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Sonos Era 100 review: The best smart speaker for under $300

The Era 100 builds on the successes of the Sonos One with improved audio quality and touch controls, and one connectivity feature users have been asking for.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Sonos Era 100 in black.
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Sonos Era 100 is the smart speaker I recommend to most people, audiophile or not.
  • Aside from a full, booming sound, the Sonos speaker puts out crystal-clear vocals that come to the forefront of any song.
  • Since the Era 100 is built for smaller spaces, it doesn't support spatial audio or Dolby Atmos like its larger sibling, the Era 300.  

When Sonos reached out to me to discuss the launch of a new line of smart speakers, I was, for lack of a better word, giddy. The company is behind a number of superb audio products, including the Sonos One, is one of the best smart speakers on the market right now. 

Also: Don't overpay for noise-cancelling headphones when this $60 pair sounds this amazing

The excitement came largely because it's been just about six years since Sonos launched the One speaker, and it still remains a favorite among audiophiles and smart home enthusiasts. This makes the Era 100, a direct replacement for the One, a big deal. Here are the key features that you should know about and what exactly makes the latest Sonos speaker a worthy upgrade.

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Unboxing experience

To start, the clean aesthetics on the Sonos packaging alone is captivating Sonos made a commitment to environmental sustainability from its manufacturing process to its packaging design. The Era 100 speaker incorporates recycled materials, and Sonos is making the switch to 100% paper packaging by 2025, so the unboxing experience was like opening a present.

What is inside, however, is still the star of the show.

Sonos Era 100 in black.

The Sonos Era 100 measures 7.2 inches tall.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The Era 100 is a sleek smart speaker, just slightly larger than its predecessor, the Sonos One, and a few inches narrower than an Echo Studio Setting it up requires connecting it to power and downloading the Sonos app, which will automatically find the speaker nearby and guide you through the pairing process. 

What's new with the Sonos Era 100

The Era 100 features all touch controls at the top of the speaker that I've found to be very intuitive and can be used to adjust the volume, play, pause, skip, and replay. There's also a Bluetooth button on the back. Yes, you read that right: The smart speaker has Bluetooth connectivity, a feature that the Sonos One lacked. 

Also: The 5 best Bluetooth speakers

Sonos speakers work best with the Sonos app -- at least that's what the company wants you to believe. They're not wrong, but there are some quirks that I noticed. For starters, the audio sounds fantastic when played through Wi-Fi, and if you have guests that want to play something on the speaker, Bluetooth connectivity makes it possible for them to do so without having to download the Sonos app on their devices.

However, the overall app experience can be finicky and slow, with the software demonstrating a lagged response every now and then.

The control pad of the Sonos Era 100.

A closer look at the top controls on the Sonos Era 100.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The Era 100 features voice control, which you can turn off by toggling the microphone switch on the back. While the new model supports Amazon Alexa and Sonos Voice Control, it doesn't support Google Assistant like the Sonos One.

Sonos has discontinued its support for Google Voice on the new Era speakers, so if you're looking for a smart speaker to round out your Google smart home ecosystem, then you're better off with the older Sonos One or a Google Nest speaker.

Also: Best stereo speakers you can buy

The USB-C port on the back of the speaker is another big upgrade on the Era 100. If you want to connect an audio source or an ethernet cable, you can now do it with one of Sonos' Line-in and Combo adapters

How does the Era 100 sound?

The Era 100 is the best speaker of its size that I've ever tested. It is an improvement from the Sonos One, which was already considered the best-sounding smart speaker, but it also sounds better than the improved Amazon Echo Studio and, naturally, blows all other compact smart speakers out of the water. 

The top controls on the Sonos Era 100.

The touch controls at the top of the speaker make for more intuitive interactions.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Since the Era 100 is built for smaller spaces, it doesn't support spatial audio or Dolby Atmos like its larger sibling, the Era 300. Still, the smaller Era 100 is powerful enough to successfully fill a medium-to-large-sized room.

Also: Sonos Era smart speakers now available to buy: Here's what's new

While I can't compare the over-the-top speakers and woofers on an old car from 25+ years ago to the gorgeous sound quality of a Sonos speaker in 2023, I can tell you that listening to music on the Era 100 gave me a very similar experience to that thanks to the booming bass and crystal clear vocals.

ZDNET's buying advice

The Era 100 has raised the bar for compact high-quality speakers. Aside from a full, booming sound, the Sonos speaker puts out crystal-clear vocals that come to the forefront of any song. It's also extremely powerful, yet it doesn't lose sound quality at full volume, and the deep bass doesn't rattle, even when it's at its highest setting.

Compared to other smart speakers, the $249 Sonos Era 100 is outstanding and the sound is miles above others in the same price range. It's just that good.

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