Sonos Era 100 review: Affordable multi-room audio that actually sounds good
The Era 100 improves on the Sonos One it replaces in just about every way.
Of the two speakers Sonos announced earlier this month, the Era 100 is much easier to sum up: it’s a replacement for the Sonos One, which was first introduced in 2017. Unlike the Era 300, there’s no need to ponder the value of spatial audio; the Era 100 is a relatively straightforward mono speaker, just like the One and the Play:1 before it. Don’t let that simple description deceive you, though – the $250 Era 100 is a complete redesign, inside and out, and the end result is a worthy upgrade and a very versatile speaker.
At first glance, the Era 100 looks quite similar to the One, but upon further examination you’ll notice a number of small but meaningful changes. That starts with the vertically-oriented Sonos logo that you’ll find on most of their other speakers like the Roam and, naturally, the Era 300. The Era 100 is slightly taller and deeper than the One; it’s also slightly deeper than it is wide. But it should fit basically anywhere the older speaker did.
The most significant external change is on top of the speaker. There, you’ll find a redesigned set of touch controls, including dedicated track forward and back buttons for the first time. Those surround the play / pause button instead of the volume controls that you’ll find on the One. Volume has been moved to a touch slider in the center of the touch panel. Tapping either side of it raises or lowers the volume, or you can slide your finger left and right. Using the slider takes a little practice, and it’s far too easy to go from silent to deafening, but there’s no doubt it’s better for rapid adjustments than tapping a button repeatedly. There’s also a spot to mute the mic, just like on the One.
There are also some major changes on the Era 100’s back. There’s no more ethernet jack or setup button. Instead, there’s a USB-C port you can use to plug in the $20 line-in adapter or the $40 combo line-in / ethernet adapter. On the one hand, it’s annoying to have to shell out extra cash for these adapters – but this is the first time Sonos has offered line-in at all on a speaker in this price range, so it’s not a total bummer.
Aside from the USB-C port, you’ll find another switch for muting the mic. Unlike the top button, which just mutes it with software, this physically disconnects the mic for additional privacy. Finally, there’s a Bluetooth button that puts the speaker in pairing mode.
As with most Sonos products, the company has done a good job here marrying clean, attractive design without compromising on functionality. Yes, the loss of the Ethernet jack will rankle a small number of users, but for the most part these changes are improvements. I wish that they just put a line-in right on the speaker instead of requiring a dongle, but I’m more glad that the feature is here at all than I am annoyed at needing to buy an extra piece of plastic.
Getting the Era 100 up and running is pretty simple, even if you don’t already have a Sonos system. You’ll need to download the Sonos app to your phone and set up an account; from there, the app will look and see if there are any speakers plugged in it can add. You’ll also need to log in to your audio services of choice, but after that you should be good to go. Obviously you can search for and play music through the Sonos app, but there are also options if you’d rather stick with the music apps you’re used to, like AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.
There are a few optional but useful things you can do while you’re setting up the Era 100, though. The first is Trueplay, a feature that tunes your speaker’s audio output based upon where it’s placed in your room. Trueplay has been around since 2015, but in the past it required you to have an iPhone. You’d have to walk around your room slowly raising and lowering the phone while the speaker played a test tone.
The Era 100, though, can use its built-in microphones to listen and optimize its output – that process is much simpler and faster than the old technique, and Android users aren’t left out either. I’ve been extremely happy with Trueplay’s results in the past, so I’d recommend that everyone try this out. That said, I did find that the old, manual tuning process yielded slightly better results.
You can also add a voice assistant to the Era 100. Amazon’s Alexa has been supported since the One launched back in 2017, and last year Sonos added its own music-focused assistant. Setting up the Sonos assistant is a little easier than Alexa, because you don’t need to link your Amazon account, but both are pretty straightforward at this point.
One thing to note: past Sonos speakers with microphones also worked with Google Assistant, but that’s no longer the case. The Era 100 only works with Alexa and the Sonos assistant; I assumed the ongoing patent battles between Google and Sonos were the reason for this change. But Sonos let me know that "Google has changed the technical requirements for Google Assistant on third party devices." Sonos also said that "it’s a heavy engineering lift and we’ll continue to prioritize work that builds on our vision of voice assistants all working concurrently" and said it hoped it could get Google Assistant working again, but that it's "really up to Google." I personally prefer Google Assistant over Alexa, so this is a bit of a bummer. But I also mostly just talk to my speaker to play music, so the Sonos option works well enough.
While new features like easier Trueplay and new controls are important, what I really wanted to find out was how the Era 100 compares to the One it replaces. (I’ve also been comparing it to Apple’s latest HomePod as well as the Era 300.) So far, I’ve been extremely impressed. It’s immediately obvious that the Era 100 is a notable upgrade over the One.
First off, the Era 100 is loud. Surprisingly so – it’s significantly louder than the One and the HomePod, and the Era 300 isn’t that much louder. Even a single Era 100 should provide enough volume for just about any room in your house. If you have a large open floor plan, you’ll probably want a couple speakers to cover the space rather than cranking a single, relatively small speaker to its limit. But in the vast majority of use cases one Era 100 should be sufficient.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to good sound than just volume. The Era 100 has significantly improved bass performance when compared to the One, again exceeding what I’d expect from a compact speaker. Bass-heavy tracks like Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” and Dragonette’s “T-shirt” had a solid thump without being overwhelming, especially at higher volumes. It doesn’t match the Era 300 or HomePod, both of which have more dynamic bass performance, but Sonos is getting a lot out of the Era 100.
While I’m glad the bass has improved, I’m more impressed with the speaker’s overall clarity. The two tweeters definitely help make higher frequencies more defined. The sound profile is crisper and more dynamic than that of the One. The nuance and sheen of “California” by Chvrches and Metric’s “Formentera” came through wonderfully, while standard four-piece rock or metal like Metallica’s self-titled classic and Tool’s AEnima sounded lively and powerful. I also checked out my go-to film and game scores from Lord of the Rings and The Last of Us, and the intricate compositions were full and well-balanced. The One now sounds somewhat muddy by comparison, with both the highs and lows less distinct. The Era 300 sounds clearer still, thanks to the many drivers it has on board, but the 100 again is doing a lot with its comparatively limited speaker array.
If you have a larger space or just want increased volume and detail, I recommend getting two Era 100s and pairing them in stereo. While the Era 100 technically has left and right tweeters, the small size means there’s no real stereo separation to speak of. Putting two of them together naturally yields a much wider soundstage and brings out lots of details that get erased when you squish a stereo mix down to one channel.
A pair of Era 100s can also be used as rear surround speakers in a setup with one of Sonos’ soundbars. I didn’t test this, as I don’t have a great living room setup and I was more interested in the music performance, but it’s worth mentioning this feature. Sonos has long offered the option to use basically any of its music speakers as rear surrounds, and I’m glad they’ve continued with that here.
The Era 100 (and 300) are the first non-portable speakers that include Bluetooth connectivity. It’s exceedingly simple: just hold the Bluetooth button on the back of the speaker to put it in pairing mode and it should show up for your phone or other device to connect to it. I had no reason to use Bluetooth, but the fast setup and pairing process could be useful if you have a friend who quickly wants to play a tune over your speaker, for example. It’s not essential, but having more options never hurts.
Sonos made a lot of smart decisions with the Era 100. The improvements it offers over the One are immediately obvious, both in sound quality and new features like line-in, Bluetooth and easier Trueplay setup. I don’t think Sonos One owners should necessarily run out and replace their speakers, but Sonos is now offering a better product at a $30 price increase, one that I think is justified for what you get.
Of course, Sonos makes things a little complicated because there are two generations of the One; they’re identical in terms of audio components, but the gen 2 model has more memory and a faster processor. If you have the One from 2017 or 2018, replacing it with an Era 100 will provide better sound and more future-proof internals.
The Era 100 isn’t the most exciting speaker I’ve listened to – I still have fond memories of being blown away by the Sonos Play:5 (now just called the Five) in 2015, and the Era 300 is also a delight. But when you take into consideration what most people will need from a speaker, the Era 100 provides impressive performance at a reasonable price.
Update, 4/1/23, 9AM ET: This story was updated with details from Sonos on why Google Assistant isn't available on the Era 300 speaker.