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Sonos Move review: house shaker, not road warrior

Sonos’ first portable speaker is more comfortable at home than on the go

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For the past week or so, I’ve been listening to music on a wireless speaker in my living room, in my kitchen, in my home office, on my patio, and even at the park. While some people might do this with a variety of different speakers, I’ve been using the same speaker in all of those places: Sonos’ new $399 Move.

The Move is a milestone product for Sonos, a 17-year-old independent company that sells popular wireless home audio products. It’s the first model from the company with a battery and support for Bluetooth audio, which means it’s the first Sonos speaker you can easily transport — or move, if you will — from place to place. It’s more than a typical Bluetooth speaker, though, because the Move also supports the classic Sonos Wi-Fi system and integrates seamlessly with Sonos’ other speakers. It’s also a smart speaker with always-on microphones that you can use to speak to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.

As the first portable Sonos product, the Move has a lot riding on it. For the most part, it shoulders that burden well. It is an excellent speaker. But you might want to read on if you’re thinking of dropping nearly $400 to replace that cheap Bluetooth speaker in your travel bag with a Move.

The first thing to notice about the Move as you take it out of the box is just how big and heavy it is. This isn’t your typical portable Bluetooth speaker. The Move is a substantial thing that weighs over 6.6 pounds and towers almost 10 inches tall. As a result, it’s not really well-suited for light travel. Dragging it to the playground for some tunes while my kids played wasn’t trivial, unlike the typical UE Boom I just throw in a bag while walking out the door.

Instead, it’s best to view the Move as a speaker that you can easily move from place to place in your home or from inside your house to your outside patio, as opposed to something you’ll really want to travel with. Sonos designed a handle into the speaker’s molded plastic shell, making it easy to quickly pick it up and place it down in a new location, but it isn’t something you’ll want to carry the Move around by on long trips.

Compared to the popular Sonos One speaker, the Move is a bit taller and has an oval shape instead of a rounded square. Most of that size difference is due to the battery in the base of the Move. The actual drivers (one woofer and one tweeter) in the Move aren’t much larger or more powerful than the One’s. It’s also considerably taller than Apple’s HomePod, though it doesn’t take up any more shelf space. The Move’s size isn’t much of an issue inside the home — you’ll need about as much space for this as you do for a HomePod or Sonos One — but it’s definitely noticeable when you bring the Move on the go.

The Sonos Move is considerably larger than the Sonos One, Apple HomePod, or a typical Bluetooth speaker such as the UE Boom 2.

In a pleasant surprise, the battery in the Move is replaceable, so when it eventually stops holding a charge, you can swap it out for a new one. Sonos says the battery should last for 900 charge cycles (or roughly three years of use), and it will be selling replacements at a later date for a to-be-announced price. The company says the Move will last about 10 hours off of a charger, and I was able to hit that mark listening to music at 50 percent volume. While 10 hours is plenty of playtime for hanging out on my patio, it is far less than what popular Bluetooth speakers provide, though you can run the Move off of a USB-C power bank if you need even longer playtime.

Charging the battery takes about three hours and is done via the oval “dock” that comes with the Move. There are two contact points on the back of the speaker that line up with contacts on the dock, so you just have to place the speaker down on the dock to start charging. I love this design. I didn’t have to fumble with plugging in a wire to charge the speaker, and it provides a home for the Move to live in when I’m not using it in other locations. The experience is just like the wireless chargers I have on my desk and nightstand for my phone.

Sonos is selling the Move in just one color: a grayish-black that’s not as dark as the black Sonos One. It’s also not any more resistant to fingerprints than the One, even though this is a speaker that’s meant to be handled and moved around, not just sit in one place. I’d love to see a white option, as most Sonos speakers are available in two colors, so perhaps this is something the company will offer in the future.

The Move charges via an included base.
A USB-C port provides an alternative way to charge the battery.

The design features are all appreciated, but what really matters with the Move is the sound, and that’s where Sonos really delivers. The Move gets surprisingly loud and is able to fill even large rooms without sounding like it’s struggling or overwhelmed. Its sound output is closer to a Sonos One than a Sonos Play:5, with perhaps just a little more volume than the One. You can hear the bass coming from the Move, but you can’t feel it the way you can with a Play:5. But you can’t take that Play:5 outside with you, either.

The Move has a downward-firing tweeter, which is designed to provide an omnidirectional soundstage, so you can hear the music regardless of where you’re positioned in relation to the speaker. Compared to the One, which has a front-firing tweeter, the Move does envelop a room with sound a little better, and it doesn’t rely on you being in the “sweet spot” for the best experience quite as much. Overall, the sound output between the One and the Move is very similar, with a punchy bass, clear highs, and warm mids.

It sounds great across a wide variety of genres and at both low and high volumes, so you don’t have to crank it to 11 to really enjoy it. I really appreciate this versatility when I just want some background music in my home office or during dinner and still want to be able to carry a conversation over the music. Sonos speakers all have a similar sound signature, which is not quite clinical but very pleasing to listen to. And the Move fits right in with the rest of the lineup.

I also compared the Move to Apple’s HomePod, and I was surprised by how much louder the Move was able to get. At 70 percent volume, the Move easily outgunned Apple’s speaker at the same settings and was able to maintain clarity just as well. The HomePod is a great-sounding speaker, but the Move actually sounds clearer and crisper to my ears and is able to maintain a louder volume to boot.

The Move has always-listening microphones so you can use it as a smart speaker.
A handle is molded into the plastic shell to make it easier to pick up, and the button to switch between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is on the back of the speaker.

Impressively, the Move doesn’t lose any of its punch when it’s running on battery, as opposed to being plugged into the wall. Outside, the Move is able to hold its own, projecting a lot of sound without losing it all to the atmosphere or degrading into distortion. It was surprising how similar the Move sounded no matter where I placed it, which is due in large part to Sonos’ new automatic TruePlay tuning that uses the speaker’s onboard mics to tune its output to whatever environment it’s in.

Apple does a similar thing with the HomePod, and I’m glad that Sonos is finally enabling it automatically, without the need to go through a convoluted setup process that involves waving a beeping iPhone around the room to acoustically map the space. The company says it’s likely that automatic TruePlay will be added to other Sonos speakers that have microphones in the future.

The Move also sounds almost exactly the same whether I used it over a Bluetooth connection to my device or via the usual Wi-Fi setup. Switching between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is done by a button on the back of the speaker, and the Move will try to connect to the last device it was paired to when you switch modes. It’s just as loud and enjoyable to listen to on Bluetooth versus Wi-Fi, though the automatic TruePlay tuning is only available when using the speaker on Wi-Fi. Due to the Move’s large size and weight, I don’t think most people will use it over Bluetooth very often, and it had no problem hanging on to my Wi-Fi network’s signal when I took it outside to my patio.

If you want even more volume, you can pair two Moves together in a stereo formation, much like Sonos’ other speakers. But I’m not sure why you’d use the Move for this kind of setup, as the stereo pair will get broken whenever you move one of the speakers from its base and use it in a different location.

Like the Sonos One and Beam soundbar, the Move has onboard microphones and support for either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for voice controls. I was able to bark commands to adjust the volume, skip tracks, or control other smart home gadgets even while the Move was playing music at high volumes, and it responded without issue.

It’s not possible to run Alexa and Google Assistant at the same time, but the Sonos app does make it easy to switch between the two platforms whenever you want. On battery, the speaker will go to sleep after a few minutes of not being used, and it took a couple of attempts to “wake” it with a voice command when it’s in this power-saving mode. Voice commands are also not available over Bluetooth; you have to use the Move on your Wi-Fi network to take advantage of them.

Because the Move is a Sonos speaker, it’s compatible with almost every streaming music service available, plus services like Audible and Pocket Casts. You can play music on it through voice commands, via Sonos’ app, directly through Spotify using Spotify Connect, or via AirPlay 2 on an Apple device. If you have a receiver or turntable plugged into other Sonos devices, like a Connect or a Play:5, you can play that music through the Move, too. As you’d expect, you can also group the Move with other Sonos speakers in your home for simultaneous whole-home listening. If you’re paired to the Move over Bluetooth, whatever audio app you have on your phone will now play through the Move, just as you’d expect with any other Bluetooth speaker.

While most of my experience testing the Move was positive, it wasn’t all perfect. I had some significant problems getting Alexa and Google Assistant to play music through the Move due to some apparent incompatibilities between the Move and my mesh router system, which I was able to eventually resolve by forcing the Move to connect to the main router node during setup. Sonos says the problems I encountered were out of the ordinary, and other reviewers I spoke to said they had no issues getting the Move up and fully operational on their networks, so your mileage may vary here. When everything did get set up correctly, the experience was great. But it took a lot of time and work with Sonos’ support team to get there, and the app wasn’t very helpful when troubleshooting the problems. I also have not encountered any issues with other Sonos speakers on this network, so something must be different with the Move’s Wi-Fi hardware or configuration.

The biggest question that most people seem to have about the Move is about whether it’s worth the nearly $400 price tag. Frankly, it’s a tough price to swallow for what largely amounts to a $200 Sonos One with a battery bolted to the bottom of it. It’s also a lot more money than the typical Bluetooth speaker costs. But the Move also does things that no other Sonos speaker nor any other Bluetooth speaker can do, and it does it all without compromising on sound quality, volume, or features.

If you’re looking for a truly portable Bluetooth speaker to take to the park or the beach, the Move is not the right solution. But if you’ve been wanting the ability to take your Sonos speaker out to the patio, down to the basement, in the garage, or anywhere else where you don’t need a full-time dedicated speaker but where you want to occasionally listen to music, then the Move is exactly the thing you’ve been looking for.

I have a feeling a lot of people have been wanting just that kind of speaker. I’m one of them. We’re just going to have to pay $400 to get it.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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