including what materials the drivers are fabricated from or even what size they are. After a week of extensive listening, I don’t care. The Sonos Move is the best speaker has Sonos has built since the second-gen Play:5. This speaker does have one major shortcoming, however: It is very directional. It has a very wide sound stage, but you need to be sitting in front of it to enjoy it. Unlike, say, the Libratone Zipp, you can’t put the Move in the middle of a picnic table and expect everyone around it to have a good listening experience.

Aside from that, the Move sounds fantastic, indoors and out. It delivers a great slab of foundational bass without muddying the mid and higher frequencies. And it gets really loud without tipping over into distortion. Listening to Afro Celt Sound System’s “Sure-As-Not,” from the band’s Capture: Chorus, downloaded as a FLAC file from the Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound music service, the Move pulsed with electric bass and kick drum, while rendering plucked harp notes with a delightful sparkle.

That said, I’ve never found any Sonos speaker to qualify as an audiophile-level product, and the Move is no exception. Playing Steely Dan’s “Jack of Speed,” from Two Against Nature, for example, the speaker had difficulty reproducing the faint sound of the sleigh bells that come in near the end of that track. But if you’re looking for that level of detail, I doubt you expect to get it while you’re out barbecuing on the patio or washing your car on the driveway anyway.

The Sonos Move is a remarkable speaker and should be high on anyone’s shopping list, whether it’s your first Sonos component or your fifteenth.

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