Featured Article

Sonos Era 100 and Era 300 review: The next generation of great, reliable multi-room sound

Sonos once again earns its reputation for great quality and design

Comment

Sonos Era 300 smart speaker
Image Credits: Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch

Sonos has two new speakers going on sale Tuesday, March 28, and they’re both significant new models that occupy a couple of key spots in the overall Sonos line-up: The Era 100 is essentially the replacement for the Sonos One, arguably the ‘default’ starter speaker for anyone looking to build out a Sonos system.

The Era 300, its larger sibling, is the first Sonos speaker to support spatial audio, and occupies a place somewhere between the now-defunct Play:3 and the Sonos Five. We took both for a test drive, and found plenty of reasons to get excited about Sonos’ Era era.

The basics

The Sonos Era 100 basically drops in as a replacement for the Sonos One in the existing product lineup, and it’s got a design to match. Unlike the Sonos One, the Era 100 is a true rounded cylinder (instead of a 3D rounded rectangle like the One) and is slightly taller than the One, but with a more svelte appearance overall thanks to being more narrow side-to-side.

Sonos Era 100 smart speaker
Image Credits: Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch

The Era 100 connects via Wi-Fi to your Sonos system, and includes Apple AirPlay 2 like its predecessor. It also has a mic and supports Sonos’ own voice control as well as Amazon Alexa (unlike on older devices, Google Assistant is no longer an option). It has a physical switch for disabling the mic on top of the touch control mute from prior models, and the redesigned top touch surface has a dedicated volume slider, play/pause and skip controls.

New to the Era 100 and the Era 300 are two additional connection options: Bluetooth, and physical line-in. These are both welcome, but it’s important to note the USB-C port used for line-in on both requires the addition of the Sonos Line-In Adapter for connecting to 3.5 mm sources. I thought that since it was USB-C, it would be easy to just connect a source like a MacBook Pro directly and have it recognized as an external audio device, but that doesn’t work — nor does using existing USB-C-to-3.5 mm audio adapters that I had on hand.

The Era 100 also gains two separate tweeters for the first time in a speaker this size from Sonos, as well as a larger subwoofer. The result should be more clarity and natural sound versus the Sonos One. More on how that delivers later on.

Sonos Era 300 smart speaker
Image Credits: Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch

The Sonos Era 300 is a much more net-new speaker for the company, though it roughly occupies the place in the lineup left behind by the discontinuation of the Play:3, which was not immediately replaced by another model at or near its price point. The Era 300 is quite different, however, both in terms of its design – it looks like an hourglass laid on its side – and its feature set, since it includes support for spatial audio for the first time.

Sonos designed the internals of the Era 300, which packs four tweeters facing in all directions but down, as well as a pair of woofers, to be able to fill a room with sound from a single point. It can reproduce both stereo and spatial mixes, and doesn’t artificially manipulate stereo audio to sound spatialized, thankfully. Sonos also provided the Era 300 with the ability to act as rear speakers for a Sonos surround setup, which means if you have a basically unlimited budget, you can get two speakers plus an Arc and a Sonos Sub to create a virtual 7.1.4 sound system.

Of course, both the Era 100 and Era 300 can join an existing Sonos setup and gain access to all the synced multi-room playback features that Sonos is known for. Both also feature both quick tuning (which uses tones to automatically adjust sound) and TruePlay tuning, which uses the built-in mic to adjust sound to best fit your room along with you walking around your space with your mobile device. Also, if you have the input adapters, you can play back audio from your line-in source across your various Sonos speakers.

Design

Both these Sonos speakers achieve new highs for the brand in terms of design, in my opinion. The Era 100 is a straight across the plate, fundamental bookshelf speaker with just a hint of edge thanks to the oblong shape. It seems more innocuous in situ across a range of domestic settings, including in the kitchen or when set up as rears thanks to some subtle tweaks, like the fact that the speaker grill goes almost all the way to the top of the speaker, unlike on the Sonos One, which had a band of solid surface near the upper edge.

Sonos Era 100 smart speaker
Image Credits: Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch

The new volume rocker indentation is a welcome change and adds some tactile benefit to distinguishing it from the forward/back buttons, and the subtle vertical logo on the front grill is a nice bit of branding that doesn’t mar an otherwise very covert look.

For the Era 300, Sonos obviously went a bit more adventurous, coming up with a shape that tapers to the middle and then flares back out towards the back. This is likely at least in part functional as well as aesthetic to provide the Era 300 with its spatial audio and height channel surround capabilities. It makes for a much more striking design vs. the Era 100, but it’s one that I think works quite well in a range of settings. It’s definitely a bit more attention-grabbing, but since it ends up looking like a modern architectural mini sculpture, that’s not at all a bad thing. In fact, I would say the Era 300 is maybe the best-looking speaker Sonos has ever made.

Features & Performance

Let’s get the basics out of the way first: Sonos’ new speakers are just as reliable in terms of the core Sonos magic as any that have come before. They provide rock-solid, multi-room synced audio playback, and will integrate instantly with your existing setup should you have one.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about what these speakers uniquely provide that Sonos’ existing lineup hasn’t offered.

Sonos Era 100 smart speaker
Image Credits: Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch

The Era 100 has internal hardware changes that the company claims provides better sound than the Sonos One. Based on testing, that does indeed seem to be the case, with a couple caveats. The first is that I would say if you’re looking to use an Era 100 on its own, you definitely get a lot better audio quality versus a Sonos One acting solo. The added tweeter and bigger woofer do deliver more accurate sound with less muddied mixes, especially at lower volumes.

If you’re debating whether or not to upgrade an existing Sonos One pair to Era 100s, I think things get a lot more murky. The fact is that in most settings, for most setups, you likely won’t get enough of a difference in overall experienced audio quality to justify the price of upgrading. But if you’re coming to it new, or upgrading from a much older pair of Play:1s, it’s definitely a great-sounding speaker — alone or together.

As for the Era 300, it’s far easier to recommend this more broadly, in part because there’s nothing really equivalent in Sonos’ recent history to compare it against. It genuinely provides terrific, room-filling sound with surprising clarity and sophistication given its footprint and size. The Era 300 is a great sole speaker for any room where you want audio (versus having a soundbar or home theater system for a TV), and I found it was even comparable to the more expensive and excellent Sonos Five that the company still sells, in terms of overall quality.

Sonos Era 300 smart speaker
Image Credits: Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch

Of course, the Sonos Era 300’s big, fancy new feature is support for spatial audio, which it provides if you use Amazon Music Unlimited as a source, or Apple Music via a forthcoming update, for tracks mastered with Dolby Atmos Audio. I tested this with compatible tracks from Amazon Music Unlimited and found that it does indeed make a difference and sounds great — I just couldn’t really say for certain that it sounds better than the same song rendered in stereo only.

To be fair, that’s generally been the case for me and spatial audio: with Apple’s AirPod lineup and Apple Music, I can definitely tell the difference, but can’t usually say definitively that I prefer one over the other. I wouldn’t make spatial audio support the deciding factor in a purchase, but your mileage may vary there depending on how you feel about the technology.

Bottom line

Sonos has rarely had a real miss with its product lineup, and both the Era 100 and the Era 300 stand as clear hits. The Era 100 is a smart and subtle evolution of the company’s ‘default’ starter offering and the Era 300 is a unique and outperforming product in a sea of options that includes Apple’s just-updated HomePod. While each sounds great in its own right, the differentiator for Sonos will always be the flexibility of its multi-room audio technology, and that remains a huge highlight of both of these products that you can’t really get anywhere else.

I wish that Sonos had either just made the aux inputs on the back 3.5mm (the argument against being that with USB-C, they also support Ethernet adapters for wired network connections), or that they’d included their proprietary adapters in the box. But the fact that they have these options, as well as Bluetooth, is a major nice-to-have upgrade that has been lacking in most of Sonos’ lineup for years.

You won’t be disappointed with either of these speakers, and as always with Sonos products, if you’ve got the money, they perform even more spectacularly in stereo pairs. The Era 300, in particular, is a super strong offering with few real competitors out there.

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

10 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

12 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android