Part portable, part multi-room, and part smart speaker, the Roam is in a class of its own.
The Roam is what Sonos’ first portable, the Move, should have been. It undercuts the Move’s near-prohibitive price by more than half and it’s also much more lightweight and easy to bring along on your adventures. It can battle with our favorite comparably priced Bluetooth speakers (and win), while still providing the easy connection, grouping, smart home support, and music sharing Wi-Fi ecosystem on which Sonos has built its brand. In essence, the Roam is multiple speakers in one, making its not-insignificant asking price a relative bargain.
Editor’s Note April 6, 2021: Sonos has notified reviewers about a battery-drain issue when using Google Assistant. While the company works on a fix with Google it’s recommended that those with Google Assistant installed power the speaker down after each use.
About the Sonos Roam
- Price: $169
- Height x Width x Depth: 6.61 x 2.44 x 2.36 inches
- Weight: .95 pounds
- Colors: Shadow Black, Lunar White
- Battery life: Up to 10 hours per charge
- Speakers/drivers: Custom “racetrack” midrange driver, tweeter
- Wireless Connection: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
- Charging: USB-C, Qi wireless charging
- Dust/Water resistance: IP67
- Smart assistants: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa
- Special features: Stereo pairing, Sound Swap, multi-room, Sonos Trueplay
When it comes to the sheer number of features, there are few portables that come even close to the Roam, and it adds more versatility for those who invest in other speakers within the Sonos ecosystem like the Sonos One smart speaker or Arc soundbar. You can connect the Roam with these speakers in a group for multi-room audio, create a stereo pair with another Roam, or send audio to another Sonos speaker at the touch of a button using the Sound Swap feature.
Smart-assistant voice control is available via the built-in microphone, which can also be disabled at the touch of a button. The mic also allows for Sonos Trueplay, which adjusts EQ parameters for the speaker’s environment. Additionally, the Roam supports wireless charging using any Qi mat or stand, and you can purchase a custom Sonos magnetic charger for an additional fee. In the box are simple instructions for setup and a long USB-C to USB-A charging cable, but you’ll need to provide your own 10W (or higher) wall adapter.
What we like
Fantastically full sound
I knew I loved the Roam about three seconds after I pressed play. Frankly, the speaker was smaller than I expected, so I wasn’t prepared for how smooth, warm, and well-rounded the sound signature is for its size. While the Roam isn’t built to offer the power of homebound speakers or the vivid detail of an audiophile device, it’s about as close as you can get in a speaker this size.
Part of my surprise at the Roam’s upward-punching sound quality was no doubt due to the fact that I’m just not used to testing a Wi-Fi speaker at this size, and the quality is notable between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. In either connection, though, you’ll get rich and full sound. Pound for pound, the speaker out duals top tubular speakers of its relative size from JBL such as the Flip and Charge for my money. And while it isn’t as powerful or clear, it matches up surprisingly well against even the Ultimate Ears’ Megaboom line (though it doesn’t offer the same 360-degree audio).
The Sonos sound profile tends to focus on the midrange, especially for its smallest speakers, and that’s where the Roam does its best work. It renders vocals with clarity and presence, guitar strings with brassy warmth, and drums and percussion with a powdery attack and a textural follow-through. While it’s not a bass bomber, it also offers plenty of thump when called upon, again keeping in mind this is a highly portable, six-inch tube.
The sound tends to be a little rolled off in the upper midrange and treble frequencies meaning you won’t get the taut punch at the attack of some competitors. However, especially in Wi-Fi mode, I still found myself pleasantly surprised and even pulled out of what I was doing by occasional bits of high-register instrumentation like triangles and synths as they peeked through the rest of the sound with tenacious sparkle.
The Roam’s sound does tend to get a little crowded when blasting extra-hot dance tracks, but Sonos’ compression software keeps it well shy of distortion even at full blast, making virtually anything you throw at it pleasurable for anyone within earshot.
Superbly simple setup and usability
Sonos built its brand on cutting through the hang-ups of other Wi-Fi speakers. That has only improved with the S2 app (available for iOS and Android), its second-gen software iteration, and the Roam takes full advantage, getting you up and running in minutes.
Once you’ve downloaded the app (you’ll need a Sonos account), it walks you through all the Roam’s features and controls, including adding any of its 100+ supported streaming services (fully accessible through the app), your choice of smart assistants (or not), and connecting over both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. AirPlay 2 is also available for iPhone users.
One tiny hangup: the app seemed to imply it was auto-pairing the Roam to Bluetooth but after about 45 seconds I realized it wasn’t happening so I opened my Bluetooth settings and connected manually. But that was hardly a hardship.
What’s great about the Sonos app is you’re free to use it for playback over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but it just as easily incorporates your actions when you use the standalone app for playback, such as Spotify Connect. That means you can easily bypass the app any time, but it’s there when you need it. You can dive through the app’s System section to dial in settings for your Roam speaker (or your other Sonos products if you have them), adjust bass and treble, compression, and even set alarms.
Apart from the app, I’m also a big fan of the rubberized controls on top of the speaker, which accomplish in four buttons everything you need for playback, from play/pause and song skip to volume, audio swapping, enabling and disabling the microphone, and more. It’s a small thing, but I also enjoy how each button press elicits a pleasing electronic ping.
The final control key, the power button along the cylinder’s backside, allows you to sleep the device for up to 10 days of standby, or power it down completely with a long press.
The design is equal parts stylish and rugged
While I’ve spent a good while talking about how Sonos’ intuitive ecosystem helped build the brand into a powerhouse, it’s also true that Sonos wouldn’t have taken off without its flair for Apple-esque minimalism, and the Roam is another fine example.
The soft-yet-grippy exterior not only keeps the speaker in your hand, but also feels good while it does so, as does the speaker’s balanced weight of just under a pound. (Incidentally, it also fits perfectly in my backpack’s water bottle holster.) The front grill is equal parts armor and style, and the speaker is easy to use upright on its rubberized bottom, or on its side atop nubby little stands.
With an IP67 dust/water resistance rating, the Roam is designed to keep out unwanted dust from its interior and even sit in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. In our reviewer guide, Sonos actually recommended we drop it in a bowl of water, so you won’t need to worry about kicking the Roam in the pool. For someone who’s been using wall-bound Wi-Fi speakers for nearly a decade, that’s still hard to fathom (lame pun intended).
One small point to add; though the Roam is essentially waterproof (to a point) and as such quite easy to rinse off, the white version I reviewed tends to collect mud and dust easily when out and about. Those who intend to use the speaker more at the beach than the kitchen might be well advised to choose the black version.
It’s two (or three) speakers in one
While it’s perhaps overkill to keep bringing up the Roam’s layered skill set, I’ll reiterate here that there are very few speakers out there which are as comfortable on the road or your home as the Roam. For those counting, the Roam is a Wi-Fi speaker with multi-room audio chops, a smart speaker you can control with your voice and, of course, a Bluetooth speaker you can bring to the lake.
Impressive wireless range
When I took the Roam to my local park, I had two goals in mind. One was to keep the excitable pack of pandemic-addled dogs that hang out there (including my own) from peeing on my review model. A close second was to test Bluetooth range. While I had a couple of blips while keeping my phone in my pocket, I was quite impressed with the overall range I measured, noting glitch-free playback from about 100 paces, nearly the entire practice field.
Mobile in multiple ways
One small bit of learning curve for both owners of Sonos’ homebound speakers and newcomers alike is how you go from your home’s Wi-Fi system, to outdoor adventures, and back again. Luckily, while I was prepared for a potential headache, as promised, the Roam automatically connects and disconnects from your home network in much the same way as your smartphone.
Unlike a smartphone, I did note that I had to manually connect to the alternative, Bluetooth, once my Wi-Fi network faded (I tried keeping the tunes going as I walked to and from the homestead). This isn’t really any different than connecting to traditional Bluetooth speakers, and within seconds, I was back up and running. When I returned home, however, I found getting back to Wi-Fi does require some know-how (more on that below).
What we don’t like
Swapping between wireless modes could be easier
There’s really very little to complain about with the Roam, but where there’s a will there’s a whine, as they say.
While it’s easy enough to switch to Bluetooth when using the Roam on the road, it’s less clear how to easily transfer streaming back to Wi-Fi when you get back. I’d imagine most people will probably power down (or sleep) the speaker before this happens, and that’s the easiest way to swap it back to Wi-Fi as its default. If that’s the case, you may never need to worry about it.
Otherwise, you can click on the double lines on the far right from within the app’s playback window, and click “end session,” then connect to your service of choice, like Spotify Connect, and the speaker will repopulate the playback window within the Sonos app over Wi-Fi. Still, the speaker would sometimes show a blue LED on its front face instead of white (for Wi-Fi) even though it was obviously playing on my network. It’s a pretty small complaint, but it might behoove Sonos to simply build a Bluetooth/Wi-Fi switch within the app to let you quickly transfer.
Some minor battery and charging quibbles
At 10 hours, the Roam’s battery life is OK for a speaker of its cost (its many other talents notwithstanding). In practice I was able to push the speaker to right around 9 hours 40 minutes—including half the time over Wi-Fi and half over Bluetooth—at just above medium volume, which is pretty dang close to estimates. Of course, that will decrease the louder you play, so you’ll likely get less outdoors where you’ll want to push the speaker’s volume to the max. While it’s not a major issue, for the price I would have liked to see more like 12-15 hours. It’s designed to go into sleep mode after 30 minutes without playback, which should save some headaches but, as noted above, those using Google Assistant will want to power down the speaker after use as there’s currently an issue with battery drain there. Sonos is currently working on a solution with Google.
I also noted that the speaker is a little finicky when it comes to charging in that it requires a 10W wall plug or higher (not all are) or it wouldn’t charge, and Sonos did not include one in the box. That left me for a day without power early on in my review, so a word to the wise there. The speaker also charges pretty sluggishly on my Qi charging stand—but then again so does my phone.
Those concerned about the privacy issues that arise with a smart speaker can take solace in silencing those demons in a couple of ways. First, as mentioned, you can disable the microphone on the speaker’s top side at the touch of a button, but be aware this will also disable the speaker’s Trueplay sound adjustment. Second, if you simply don’t want to deal with smart assistant issues, you can disconnect (or simply bypass) them in the Sonos app.
Should you buy it?
Absolutely, there’s no other portable that matches up
The Sonos Roam is a fantastic Bluetooth speaker, a wonderful-sounding compact Wi-Fi speaker, and a convenient smart speaker rolled into one. The software is simple and easy to use, the controls are intuitive, and the overall sound outdoes rivals of its general size. While it’s pricey at $169, it does a lot more than comparably priced Bluetooth speakers, even if they might offer more powerful bass and longer battery life. Further, the more you invest in the Sonos ecosystem, the better this speaker becomes.
As far as alternatives, you’ll essentially have to buy more than one speaker to beat it, or simply give up some of the features it offers for fewer compromises elsewhere. If you need more battery life in a portable, for instance, you’ll get it from JBL’s Flip 5 and Charge 4 speakers, both of which cost less than the Roam. You can also get bigger 360 sound from the Bose Soundlink Revolve or the UE Megaboom 2. Conversely, if you only need a Wi-Fi or smart speaker at home, you can swap out portability for better sound with the Sonos One or, if you don’t need a smart speaker, the Play:1. And of course, there are much more affordable smart options like the Echo Dot or the regular Echo, but neither of them sound as good or do as much.
Part portable, part multi-room, and part smart speaker, the Roam is essentially in a class of its own. If you’re looking for the most versatile and great-sounding portable at this price range, it’s Roam or go home.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor – Electronics
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2013. Since then he’s had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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