Review: Sonos Boost
As more players enter the multi-room audio market, Player One — Sonos — is ready with a fix for people suffering from buffer and WiFi problems. If this is you, we know your pain all too well, and it’s time for a Boost.
Features and performance
I like music. A lot. So much, that multi room audio has been one of my favourite additions to my home.
When I enter, I can start music up from the very excellent Sonos app, and have it follow me throughout the house. It’s there when I enter, and through to the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom, and there’s no delay as the speakers synchronise and play music in time with each other.
Currently, I use a Sonos system, and while there are more competitors today and more brands I could later on try with their own versions of multi-room audio, Sonos was there in the beginning to suit my needs, with speakers with excellent and loud audio, construction of at least one speaker that could survive the humidity of a bathroom, and an app that outdoes most of its competitors still today.
But it’s not all good.
While Sonos has done some work to improve its speakers over time, releasing firmware updates that open up new services and clear up the transmission, there are still some issues.
Recently, the most obvious ones are that the speakers cut out throughout the home — usually towards the back of the house — and that services such as Pandora and Google Play Music decide to cut out the song in the middle or beginning altogether, citing “network connection speed insufficient to maintain playback buffer,” an error that often has me scrambling for the router settings to see if anything should be disrupting my audio feed.
But there’s never a reason, or a good one anyway, and I’m often trying to unplug or reset a Sonos Bridge to jump start the system, or switching to music stored on my network drive, a move that sometimes clears it up, while other times forces me to hum to myself.
The good news, though, is that there’s a solution, and for once, it’s not a firmware update that boasts improvements to my home system.
No, this time, it’s a piece of hardware named the Sonos Boost.
As its name suggests, this little piece of technology aims to boost the performance of your Sonos network, a wireless setup that creates a mesh network to sit next to the one you regularly rely on, turning each Sonos speaker into an individual access point and transmission system for that Sonos-specific network.
While Sonos no longer requires the mesh network to operate its systems, we’re led to believe that a mesh network is more stable for lots of speakers, and given what we’ve seen while operating the standard Sonos Bridge, believe it, too.
But the Bridge won’t suit all homes, and this reviewer’s is a fine example, no longer stretching the length of his home, and quite often providing the errors that make it hard to stream music across speakers, cutting out, delaying, and generally not working.
The Boost aims to fix this, and while Sonos won’t tell us quite what is inside, we’re told it’s some special sauce “enterprise-grade” wireless tech, with two 10/100 Ethernet ports on the back so you need not waste a wired network port on your router.
It’s roughly the same size as the original Bridge, too, so it can go where that device went, though it’s a little thinner and much more sleek due to glossy plastic compared to the matte plastic on our old Bridge.
Plugging it in is relatively simple, and it will add itself to a Sonos setup easily enough if added, though we chose to take the Bridge out of the equation and start from scratch, hoping to remove problems altogether.
If you go this way, you will need to resynchronise all off your speakers, setting them up to work with the Boost, which replaces your regular Bridge. You’ll also need to supply logins to all of the services you regularly use for the Sonos, such as Pandora and Google Play Music, and even relink and reindex your music library on any network drives.
Essentially, think of this installation route as starting from the beginning, which we did to minimise any issues and gives the Sonos — and its Bridge-replaced Boost — a fresh start.
There’s a large button on the side of the unit for syncing, replacing the button on the very top of the Bridge, and this works seamlessly in the unit’s design, looking more modern and making the top of the Boost clear and simple, more like that of an appliance that blends in with the home environment.
Using this, you’ll pair to the Sonos app, which is available on Android, iOS, and on Mac and Windows desktop, and from the app, you can pair the speakers to the Bridge, just the way you would normally do it before.
Once the speakers are setup again and all is ready to go, it’s time to use the Sonos the way you normally would and get listening to music.
Ours integrated nicely, and we were listening again within ten minutes, picking streaming services, because that’s where the problems often were.
Originally — and with the Sonos Bridge — these buffering problems occurred when we were doing all manner of things, such as downloading on a different computer in the home while streaming music throughout the speakers in the home, or just playing music and doing nothing more, and to hear the music cut out randomly, or just not play, showing an error only if you were looking at the Sonos controller at the time was beyond frustrating.
But that was with the original Bridge. Did the Boost fix our woes?
Yes. Yes it did.
We’re not quite sure what the “enterprise-grade wireless” technology is exactly, but the Sonos Boost did manage to fix our frequent frequency frustrations, with no buffer problems as we listened to audio and streamed music over several days in a house that normally gave us troubles.
If you’re having Sonos problems with that pesky buffer error that just keeps popping up, the Boost could be your answer, fixing it up for us throughout our test period.
You’ve probably checked the forums for answers, and tried resetting the system, logging in and re-logging into your services, restarting your router or modem router, updated the firmware, and even tried force changing the channel the Sonos operates on. We sure did, and none of it worked, unfortunately.
The Sonos Boost seems to, however, popping up with no issues as we streamed to several speakers — four, to be exact — in the home.
It shouldn’t be necessary, though. It really shouldn’t.
You should be able to buy a product and have it work without these sorts of issues.
That said, Sonos isn’t totally to blame, and with every house constructed differently, and more wireless devices not just in your home, but also in the homes of your neighbours, this can’t be an easy setup to juggle. We feel for the people at Sonos, because this wouldn’t be an easy problem to diagnose, let alone fix.
But the Sonos Boost seems to offer some relief, and if you love your Sonos but are having problems, the Boost is the fix you need.