The $179 Sonos Roam is a better alternative to the $399 Sonos Move because it is more portable, durable, and cheap. The Roam SL is even cheaper at $159, and it’s almost exactly the same as the non-SL model.
The only difference is that it doesn’t have a microphone. If you don’t need a microphone or the smart features that come with it, the Roam SL is the obvious choice and a simple way to save $20. If you don’t want to add a speaker to your existing Sonos system, you can find other outdoor-friendly models, like the Editors’ Choice-winning JBL Charge 5 ($179.95), that sound better and are just as durable.
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Sonos Roam SL: design
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Even though the Sonos Roam has the same simple look as the company’s other products, its design is a big departure for the audio company, with a focus on toughness and portability.
It’s longer and thinner than the square Sonos Move, and it’s about the size of a water bottle. It’s also much lighter than the Move, weighing only 0.95lbs (0.43kg), so you can easily hold it in your hand or throw it in a bag when you’re on the go.
The fact that it is light and has an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance makes it easier to carry than its predecessor and tough enough to withstand the elements. In fact, Sonos says that it can survive being three feet underwater for 30 minutes.
On the front of the speaker is an embossed white Sonos logo. Above this is an LED that shows the speaker’s connection status, and an LED on the other end shows battery life.
When the speaker is set up horizontally, the buttons are on the left side. If you turn the speaker vertically, the buttons are on the top. There are buttons to turn up and down the volume, play and stop, and turn the microphone on and off. The play/pause button can be pressed twice to skip to the next track or three times to go back to the previous track.
To pair the Roam with other Sonos products, you need to press and hold the play/pause button. Keeping the button pressed for longer will turn on the “throw” feature, which sends the sound to the closest other Sonos speakers. The buttons feel more tactile and are easier to use than the touch-sensitive buttons on top of the Sonos Move. They are also easier for people with vision problems to use.
On the back of the speaker is the power button. To connect the Sonos Roam to a Bluetooth device, you need to press and hold the power button until you hear the pairing tone. Under the button is a USB-C port for charging. You get a USB-A to USB-C connector in the box, but you’ll have to bring your own adapter.
Sonos says that the slightly rounded ends of the speaker make it less likely to break if it falls and prevent accidental button presses, so you don’t turn the volume up to 11 every time you brush past it.
Sonos says that the buttons are “tactile and slightly embossed,” and the raised design makes it easy to hit play or change the volume. They’re very responsive, and we didn’t notice any delay between pressing a button and seeing what happened. The Sonos Move’s buttons are touch-sensitive, so people who can’t see will probably appreciate being able to feel the buttons.
The Sonos Roam comes in “Shadow” black and “Lunar” white, and it has a “precision-engineered” honeycomb grille. It’s not a wraparound grille, though, so don’t expect a true 360-degree sound.
The Sonor Roam works just as well indoors as it does outside. (Photo credit: TechRadar)
You have a few options for where to put the speaker. The Roam can be placed horizontally for stability on uneven ground or vertically for a smaller footprint. Its triangular shape directs sound upwards. If you do place the Roam horizontally on a flat surface like a table, small feet on what is, in this position, the bottom of the speaker helps to keep it stable.
If you want, you can buy a $49 wireless charging stand for the Roam. Just put the speaker on the stand, and magnets will hold it in place, giving the Roam a permanent place inside your home.
Overall, we think the design of the Sonos Roam is really nice. Many portable waterproof speakers have bright colors and practical materials, but the Roam keeps the sleek look of the brand’s home speakers, and its small size and light weight make it great for listening to music on the go.
If Sonos’s goal was to make a speaker that works just as well indoors as it does outdoors, it has done so.
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Sonos Roam SL: audio performance
- Strong sound
- Indoors, the bass can be too loud.
- Support for streaming services in every way
Even though it’s small, the Sonos Roam has a powerful sound with a bass that really stands out. There are two class-H amplifiers, a high-efficiency motor, a custom racetrack mid-woofer, and a tweeter inside the speaker. Sonos says that this increases the power and range of the sound.
Even though the sound from the Roam isn’t as room-filling as the sound from the bigger Sonos Move, it’s pretty close. This is because the transducer was designed in a smart way.
The electric signal is changed into wave-shaped changes in air pressure, which is the sound you hear. For this to happen, the transducer needs space to move and space inside the speaker to fit as much air as possible.
Sonos’s Principal Product Manager, Sara Morris, says that the team was able to keep the size small by making the transducer part of the housing. This made the Sonos Roam “smaller, lighter, and still have a really good sound,” she says.
Sonos has done a great job in this way. When you listen to Feels Like Summer by Childish Gambino, the smooth synths are driven by thumping bass lines, and the clear and rich falsetto vocals soar above the mix.
If we’re being picky, we’d like to hear a little more from the mids and lower trebles because some of the detail gets lost in the powerful bass. If you’re using the Roam inside, you may want to change the EQ settings to boost the treble frequencies. Outside, where there are no walls to bounce the sound off of, these powerful low frequencies work great, but inside, they can be a little too loud.
When I listen to Gorillaz’s Glitter Freeze, the synths that whine sound clear and not too harsh, and the bass lines that drive the song are strong. The Sonos Roam doesn’t have the same rhythmic accuracy and dexterity as audiophile speakers, but for a speaker, this small, the way our music was played wasn’t bad overall.
As for music services, the Sonos S2 app supports AirPlay 2 on Apple devices with iOS 11.4 or later, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube Music, 7Digital, Sonos Radio, and more.
- Weight: 0.95 lbs (0.43 kg)
- 10 hours of battery life
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are used for connecting 5
- Drivers: One tweeter, one mid-woofer
- NFC: Yes
- No, aux-in
Sonos Roam SL: Sound Swap
- Sound from your Roam is sent to a different Sonos speaker.
- Works backward
Sound Swap is one of the best things about the Sonos Roam. It lets you “throw” the music from your Sonos Roam to the closest Sonos speaker or the other way around.
All you have to do is hold down the play/pause button until you hear the third tone, which is one more than if you were pairing two speakers. At the same time, hold the Sonos Roam close to the other speaker. Then, your music should start playing on the second speaker or, if you’re casting to a Sonos system, on all of the speakers.
We tried Sound Swap with our home theater system, which is made up of a Sonos Arc, two Sonos One SL rear speakers, and a Sonos Sub, and it worked perfectly. It was great that we could move the Sonos Roam from the kitchen to the living room and keep listening to music on a surround sound system without having to mess with our phones.
As mentioned, this feature also works in reverse, so if you hold down the play/pause button, the Roam will pick up audio from another speaker or setup. This is useful if you want to take the Roam outside into the garden, for example.
Sonos Roam SL: A way to connect
- Setup is easy
- It can connect to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
- Changing on its own
Even though the Roam is designed to be portable, it is very much a part of the Sonos ecosystem. This means that you can use it as part of a larger multi-room audio setup or pair it with another speaker for stereo sound. By holding down the play/pause button, you can pair the Sonos Roam with other Sonos speakers.
You can’t, however, use two Sonos Roams as two rear channels for your home theater system. We expected this to be the case because the same thing happened with the Sonos Move. The company says this is because of sync problems and the fact that a directional soundtrack might lose its focus if a speaker isn’t in the best place in a room.
The Roam works with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5, so you can use it at home or on the go. The new Automatic Switching feature makes this transition easier than ever, with the speaker automatically connecting to your Wi-Fi network when in range and re-pairing with your phone when you’re out and about.
To use the Sonos Roam, you’ll need to connect it to your Wi-Fi network using the Sonos S2 app. This isn’t super clear from the instruction leaflet that comes in the box, but you won’t be able to pair via Bluetooth until you do this.
We only needed a few minutes to set up the Sonos Roam. To start, if you don’t already have the Sonos app, you’ll need to download it. Then, go to Settings > System > Add Product.
When you start to connect the Sonos Roam to your network, you’ll be asked to enter an 8-digit code that you can find on the bottom of the speaker. You can do this manually, or you can use NFC to do it automatically.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll hear a chime to let you know that the code was entered correctly, and the speaker will start connecting to your Wi-Fi network. You might also have to wait for the Roam to update if an update is available.
Once you’re connected, you can turn on Auto Trueplay, add your voice assistant of choice (Google Assistant or Alexa), and change other settings. There’s also a “product tour” in the app that shows you how to use the controls and features of the Sonos Roam. It’s a nice touch that makes the setup process feel really easy.
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Sonos Roam SL: Voice Assistant
- Alexa or Google Assistant
- Smart home control
- Requires Wi-Fi
Both Google Assistant and Alexa are built in, and you can use your favorite voice assistant to control the speaker hands-free, control your other smart home devices, check your calendar, ask questions, and more. You will need to be connected to Wi-Fi to use these features, though.
Setting up the Sonos Roam with Google Assistant is very easy. The Sonos app will tell you to go to the Google Home app to set up your settings. Even when music was playing at a medium volume, the microphones picked up our voices pretty clearly.
It’s too bad you can’t use the voice assistant with Bluetooth, but it’s not a deal-breaker. In fact, we think using Google Assistant with Bluetooth would be more annoying than helpful.
The battery life of Sonos Roam SL
- 10 hours on a charge
- 10 days in sleep mode
- Wireless charging is supported.
The Sonos Roam is supposed to have a battery life of 10 hours, but we found that it only lasted about 9 hours at a medium volume. The company says that the speaker can last up to 10 days in sleep mode, which it automatically enters when you stop playing music.
That’s almost the same as the Sonos Move, which has a battery life of 11 hours, and the best portable speaker on the market.
You can use any Qi-certified charging device to charge the Sonos Roam, but if you want to keep it in the family, Sonos sells a $49 wireless charging stand with magnets to hold the speaker in place. Also included in the box is a USB-A to USB-C connector so you can use your own adapter.
Sonos Roam SL vs Sonos Roam: What’s the difference?
Even though the Sonos Roam and the Sonos Roam SL look almost the same and have many of the same features, there are a few differences between the two.
The Sonos Roam and Sonos Roam SL look almost the same, but the Sonos Roam has a button for a microphone on top, while the Sonos Roam SL does not. Other than that, their sizes are the same (168 x 62 x 60 mm), and as we’ve already said, they both come in Shadow Black and Lunar White.
The main difference between the Roam and the Roam SL is that the Roam SL doesn’t have a mic. This makes a difference for some of the features that are available.
Alexa and the Google Assistant
On the Sonos Roam, you can choose between Alexa and Google Assistant, but not on the Sonos Roam SL. Alexa and Google Assistant can still be used to control the Roam SL from another Sonos device with the assistant built-in or from a third-party Alexa or Google Assistant device.
Automatic tuning for Trueplay
The Sonos Roam has Automatic Trueplay Tuning, which means that it will use its built-in microphone to figure out where it is and adjust the sound to fit. Since the Roam SL doesn’t have a microphone, it can’t use Automatic Trueplay Tuning. However, it can still be tuned using standard methods.
The Sonos Roam is the first device to have the Sound Swap feature. It lets you press and holds the play/pause button on the Sonos Roam to send the music you’re listening to on the portable speaker to the nearest Sonos device. Ultrasonic waves are used to find the closest speaker, but you need a microphone to hear them, so Sound Swap isn’t available on the Sonos Roam SL.