The Amazon Echo smart speaker in my kitchen frequently comes in handy. I use it to get weather and traffic reports and find answers to my son's schoolwork questions, and it's a great hands-free cooking timer. But I rarely use it for listening to music even though that's the main reason I bought it.

That's because the Echo, like other smart speakers, isn't so hot at delivering satisfying sound. At best, the smart speakers CR has tested have earned only a Good for sound quality. 

So we were excited when Sonos announced its first smart speaker, the Sonos One, this week. We recommend several Sonos models in our our wireless speaker ratings, including the Play:1, which the Sonos One closely resembles cosmetically and in terms of price. (Each costs $199.) The Play:1 earned a Very Good score for sound quality in our tests; the Play:5 ($500) remains our top-rated wireless speaker. (Read our preview of the Sonos One, which includes an overview of the new smart speaker's features.)

We've recently ran two Sonos One speakers through some listening tests in our labs, comparing them to the Play:1. Do the Sonos One's smarts come at the expense of sound?

Keep in mind that these early impressions are based on two preproduction models provided by Sonos and that the speaker software was still in beta. Here's what we learned.

Sound Check

Right off the bat, it's clear that the Sonos Ones have the same sonic signature—the same tonal characteristics or timbre—as the Play:1 speakers. In other words, they sound very similar. For example, the bass has good impact but it doesn't get very deep, which isn't surprising given that the speaker lacks a real woofer. The midrange is even and the highs appear to be extended, though a bit on the lean side.

This fits with our impression of the Play:1. And when we plotted the frequency response curves of the Sonos One against the Play:1, they were nearly identical.

For this demo, we didn't use Sonos' Trueplay tuning software, which can optimize the speaker for the space in a room. We will check that feature during our testing. (Our official testing and scoring won't be done with these preproduction models but with models we buy at retail.)

The Sonos One software was a bit buggy—to be expected, given its beta status—but after some technical support from Sonos, we were able to get the two Sonos One speakers to pair in a stereo configuration. As with the Play:1 speakers, the soundstage of the paired Sonos Ones opens up with a sense of real stereo separation. Overall, the sound is more detailed, complex, and open. Again—just like the Play:1.

Bottom Line

Based on our initial observations of the preproduction models, we think the Sonos One could be a great choice if you want a smart speaker that can do music justice. It could very well be the best-sounding smart speaker we've tested so far.

The market for better-sounding smart speakers will likely heat up in the next few months with the arrival of the Google Home Max, $399, and the Apple HomePod, $349. Google and Apple have promised speakers with superior sound quality. But if those smart speakers don't sound appreciably better, the less expensive Sonos One will become a compelling choice.