Sonos Period 300 assessment: too forward of its time | Digital Noch

I shut my eyes. When “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones begins enjoying, her fascinating jazzy vocals sound like they’re coming from straight in entrance of me, and I might be fooled into pondering there’s somebody enjoying a stand-up bass proper there within the room. Then comes “Growth” by Sevenn and Tiësto, which has a really 3D soundscape that engulfs me within the thumping beat. Taylor Swift’s Folklore one way or the other feels much more intricate, and “Exile” is brimming with depth and heat as Bon Iver joins in. After I attain “Two of Us” by The Beatles, the voices of John Lennon and Paul McCartney sound extra distinct and are available by way of with higher separation than I can recall — and I’ve listened to that music numerous instances.

These are simply among the standout listening experiences which can be doable with the brand new Sonos Period 300, a $450 speaker designed from the bottom as much as showcase spatial audio and Dolby Atmos extra convincingly than any standalone speaker earlier than it. It’s additionally the primary third-party speaker that’s in a position to play Apple Music’s spatial library. (Amazon Music is supported as effectively.) All through the couple weeks spent testing the Period, I’ve been floored at instances by what it will possibly do.

However the present choice of spatial audio music is so uneven in high quality that it may be a jarring and unpredictable listening expertise. An excellent monitor will go away you thrilled concerning the funding you’ve made; a poorly blended one can immediately deplete that pleasure.

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In the event you’re not acquainted, spatial audio (additionally typically referred to as “3D audio”) is supposed to place you in the midst of the music and go away you feeling enveloped by instrumentation in a approach that goes past conventional stereo. There are totally different implementations of spatial audio: in case your music service of selection presents it (at present Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal, and extra), you possibly can pay attention with just about any pair of earbuds or headphones. I’m nonetheless a skeptic in terms of that method, however listening to Dolby Atmos music tracks on an precise multichannel encompass system has been extra encouraging.

The Period 300 helps Apple’s AirPlay 2 and likewise presents Bluetooth and USB-C line-in.

With the Period 300, Sonos is making an attempt to ship a reputable spatial audio expertise from a person speaker — no small problem. Apple and Amazon have tried the identical with the HomePod and Echo Studio, respectively. The one strategy to actually pull it off is to depend on room acoustics, phasing, and bouncing hold forth the partitions in your area to trick your mind into pondering that audio is originating past the speaker’s bodily footprint.

Sonos has firmly strayed from the well-beaten path of cylindrical audio system with this gadget: it’s received an unconventional sideways “hourglass” form loaded with six drivers that direct sound ahead, left, proper, and up. Extra particularly, there’s a middle channel, left and proper drivers stating the edges, an upward-firing channel, and two woofers that additionally face the left and proper. On high of that, Sonos constructed waveguides into the 300 to assist disperse sound additional. Due to these guts, it’s considerably bigger than the Sonos One (and new Period 100), which is price contemplating in the event you’re all for pairing two 300s as rear channels for a Sonos Arc or Beam soundbar. Extra on that later.

I don’t really feel strongly concerning the design come what may, although listening to the Period 300 made me purchase into Sonos’ rationale that the unorthodox form advantages spatial output. I’d suggest selecting the white possibility if doable: the black fashions I’ve been reviewing simply present smudges, and I’ve seen mud getting caught within the perforated holes. White plastic would assist conceal these items, in order that’s the way in which I’d go.

Sure, it’s an odd-looking speaker in comparison with the competitors from Amazon, Apple, and Google.

The Period 300 carries over among the greatest new options of the extra reasonably priced Period 100 — particularly, Bluetooth playback and USB-C line-in help — and is less complicated to disassemble and restore than previous Sonos merchandise. The 2 audio system share an equivalent topside format, with devoted monitor controls, an indented bar for simple quantity changes, and a button that may quickly mute the mics to stop unintentional voice assistant responses. If that’s not sufficient for the privacy-minded amongst you, there’s a toggle round again that may absolutely reduce energy to the mics when flipped.

Cautious placement of the Period 300 is important in order for you the perfect sound, and Sonos has some pointers to observe when discovering the fitting spot for it. (TL;DR: be sure that there’s ample open area to the edges and above the speaker.) The corporate claims there’s no candy spot to pay attention from, however in order for you essentially the most engrossing spatial expertise, I’d advise sitting a couple of toes away centered with the speaker, very similar to you’ll do for a standard speaker.

For the primary time, Sonos is extending Trueplay help to Android customers. A brand new “fast tune” characteristic makes use of the built-in mics to regulate the Period 300’s audio output for optimum sound in no matter room it’s in. iPhone and iPad house owners can go a step past this with the “superior” tuning that makes use of their gadget’s mic to get a greater learn on a room’s tonal traits.

By way of its whole measurement, the 300 slots in between the Period 100 and Sonos 5. That’s naturally made for comparisons to the long-discontinued Play:3 speaker, however the two merchandise have a lot totally different functions. The Play:3 was a reasonably small stereo speaker with outdated internals and parts in comparison with what Sonos has been utilizing in more moderen years. The Period 300 can play stereo audio simply fantastic, after all, and does a greater job at sound diffusion than the Play:3 was ever able to.

Just like the previous Play:3 (left), the Period 300 fills the hole between Sonos’ entry-level and flagship audio system. However the two sound nothing alike.

Nevertheless, if stereo is your essential approach of listening, the Period is outclassed by the Sonos 5. Do not forget that solely one of many 300’s drivers is forward-facing, so stereo music doesn’t really feel as direct or full-bodied as when it’s coming at you from the extra typical 5. The 5’s bass response carries extra smoothness and refinement than the 300’s — significantly with stereo content material. If you would like the perfect music constancy that Sonos can supply, the reply continues to be a stereo pair of Sonos Fives. Finish of dialog.

However the 300 isn’t a slouch by any means. Vocals all the time come by way of with pristine readability by way of that middle channel, and the side-firing drivers make for good stereo separation from a unit of this measurement. Towards the remainder of the Sonos discipline, the Period 300 simply ranks above the Period 100 and Sonos Transfer. In the event you’re not in a position to swing the 5, this isn’t a nasty various to land on.

Don’t purchase the Period 300 in the event you’re completely happy dwelling in a stereo world

However stereo isn’t what the Period 300 is about. In the event you take nothing else away from this assessment, it needs to be that. Whether or not you’re listening to music or utilizing the 300 as Atmos-capable surrounds, immersion is that this gadget’s entire purpose for being. 

I’m not right here to stroll throughout the minefield of some “spatial audio versus stereo” debate, and also you received’t hear me argue that that is the end-all-be-all way forward for how we devour music. I’m a music lover, so I can get a dopamine enhance with the fitting music no matter how I’m listening to it. Will I take the high-end headphones or fancy audio system given a selection? Certain, however I’ve received many nice recollections tied to crummy Bluetooth audio system and throwaway earbuds.

I’ll say this: I don’t consider spatial audio goes away. This isn’t 3D TV over again. The music business is deeply invested in Dolby Atmos manufacturing, Apple can’t get sufficient of the format, and most main new albums are being launched in spatial audio most of the time. However rattling, have there been rising pains. Again when Apple Music rolled out spatial audio, I lamented that many Atmos album mixes had been objectively inferior in comparison with their stereo counterparts. Producers had been leaning in to gimmicks and making songs sound too expansive and ill-defined. As we identified in our Echo Studio assessment, some Atmos reissues have included new parts that had been by no means current within the unique launch. 

The Period 300 incorporates six drivers that create a large, immersive soundstage.

Extra lately, we’ve seen that tumult begin to ease. With extra time and expertise, audio engineers have gained a greater understanding of Atmos and tips on how to get essentially the most from it with out detracting from the supply materials. As Giles Martin instructed Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel on Decoder, a superb spatial combine doesn’t all the time want to make it sound such as you’re surrounded by devices; the improved spaciousness might be extra refined than that and nonetheless work effectively. (It ought to come as no shock that Martin’s Beatles remixes, like the newest for Revolver, sound terrific on the 300.) 

As a basic rule of thumb, fashionable albums which were blended for Atmos from the start are inclined to fare higher than remixes that artists may need zero involvement in. If you would like good examples and check materials, try latest releases by The Weeknd, Billie Eilish, St. Vincent, and Lana Del Rey. However typically there are older classics by the likes of Frank Sinatra which can be revitalized with stunningly good Atmos therapies. And the brand-new 2023 Atmos mixture of The Darkish Facet of The Moon is excellent. Right here’s my private playlist of spatial audio highlights:

Drawback is, these learnings got here after an early wave of second-rate spatial audio releases. And plenty of of these subpar mixes stay on Apple Music and Amazon Music in the present day. Listening to many rock songs in spatial audio might be dire. (I’m taking a look at you, “Buddy Holly” by Weezer.) There are a lot of misses, and so they diminish the Period 300’s potential to a substantial extent. I anticipate that we’ll see lots of artists quietly push out do-overs of spatial audio albums as extra audio system are launched that expose the shortcomings of these rushed preliminary efforts. It’s not a superb feeling when a file that you just adore in stereo appears like an aural mess in Atmos.

The Sonos app is the one strategy to play spatial audio music on the Period 300.

You’ll be opening the Sonos app an entire lot

I’ve by no means been as down on or vital of the Sonos cellular app as some folks, however with the Period 300, you’ll end up utilizing it greater than ever earlier than. That’s as a result of spatial audio and Dolby Atmos music tracks can solely be performed straight by way of the Sonos app. You may’t AirPlay them out of your Apple Music app or solid them from Amazon Music. Hopefully, it’ll simply be a matter of time till there are extra methods of beginning spatial tracks, however for now, that is the way in which.

And if that’s going to stay the case, Sonos must do some severe renovating. For one, there’s no approach of figuring out if a music is in spatial audio till you begin enjoying it. You don’t see any of that context when trying to find a monitor or album: the Atmos emblem solely pops up after you hit play. I’d prefer to see some form of spatial audio badge or indicator straight in search outcomes. Proper now, it’s only a recreation of pecking round till you discover a music in Atmos. With so many alternative editions of a given album out there from streaming companies nowadays, that may get irritating and be time-consuming. If individuals are going to be dwelling within the Sonos app to get essentially the most from their Period 300, I hope to see some UX upgrades. Sonos is rolling out a brand new search expertise, a fantastic first step, however there must be a clearer marker for spatial content material.

Are any of those songs out there in spatial audio? Who is aware of! Sonos may positively make this clearer in search outcomes.

All through the Period 300 assessment interval, there’s been no approach of turning off spatial audio for tracks that provide it. I may solely hearken to the Atmos model, with no approach of falling again to stereo in circumstances the place I received caught with a wretched combine. Sonos tells me there will likely be an possibility added to settings by the 300’s March twenty eighth launch day for disabling spatial audio, however even that’s a little bit too ham-fisted. Ideally, you’d be capable of swap forwards and backwards between spatial and stereo proper from the now enjoying display and shortly get a way of which you like. Amazon Music handles this higher than another music app, for my part, and contemplating how horrible at software program Amazon usually is, that’s saying one thing. 

The brand new Bluetooth and line-in capabilities have labored and not using a hitch, although you’ll want Sonos’ $19 USB-C adapter to get line-in working. (Your different dongles are unlikely to work since Sonos is doing an analog-to-digital conversion as an alternative of the opposite approach round that’s frequent for headphone adapters.) And spatial audio doesn’t work over Bluetooth, not that anybody needs to be shocked by that. Sonos has outfitted each Eras with extra strong connectivity: they embrace Wi-Fi 6 now, however you’ll want a suitable router to benefit from the extra dependable, quicker wi-fi sign.

The Period 300 is the one Sonos speaker that may play rear Atmos peak results when paired with an Arc or Beam (Gen 2).

Period 300 as Atmos residence theater surrounds

In the event you mix two Period 300s (a $900 spend) with both the Sonos Arc or second-gen Beam, the brand new audio system can act as rear surrounds that now embrace upward-firing Atmos channels. Additionally they ship extra expansive horizontal sound in comparison with the Sonos One or One SL since there are extra drivers to work with. The Arc setup (together with a Sub or Sub Mini) will likely be a 7.1.4 configuration, whereas the Beam will likely be 5.1.4. (The Period 300 will not be suitable with the Ray, first-gen Beam, Playbar, or Playbase.)

In comparison with the Ones and Symfonisk audio system I’ve beforehand examined as surrounds, the Period 300 noticeably outputs extra atmospheric audio because of the upper driver depend. The widened rear left and proper soundstage are very obvious. However as for any Atmos peak channels, these closely rely upon elements like ceiling peak and different standards that affect room acoustics. My ceilings are a reasonably normal peak, so I used to be in a position to discern the peak results when watching Dune, Black Adam, or nature documentaries on Netflix.

If you want to place the Period 300 towards a wall, the 90-degree energy cable makes that simpler.

In the event you’re spending a lot on a pair of Period 300s, it’s best to completely run Sonos’ Trueplay course of to make sure you’re getting peak efficiency from your property theater system. You’ll want an iOS or iPadOS gadget for this objective because the Period 300s can’t fine-tune the audio coming out of your soundbar. Fast tuning solely optimizes sound from the Period itself, so this requires the superior course of and waving your iPhone round to gauge a room’s traits.

I don’t suppose anybody buying the Period 300 for encompass functions will likely be upset or underwhelmed. It’s only a very costly approach of bettering upon what you would possibly have already got with two One SLs or Symfonisk image body audio system. It’s objectively higher and the perfect Sonos front room setup you may get, nevertheless it’ll price you.

Beta testing the way forward for music

There are moments when the Period 300 is genuinely spectacular. Whenever you land upon a thoughtfully produced spatial music monitor, there’s no different particular person speaker in the marketplace that appears like this. It may be mesmerizing and brain-deceiving. In the event you’re keen to spend over $400 to maintain chasing that feeling, and in the event you don’t thoughts ignoring all of the dud mixes, the Period 300 is a promising glimpse of the way forward for residence audio. And it takes Sonos’ residence theater powers to a brand new stage, which will likely be purpose sufficient for some folks to splurge on two of them.

The Period 300 shares the identical capacitive controls because the Period 100.

Stereo music isn’t going wherever — ever — however when every little thing clicks and Sonos’ new speaker is acting at its greatest, stereo can begin to sound a little bit peculiar by comparability. Even figuring out how a lot work lies forward for the music business to make this expertise extra constant, I’m beginning to grow to be a believer in spatial audio. The HomePod didn’t get me there, however the Period 300 has met the problem.

The Period 300 isn’t a must-buy but until you need the perfect you may get from Sonos’ residence theater soundbars.

That mentioned, I’m nonetheless feeling some inside turmoil concerning the course we’re heading. This new “period” of getting no selection however to subscribe to music streaming companies indefinitely to get pleasure from Atmos content material — you possibly can’t purchase spatial audio albums digitally, and the one bodily media that has it’s Blu-ray discs, which, come on — continues to strike me as unusual.

I’ve received reservations, positive, however I’m nonetheless going to stay with Sonos’ Period 300 speaker over the following a number of months and can revisit this assessment to see if the worth proposition modifications as extra deliberate Atmos mixes proceed to succeed in streaming companies.

However until you’re flush with money and wish absolutely the most out of your Sonos residence theater system, there’s no rush for most individuals to leap in proper on the outset.

Pictures by Chris Welch / The Verge

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