Sonos Roam

It’s not all that often that a manufacturer tells you to start testing a new speaker by dunking it into a bowl of water, but that gives you some indication of the thought that Sonos has put into its new Roam portable. A smaller and more convenient alternative to Sonos’ chunky Move (HFC 456), it is very much focused on outdoor use, starting with its impressively compact design. The speaker can stand upright or flat and is small and light enough to easily carry around in a backpack or even in a jacket pocket like a bottle of water. It’s sturdily built, though, boasting IP67 rating for water resistance, which will allow it to survive in that bowl of water for up to 30 minutes, and Sonos even says you can rinse it under the tap to clean it.

It’s packed with features and a quad-core processor to handle the workload. There’s a ‘race-track’ woofer to make the most of the modest dimensions and a separate tweeter, with the two drivers powered by two Class-H amplifiers. The Roam supports Bluetooth (AAC only, there is no aptX) for use out and about and dual-band wi-fi and AirPlay 2. Sonos quotes 10 hours of battery life and there’s Qi wireless charging – an optional wireless charging dock will set you back an additional £44.

Sound quality
I start listening indoors, using wi-fi to stream in MQA from Tidal. The compact speaker impresses immediately, with the warm, open tone it brings to Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter. It catches every hesitant breath of Rice’s vocal, almost mumbling at times and projects it with enough volume to fill the room without distortion. There’s a relaxed, open sound to the acoustic strumming and the Roam brings a delicate touch to the slow cello, allowing it to hang in the air before fading slowly away.

In contrast, Queen’s The Millionaire Waltz is a sonic roller coaster, but the Roam isn’t lacking as the song weaves its way through half a dozen contrasting styles. There’s a relaxed, lilting rhythm to the piano-and-bass introduction, which veers sharply into rock bombast, delivering the power chords with impressive weight considering its size. There’s another change of pace as Freddie does his best Marlene Dietrich impression, and the Roam catches his breathless whispering. But it’s the final orchestral flourishes that impress the most, as Brian May’s multi-tracked guitar fanfare and Roger Taylor’s crashing cymbals ring out crisp and clear even at the speaker’s full volume – which is loud enough to make me worry about disturbing the neighbours.

The Roam even manages to deliver pretty respectable bass too, and there’s a nice firm thud to the drum-and-bass intro of Bad Guy by Billie Eilish. It catches the crisp finger-snaps and lightly brushed percussion that drive the song forward with an infectious rhythm, suggesting that it will work a treat getting the mood going at a socially distanced outdoor barbecue when the summer eventually arrives.

Inevitably, switching from a wi-fi connection to Bluetooth does make a difference to the sound quality – although it’s impressive that the Roam is able to handle the switch automatically when I venture outdoors with my tablet. That bass intro on Bad Guy isn’t quite as firm, and the percussion sounds a little more distant. But, to be fair, Queen’s multi-layered wall of sound holds up very well with Bluetooth, losing only a little of the full-bodied guitar sound in the louder sections. If all you want is a lightweight Bluetooth speaker for outdoor use then there are less expensive options available, but the addition of wi-fi streaming makes the Roam a terrifically versatile and lightweight option for both indoor and outdoor use. CJ    

Product: Sonos Roam
Type: Portable Bluetooth/wi-fi speaker

● 1x mid driver; 1x tweeter (size not specified)
● Bluetooth; wi-fi
● Battery life: 10 hours maximum

Read the full review in  Issue 476