PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN
Jason Cipriani/CNN
PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN
CNN —  

Late last year, Sonos launched its first battery-powered and Bluetooth-equipped speaker, the $399 Sonos Move. The portable speaker was, and still is, unlike any other speaker the company has released. More recently, the company has added a second color, Lunar White, to the mix and released a software update that adds an extra hour of battery life to the previous 10-hour estimate.

At $399, the Move doesn’t come cheap, especially if you lump it into the Bluetooth speaker category. But that’s the wrong way of looking at the Move, as has become apparent after months of use and testing. Indeed, it’s a Bluetooth speaker, but that functionality takes a back seat to the overall experience we’ve come to expect from Sonos speakers.

Let’s dive in.

The looks

Jacob Krol/CNN

The Move, just shy of 10 inches tall and weighing in at 6.61 pounds, doesn’t fit the bill of a compact Bluetooth speaker. It has a handle on the back, making it easier to move from one room to another, but it’s not something you’re going to carry around with you at all times (although we’d be lying if we didn’t admit to carrying it around on our shoulder like a modern-day boom box, “Say Anything”-style, on occasion).

There are two color options: a black model that Sonos first launched the Move with last year, and a Lunar White model that launched at the end of July.

The pictures of the Lunar White Sonos Move don’t do it justice. To our eyes, the photos on the Sonos site make it look bright and susceptible to showing off every bit of dirt and grime that a speaker you’re carrying around with you will collect. However, immediately after opening the box, taking the Move out of the included carrying bag (that was a pleasant surprise) and seeing the speaker in person for the first time, we realized the color isn’t really white; it’s more of a very light shade of gray. Technically it’s white, but it’s not shockingly bright, and even though it will show more dirt than the black model, it’s still looking good after a couple weeks of use.

If you’ve used a One, a Beam or other Sonos products, you’ll recognize the array of buttons on the top of the housing. Like those on other Sonos devices, these buttons are touch-sensitive. You’ll know when your touch is recognized by the resulting tone. It’s easy enough to use, and it’s really great to see the same style here.

There are buttons for volume down/reverse, play/pause, volume up and forward. You have the option to turn the microphone on or off with just a tap, and there’s an LED indicator to tell you if it’s on. The top is also home to an array of far-field microphones used for voice control and True Sense technologies. The latter is how the Sonos Move can tune the audio for the room.

The back has a power button, the Sonos pairing button and a Bluetooth pairing button as well as a set of prongs near the bottom that connects to the charging base. The charging base is a slim ring with two prongs that match with the Move to power and charge it. It will take about three hours to get from close to 0% to a full charge of 100%. That’s decent, especially when you get around 11 hours of battery, but it’s certainly not fast-charging.

PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN
Jason Cipriani/CNN
PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN

Alternatively, you can use the USB-C port on the rear of the speaker to charge it. You’ll want to use a power adapter capable of 45W charging. Anything under 36W will not charge the Move, so if you’re trying to use the charger that came with your phone, it’s not going to work.

You can monitor the charging of the Move via a hidden LED indicator on the front. The light blinks orange as the battery gets near empty, then white while it’s charging. There is a Sonos logo on the front that is stark white, adding contrast to either color scheme.

A recent software update added an extra hour of battery life, upping the 10-hour estimate the Move launched with to 11 hours. Our subsequent testing has found that number to be accurate. It’s kind of nice to know that Sonos was able to optimize the speaker and battery life, and release a free update that added an extra hour. We won’t complain if Sonos finds a little more battery power hiding in the Move.

The speaker also has an IP rating of IP56, meaning it can withstand an occasional splash or even survive a few minutes in a rainstorm. But it’s not waterproof, so no dropping it in the pool, all right?

We’ve spent a couple weeks testing the Move next to a swimming pool, and even took it camping. Both environments have led to an accidental splash or two, along with a thunderstorm that came out of nowhere — but the Move is still going strong.

The sound

PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN
Jason Cipriani/CNN
PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN

Comparing the Move to a Bluetooth speaker from the likes of Bose or Ultimate Ears isn’t fair when it comes to sound quality and affordability. The Sonos Move works and sounds like any other Sonos speaker, only it’s portable. Its performance edges out the One but can’t come close to keeping pace with the Sonos Play:5.

The core difference within the speaker setup of the Move is that it has a downward-firing tweeter designed to push the sound in a multitude of directions. In comparison, the One has a front-firing speaker. Alongside the Move’s tweeter, you’ll find a woofer and two digital amplifiers. The sum of those parts produces a wide soundstage.

So how does it sound? Well, pretty darn good. We tried a multitude of songs in a range of genres and from different sources. A classic wall-of-sound example would be “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. The opening has a range of instruments from drums (including a heavy bass) mixed with lighter snares to saxophones, piano and guitar layered on top. Each of these elements came through clearly, notably with a bit of a stronger bass and mid-levels than the One. The vocals came across vibrantly as well, and we tested both the original and remastered versions from streaming services.

A poppier track like “Paper Rings” by Taylor Swift puts the vocals top and center across several ranges. You also have a crisp tambourine that lasts throughout and is mixed with real and electronic instruments. Listening to a happier track like “When I Kissed the Teacher” from the “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” soundtrack that focuses on higher tones, including heavier vocals and strings, is also an enjoyable experience on the Move.

Even internet radio from Spotify, Pandora, Beats 1 on Apple Music and Sirius XM was strong. We didn’t find any songs that didn’t sound good, and that’s a benefit with a Sonos experience. There is optimization going on behind the scenes that makes adjustments to tuning whenever you relocate the Move. Sonos calls this feature Trueplay, a proprietary technology that customizes the sound for the room in the background without you having to do a single thing.

The microphones built into the Sonos Move aren’t just there for voice control; they also analyze how the sound performs. It can adjust in real time to give you an optimal experience. Other Sonos speakers require you to walk around a room with the Sonos app open while a super annoying tone plays from the speaker. The app uses that sound to learn the room’s acoustics through the microphone on your phone and then tune the speaker accordingly. Whenever you move the speaker, you should go through the process again.

We’re thrilled that’s not the case with the Move.

More importantly, this version of Trueplay puts Sonos on the same level as Apple’s HomePod and other smart speakers that auto-analyze their surroundings. Hopefully this will arrive on other Sonos speakers, even the stationary ones, in the future.

The smarts

PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN
Jason Cipriani/CNN
PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN

Move is the first Sonos speaker to have Bluetooth inside. The custom-made Bluetooth antenna provides connectivity to your phone, tablet or computer. You simply press the pairing button on the back, go into Settings on your device and connect to the Move. Easy as that.

Once paired, you can use the connected device to stream music, podcasts or even videos, and the audio will be routed through the Move.

There is also wireless connectivity that is pretty wide-ranging. It’s the 802.11 b/g/n standard and supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. You should find that it connects just as well to your network, but what was surprising was how well it stayed connected to a Google Wi-Fi and Ubiquiti setup in our backyard. It was impressive, as we’ve had other smart devices like phones and tablets that didn’t get reception in the same area.

The Move fully integrates with your current Sonos setup. You can have it play the same music playing on a Sonos One or Beam — just hold down the play/pause button to have that speaker join the larger group.

This is handy when you switch the Move to Wi-Fi (this happens automatically when back in range) and easily lets you join the group.

Setup, choosing your voice assistant (Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant), controls and updates happen via the Sonos app for iOS and Android. It’s a painless process, taking maybe five minutes total. We also tested Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support, and both performed well. Just keep in mind these work only on Wi-Fi. Smart assistants are not supported on Bluetooth.

Bottom line

The Move performs well, and it should, because it’s a $399 speaker. Sure, you could spend $199 on a Sonos One and likely be very happy. For another $200, though, you’re getting a speaker that can move around your home, provide some ambiance during a BBQ on your back patio or keep the kids singing in unison while they run around the campsite. For some, the price difference is very much worth it.

We love being able to carry it with us to the garage, the extra bedroom or the porch. Forgoing the need to unplug a corded Sonos, plug it back in, wait for it to connect to Wi-Fi, then start playing music is incredibly convenient. The Move just keeps playing.

In that sense, it solves a pain point. It lasts a solid 11 hours, and the sound is just as powerful on the go as when it’s on the home base. It works with your current Sonos system, and it gives you the option to use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. You get a lot for the money, but let us be clear: Don’t buy the Move just to be used as a Bluetooth speaker. You’d be better off with a sub-$100 speaker.

But if you want the full Sonos experience, complete with all the connectivity and support that you can take anywhere, then the Move is worth it.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.