Final Results: Sonos Roam Portable Smart Speaker

This compact speaker is versatile, is easy to use, and adds Bluetooth capability to your existing Sonos multiroom system

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sonos roam person beach
The Sonos Roam is the company's first truly portable smart speaker.

Portable speakers have always been the drugstore sunglasses of the audio world. They’re useful and fun, but they’re often an impulse buy, chosen as much for their low price and ability to fit in a beach bag as for their sound quality or special features.

The Sonos Roam, the first truly portable smart speaker from Sonos, delivers a lot more.

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It’s a full-blown multiroom speaker that can add Bluetooth pairing and other useful functions to your existing Sonos system.

At $169, it isn’t cheap, though it’s also not as expensive as other portable speakers in CR’s ratings. (See the $400 Ultimate Ears Hyperboom, for example.)

The 7-inch-long, 1-pound Roam is not quite as strong sonically as other larger (and pricier) Sonos speakers, either. According to our testers, the bass has decent impact but the midrange is a bit congested and the sound can get harsh at max volume.

But, as with Sonos’ other speakers, the Roam earns high marks for versatility and ease of use. And the audio quality does improve somewhat when two Roams are stereo paired.

Here’s a closer look at what we learned after putting the model through its paces, including some insights gleaned from real-world use of the speaker’s multiroom setup options.

At Home With the Roam

Setup is a breeze. The Sonos app already on my iPhone asked me if I wanted to add the new speaker to the Sonos system in my home, which consists of a stereo pair of Sonos One smart speakers in my kitchen and a Sonos Beam smart sound bar in the adjacent living room.

With that one click, I was ready to start playing music from the Sonos app, where I could choose from a selection of streaming services, including my favorites, Tidal and Spotify. Because this was back on opening day, I picked a Baseball’s Greatest Hits playlist with everything from Barbara Manning’s “Dock Ellis” (about the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who said he threw a no-hitter on LSD) to Steve Goodman’s “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request.

The Sonos app also offers Sonos Radio, so I listened to an entertaining deep dive into the roots of reggae featuring Pat Kelly’s version of John Denver’s country hit “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”

However, the next day, when I tried to listen to the Roam again, it was as though the speaker had amnesia. The device was nowhere to be found on my Sonos mobile app, and pushing all the buttons on the device elicited no response.

A call to Sonos got to the bottom of the problem. Like the latest flagship smartphones from Apple and Samsung, the Roam ships with a charging cable but no brick. Absent any instructions on the printed quick start guide, I grabbed an Apple phone charger I had handy and plugged the Roam in.

It turns out the 5-watt charger lacked the juice to charge the Roam, so the speaker simply ran out of power. I bought a 12-watt Apple iPad charger (a 10-watt charger is the minimum requirement), and the Roam was soon alive again.

Since my initial evaluation, Sonos has updated its website to make the Roam’s charging requirements clear to consumers. Sonos also has a $49 dedicated wireless charger for the Roam, which we didn’t try.

With the Roam at full charge, I evaluated the Sound Swap function, which allows the Roam to “hand off” the music it’s playing to nearby Sonos WiFi speakers, and found it to be quite fun. If you start a song playing on the Roam and press the Play/Pause button on the end of the speaker, you’ll hear (assuming the music volume is low enough) a boop tone, followed by a brief sound effect reminiscent of a “Star Trek” transporter. Moments later, the Roam turns off and your music pops up on the nearest Sonos speaker in your system.

Keep in mind that the system’s idea of the nearest speaker may be different from yours. While standing within 6 feet of the Sonos Ones in my kitchen, I pushed the button and “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” started playing on the Sonos Beam sound bar in my living room.

It turns out that a wall prevented me from seeing that the Beam was actually the closest speaker. And because WiFi ignores plaster and lath, it activated the sound bar in the next room instead of the Ones I was staring at. Holding the button down again returned my music to the Roam.

Sound Swap felt like a cool trick, but moving my music from speaker to speaker is something I could accomplish—perhaps even more easily, albeit less magically—with a couple of taps in the Sonos app.

Less flashy but far more useful is the Roam’s ability to share its Bluetooth pairing with the rest of my Sonos system. Most Sonos speakers—the $400 Move being the single exception—are house pets, so to speak, and run on WiFi only. But Bluetooth is a valuable feature because of the way it allows you to venture beyond the range of your home network, to the park as well as the patio. Bluetooth can be useful at home, too, allowing guests to share playlists from their phones, for example.

The Roam’s Bluetooth pairing is very straightforward—press the on/off button and wait for a tone. The Roam popped up in the Bluetooth settings in my iPhone and I was ready to go.

Adding Bluetooth to the rest of the system wasn’t much more difficult. I just grouped the Roam with the Ones in my system via the mobile app while playing Bluetooth content. A few seconds later, I was able to fill my kitchen with baseball play-by-play from the ESPN app or concert clips from YouTube.

Technically, you need to keep the Bluetooth content playing on the Roam to continue the streaming to your other Sonos speakers, but there’s an easy work-around if you’d rather silence it—just turn the volume all the way down on either the Sonos app or the Roam itself.

Smart and Splashproof?

Like its bigger siblings, the Move and the Sonos One, the Roam is a platform-agnostic smart speaker that responds to voice commands. You can choose among Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Music through AirPlay. Sonos initially noted that the Google Assistant can be a bit of a battery hog on the Roam, but a software update has solved that problem, the company says.

The smart speaker functionality on the Roam was easy and useful. If you’re barbecuing in your yard and the playlist serves up your favorite song, you can just tell Alexa to turn it up.

If the Roam selects a cut you’d rather not hear, you can skip to the next track by voice command without washing the raw tandoori chicken from your hands.

Away from the house, the Roam performed like a wireless speaker should. The Bluetooth pairing was a piece of genoise, and the connection was robust and reliable.

Sonos claims the Roam is IP67 waterproof, which means it can be submerged up to a meter for 30 minutes. We don’t submit smart speakers to the pressurized dunk tank in our Yonkers, N.Y., labs, but I couldn’t resist a more casual assessment.

And so I streamed “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles (“I’d like to be, under the sea . . .”) and submerged the Roam in a large metal bowl while the music continued to play, and during the bassier passages, the speaker literally spat water back at me. I used the speaker shortly after the admittedly shallow dunk and after a day of drying, and it still worked fine and didn’t, at least to my ears, sound any different.

Should You Buy One?

Despite the teething pains with the charger, there was a lot to like about the Roam. While it’s a bit expensive for a portable, it did everything you’d expect.

While the sound quality falls short of the company’s larger and more expensive models, it’s competitive with other portable smart speakers, such as the Ultimate Ears Megablast, which is larger and plays louder but costs $300, and the similarly priced JBL Link Portable. So, if you’re simply shopping for a portable wireless speaker that doesn’t look and feel like a toy, the Sonos Roam is certainly worth a look.

As our testers note, the model lacks speakerphone capability and input and output jacks. The monochrome volume and muting controls are a little hard to see, too. But those are relatively minor complaints.

In the end, the Roam is really made for Sonos fans. The easy integration with my existing Sonos speakers let me learn about reggae while working the grill.

But upgrading my system with Bluetooth, too? That felt like a real bonus. I found myself enjoying YouTube clips through the Roam instead of settling for the tinny presentation of my smartphone. So if you have a Sonos system, this little speaker adds some useful functionality, and can help bring your music outdoors, even if it doesn’t quite match your favorite sunglasses.

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

Allen St. John

I believe that technology has the power to change our lives—for better or for worse. That's why I’ve spent my life reporting and writing about it for outlets of all sorts, from newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) to magazines (Popular Mechanics and Rolling Stone) and even my own books ("Newton’s Football" and "Clapton’s Guitar"). For me, there's no better way to spend a day than talking to a bunch of experts about an important subject and then writing a story that'll help others be smarter and better informed.