Sonos Era 100 review
Image: Alice Clarke

Sonos Era 100 review: audio witchcraft


These days, most music is mixed in stereo and sounds best when you have two speakers or a pair of headphones to give you the full effect. With the Era 100, Sonos has somehow made one speaker sound like two speakers, with is both very impressive, and convenient for those with smaller spaces or budgets. But, is it good?

Details: Sonos Era 100

Australian websiteOfficial Sonos website
Price (RRP)$399
Warranty1 year
OtherRead more speaker reviews on GadgetGuy

Sonos Era 100 first impressions

Yes. This speaker is very good.

Taking it out of the box, it has roughly the same footprint as the Sonos One speaker (its predecessor), but it’s a bit more squished at the front, and a bit taller.

The biggest difference noticeable in the design is the new indented channel at the top for volume control. Before you just kinda swiped your finger across the top of the Sonos speaker and hope it knew you wanted to change the volume rather than the song. Now the sections for changing the song and the volume are separate, which is a much better experience.

The setup is really easy: you just take it out of the box, plug it into the wall, open the Sonos app and take roughly two minutes to add it to an existing Sonos system or set up a new one.

Overall, my first impression is that it’s a great speaker that lives up to the Sonos name.

Stereo separation

Incidentally, it’s also my second impression that this speaker is good. I have never heard a speaker this small get such a clear stereo separation. If I close my eyes and listen, I genuinely think it sounds like two separate speakers. The effect holds up whether you’re close or further away, and it also sustains surprisingly well when you approach it from an angle.

The way the effect works is that the speaker has two waveforms at the top where the two tweeters are to direct music out the sides in different angles to give you a sense of having left and right speakers.

Sonos Era 100 top view
The indent along the top of the speaker makes using the on-device controls easier. Image: Alice Clarke

Most stereo mixing tries to sound like the music is balanced and coming from the middle of the room/your head. But stereo separation is most obvious in songs that use stereo effects for disorientation, or to separate out the instruments in the room.

On a song like “Wilderness” by Sleater-Kinney, the disorienting effect isn’t anywhere near as strong as it is on headphones, or my usual office speaker set-up (two Sonos Ones as a stereo pair with a Sonos Sub Mini for bass). But, it is noticeable and distinct in a way that makes a real difference to the listening experience compared to a single mono speaker.

On a song with regular stereo mixing, like “Full Heart Fancy” by Lucky Chops, it’s easy to hear that the instruments have a little more room to breathe, so you can hear more details than you normally would on a mono speaker. The higher the volume, the more pronounced the effect.

But is there bass?

My first instinct with smaller speakers is usually that they would sound better with a subwoofer taking the bass load off the speaker. That’s not the case with the Sonos Era 100. Obviously, it would sound better in a stereo pair with a Sub or Sub Mini, but most people will be thrilled with the sound from this one speaker without accoutrements.

Going back to “Full Heart Fancy” by Lucky Chops, it is slightly more bass-heavy than I would normally like, which grounds the song a touch more than it should be. This is a song where the instruments need to soar, and in systems where there is a separate subwoofer, the higher notes aren’t as pulled down into the woofer, so the melody shines a little better. But, I’m impressed that the bass isn’t muddy, and the jangling of the hi-hats is clear in the background of the bass drum and sousaphone. While it’s not as noticeable as usual, I can still hear the little sizzle on the snare, even though the bass threatens to overwhelm it a little.

My usual headphone and speaker testing song is “Chasing Twisters” by Delta Rae, and there is a little vocal fry before the second chorus that tends to separate the good and great speakers and headphones. Alas, the Sonos Era 100 is only in the ‘good’ category. I get the ghost of the growl, but it lacks the venom I normally hear on truly great (and more expensive) speakers.

Sonos Era 100 - Nightstand
Also available in white, the Sonos Era 100 accessorises nicely with your decor.

Listening to the intro, the piano notes can’t ring as clearly as I would generally like, while the deep floor toms have a gorgeous resonance. But in the pre-chorus, the rolls on the toms melt into the background and the vocals shine clearly.

The speaker truly shines when playing “Maybe You Saved Me” by Bad Suns. Every part sounds as I would expect: deep, rich and smooth. Same with “Everything At Your Feet” by Odesza, the bass is appropriately deep and commanding, but the jangly effect throughout holds the appropriate space.

Songs like “Night After Sidewalk” by Kaki King are another big test for speakers, because it’s such a beautiful single instrumental track and the magic lies in the details. The sound of the fingers touching the fretboard, fingers moving on the strings, each pluck of each string. It’s still a little heavier on the bass than I would like, and the higher notes sound a little muted. But it still sounds so beautiful that I kept getting lost in it while writing, and ended up with a little tear in my eye.

So, while the Sonos Era 100 isn’t going to compete with $1,000 speakers any time now, it still punches well above its weight and is probably the best speaker under $500 I’ve ever heard, particularly one this small.

Smart features

If you’re not familiar with Sonos systems, these speakers connect via Wi-Fi to provide multi-room audio, all controllable through an app. So, better quality than Bluetooth (though, this has Bluetooth as an option as well), and can play all the major streaming services and podcast platforms, as well as a tonne of radio stations.

The big changes to the connectivity to the Era 100 over the Sonos One are that it has USB-C input, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2 compatibility, and Amazon Alexa. It basically does everything the Sonos One does, but without an ethernet port or Google Assistant built-in, and the addition of USB-C and Bluetooth. Both the Era 100 and Era 300 mark the first time USB-C and Bluetooth have come to non-portable Sonos speakers.

One of the things I really like is that if you don’t want to risk the smart assistant listening to you, there is a hardware toggle that completely turns off the microphone. This also disables Fast True Play (which is the shortcut to tune Sonos speakers to your room) but means it is physically impossible for the speaker to listen to you at all, which is important for people who are concerned about privacy.

On the flip side, if you do like having Amazon Alexa on at home, it’s handy to have that and a good speaker in one small package.

Would I buy it?

Yes. Absolutely. Without hesitation. Sonos speakers are built to last, and the Era 100 is certainly no exception. It sounds unbelievably fantastic for a speaker this size, (unlike most other smart devices) you’ll almost certainly still be using it a decade from now, and I am in awe of how well this small, single speaker achieves stereo separation. If you want a small speaker, and your budget stretches this far, the Sonos Era 100 is your best choice.

Sonos Era 100
Easily the best speaker available for under $500.
Value for money
Ease of use
Sounds excellent
Nice and compact
Looks good
Doesn’t have an ethernet port