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When Sonos officially announced its Era 100 and Era 300 smart speakers earlier this month, it was easy to fixate on the larger, shiny, more innovative introduction. And everybody did. With native support for spatial audio built into a futuristic-looking curved design, the $449 Era 300 is undoubtedly an inflection point for the Santa Barbara-based multiroom wireless speaker system company. But plenty of people want a more compact, more than competent option—an elevated entry-level speaker. After thinking about it, I realized the $249 Era 100 has a lot more riding on its success as it competes in a much more crowded market. After spending the last few weeks with it, I believe the Era 100 delivers enough to make good on its name—kicking off a new phase of Sonos speakers while keeping it 100 when it comes to what the company does best.

The build

If you saw the Era 100 from across a room, you might mistake it for the Sonos One, the speaker it will inevitably replace. Yet, if you sit these cylinders side by side, the differences become slightly more obvious—the 4.4 lb. Era 100 is slightly taller and broader (measuring 7.18 x 4.72 x 5.14 inches HWD), and the curve is more dramatic. It seems odd to label a speaker as more mature looking, but that’s the way I feel: The Era 100, available in white or black, is the grown-up version of the One. Sonos calls its new smart speaker “An icon, remastered.” Let’s look at what’s evolution vs. revolution.

Looking at it from the top, you’ll notice the Era 100 has a shallow horizontal well scooped out of it. This was done to make adjusting the volume—by swiping on that area to the left or right (though you can still tap either end of the capacitive trough to move things incrementally)—more intuitive. This change makes the Era 100 easier to use when you’re not looking at it, or it’s dark, since your finger will naturally find the volume selector. The rest of the buttons—play, pause, next track, last track—are still touch-sensitive spots with a glyph printed on top. This is disappointing because having divots for all of them would have increased the Era 100’s accessibility.

If you turn the Era 100 around, you’ll see three things: The pill-shaped function button that first appeared on the Sonos Roam, a physical switch that enables and mutes the speaker’s microphone (compatible with Sonos Voice Control and Amazon Alexa, but not Google Assistant), and a USB-C port that is used for something far more interesting than powering the speaker (more on that a bit later).

I’m neutral on Sonos’ increasingly-ubiquitous function button, which requires you to long-press it at variable lengths to get to different features. I mostly used it to enable the Era 100’s Bluetooth 5.0 mode (with support for the SBC and AAC codecs). Bluetooth has been in the portable, rechargeable Move and Roam speakers for a few years, but this is the first time Sonos has built it into one of its home-bound smart speakers, and it’s a welcome feature that’s also arriving on the Era 300. Your experience with this button will vary, but I’m pleased that the speaker will chirp at you when it registers a press and/or changes modes.

Similarly, the USB-C port on the back of the Era 100 can be used to plug in one of two adapters designed by Sonos. One $39 adapter terminates into an Ethernet jack (plus aux in), so you can hardwire it to your home network with a cable rather than relying on an over-the-air signal. The wireless connection I used during my Era 100 testing was rock solid (the speaker supports up to the Wi-Fi 6 protocol, so you can feel comfortable futureproofing your router), but that may not be the case for everybody.

The second option, which offers less connectivity but will likely be more applicable to most, is a $19 dongle solely offering a standard 3.5mm line-in jack present on audio equipment for decades. This adapter means the Era 100 can accommodate a lifetime of audio formats—cassette decks, CD players, turntables with built-in preamps. I wish Sonos has just built the Ethernet and 3.5mm jack into the back of the Era 100. However, as inelegant as an adapter is, its acknowledgment that music exists outside of a single digital ecosystem is still better than nothing. By providing wired and wireless connectivity options, Sonos has underscored its commitment to making speakers you won’t have to replace involuntarily if your sources shift. These are meaningful changes that are purely additive. You don’t lose any features the Sonos One had; instead, the Era 100 gives you more than before.

Embracing a universal wireless standard and connectivity outside proprietary ecosystems helps hardware stave off obsolescence. Sonos’ focus on usability is complemented by a sincere effort to make the Era 100 its most sustainability-focused smart speaker yet. The company has improved its packaging by making more of it sustainably sourced and recyclable, opted to use screws instead of glue to make it easier for repair techs to get behind the polycarbonate grill and resolve issues, and designed the speaker (made out of more PCR plastic) with more modular parts. Hopefully, the number of times Sonos will have to replace a speaker completely or strip it for parts will be reduced. It feels good to think you can invest in a device to last (potentially) decades.

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A single USB-C port can be the difference between eventual obsolescence and appreciable longevity.

The setup

If you’ve picked up a Sonos product in the past five years (as I have with One speakers and the Ray soundbar, among several others), the Era 100’s setup process will be very familiar. After plugging it in, I waited for the speaker’s sole LED to begin flashing green, which indicated it was ready to be set up. The rest of the setup took place in the iOS or Android app, which guides you through adding it to an existing system or creating a new one and connecting it to your home network.

My first couple of setup attempts were unsuccessful—I have multiple Sonos systems set up from years of product testing and was running the beta version of iOS on the initial device I was using to set it up—but creating a new Sonos system on a different device did the trick. The Era 100 immediately downloaded a software update upon being set up and worked flawlessly after that.

Pairing the Era 100 to my device over Bluetooth required pushing and holding its function button down for a few seconds while waiting for the speaker’s LED to blink blue. From there, the process was identical to syncing my iPhone to any Bluetooth device. Even with the slight hiccups, it only took me about 15 minutes to set up the Era 100; without them, it would have taken under five. Once connected, you can run the Sonos tuning software, tweak the EQ (-2 the bass, +3 the treble if you think it’s too boxy out of the box, something you can’t do with the HomePod), then get ready to critique the clarity.

The sound

The Era 100 had much to prove in the audio department after the warm reception of the One and the proliferation of smart speakers like Apple’s HomePod (2nd generation), Amazon’s Echo Studio, and the Bluesound PULSE M. None of these will compete with the $799 Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin in sheer audiophile allure. Still, the Era 100’s raison d’être is to provide music lovers with another good sub-$300 option or a reason to upgrade. Spoiler alert: Sonos succeeded.

The biggest difference between the Era 100 and its predecessor is that this single speaker can play music in stereo thanks to its three-driver array, which features a pair of angled, outward-facing tweeters atop a single 25% larger woofer driven by three class-D amplifiers and optimized by custom waveguides. The effectiveness of the Era 100’s stereo separation is dependent on the way a track was mixed, the size and shape of your room, and the speaker’s distance and positioning from you. Sonos Trueplay, built into its app, helps Quick Tune the speaker’s sweet spot for your setting. Despite all these factors and the reality that you’ll always get better stereo separation from a pair of speakers, I was impressed by the Era 100’s soundstage. If for no other reason than the fact that I never heard any of the inherent weirdness inherent in listening to stereo music folded down to mono.

The ability to play music in stereo is also helpful if you sync a pair of Era 100s to a Sonos Sub Mini and Sonos Ray to create a surround sound system, as that extra soundstage comes into play as action mounts and orchestral scores swell. I’ve chosen to highlight entry-level Sonos home theater equipment in that scenario for the sake of cost, but you could certainly hook up these speakers to the company’s high-end Arc soundbar for even better sound. (And Sonos produces speaker-specific stands and wall mounts to help optimize stereo pair and surround setups.)

My overall impression after many listening sessions cycling through pop, rock, R&B, jazz, and classical—which can be fed from dozens and dozens of services through the Sonos app, or via Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect—is that this is an incredibly musical speaker. What I mean by that is music always sounded natural and free from any artificial boosting of the bass or treble that can be used to hide deficiencies in lesser audio hardware. During my listening tests, which were all conducted by listening to Lossless versions of music from the Apple Music streaming library via AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth, I was always very impressed. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a neutral speaker—Sonos certainly employed its digital signal processing, which can’t be completely undone by twiddling EQ settings—but I never felt like any tracks were negatively impacted. The end result is a more open-sounding speaker than the Sonos One, with punchier bass and a fleshy midrange, benefiting vocal presence.

For reference, a majority of my personal music preferences center around albums released between 1963 and 1980, with jazz from the ’50s, shoegaze and Britpop from the early ’90s, and indie rock from the last 30 or so years mixed in for good measure. My fixation with music from the mid-20th century was helpful in that I could immediately discern whether Sonos had tuned the Era 100 specifically for modern music, which is mixed and mastered in a particular way. It hasn’t.

“Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot sounded superb, and I could pick out the song’s bass from the subtle kick drum despite them occupying similar parts of the frequency spectrum. Similarly, the background vocals on The Zombies’ “Beechwood Park” never got lost under Colin Blunstone’s lead. Jumping ahead nearly half a century to Norah Jones’ “Good Morning,” the sublime opener on 2012’s Little Broken Hearts, the Era 100 did a great job at showcasing every element of the track while creating a wonderfully wide soundstage. I never lost track of the acoustic guitar as it went from being the most prominent instrument on the track to playing second fiddle to a violin. Letting the album run to track two, “Say Goodbye,” yielded similar results, with the pulsing drum beat driving the song punctuated by tasteful guitar lines.

Art Pepper’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” starts off simple. Still, the Era 100’s presentation of his saxophone shows off its particular brilliance in authentically capturing the sound of acoustic instruments. If you’re always searching for new music, don’t worry, this speaker won’t disappoint you. The 2023 electronic track “Soda Lake” by Blank Gloss retained its creepy, almost sinister sound with bass that rumbled the Era 100 without causing it to overmodulate into distortion. On the flipside, the sparse arrangement of “emails i can’t send” by Sabrina Carpenter didn’t feel empty.

The Era 100 sounded good at every volume level, but I mostly kept it at around 50%, sufficient to fill a 300-square-foot room. Your mileage will vary based on your preferred listening level or genre of music, but a single Era 100 will be enough for an entire floor of a house with an open floor plan. It wasn’t designed specifically with outdoor use in mind, but the Era 100 can supply the soundtrack to backyard cookouts all summer long. Considering getting into vinyl and not into the concept of the dongles mentioned above, or have a convenient alcove for your music collection but better seating elsewhere? It’s easy to stream music to this speaker by connecting it to the Victrola Stream Carbon, a wireless-enabled turntable certified to work with Sonos.

It may not be able to play spatial audio tracks natively (check out our Era 300 review if that’s your fixation), but the Era 100 is a very competent single-speaker stereo audio system. That Sonos could coax this much audio quality out of a speaker of this size is pretty impressive. In fact, I couldn’t tell the difference when listening to music over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, which was the most revealing revelation of them all. It’ll give Apple, Amazon, and many others a benchmark when designing their next-generation gear.

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The Era 100 stacks up nicely compared to contemporary smart speakers and can accommodate formats of the past.

The conclusion

If you’ve already bought into Sonos’ ecosystem, the Era 100 is a no-brainer replacement for any place you currently have a One. The fact that this new speaker can play music in stereo instead of mono makes it worth the price of admission on its own, but improvements to its overall build quality, sustainability, and overall clarity push it over the top. Everything you like about the One remains but is bested by the Era 100, which sets the standard for speakers in its size class.

You’ll still want to hold on to your Play:3 and Five speakers, as their larger size allows them to feature bigger drivers and ultimately better, louder sound, but it’s honestly a toss-up. Suppose you’re coming from a HomePod or similar speaker developed with multidimensional sound in mind. In that case, the sound profile will be different, which may be good or bad depending on what you’re used to hearing. Ultimately, we can recommend the Sonos Era 100 to anyone who wants to spend less than $300 on a single smart speaker that sounds bigger than its body.