Spatial Audio on the Sonos Era 300 Makes You Want to Crawl Inside a Song and Live There

Spatial Audio on the Sonos Era 300 Makes You Want to Crawl Inside a Song and Live There

Every now and then, there’s a technology that comes around and makes me excited that I get to be a technology journalist at the same time as something so monumental. In my opinion, spatial audio is one of those big changes. That’s why I was really looking forward to the Sonos Era 300, as it’s one of the first really accessible speakers to listen to this new extra dimension of music out loud.

But, there is a difference between being a good idea in theory, and genuinely being the start of a revolution. Having now spent a couple of weeks with the Sonos Era 300, here are my thoughts.

Sonos Era 300

While Sonos speakers always used to have smaller, medium and large options in the Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5, the Play:3 was retired years ago, when the naming convention changed to Sonos One and Sonos Five. I still use my original Play:3s, because they’re still great, and I’m glad that the medium speaker is back (I’m also vibrating with excitement that, like the Play:3 and Play:5, the future Era 500 will be the Era 300, but more). That said, though, aside from being the medium, and more of an angled shape, the Era 300 is a brand-new speaker, redesigned from the ground up.

The thing that makes the Era 300 special is that it’s tuned for Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos for Music, so it gives you that extra third dimension of music that goes beyond stereo, to better surround you with sound. When I was in Santa Barbara for the launch of the new Era range, I got to listen to music producers talk about why spatial audio is the next big frontier for music, and even though it’s something I’ve been excited about for years, hearing the enthusiasm from these producers took that anticipation to the next level.

Aside from that, the main difference from the features available in, say, the Sonos One is that it’s got Bluetooth and USB-C, and it doesn’t have an ethernet port.

Specs at a glance

  • Tweeters: 4
  • Woofers: 2
  • Microphones: Far field microphone array
  • Amplifier: 6 Class-D digital amplifiers
  • Dolby Atmos: Yes
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax
  • Bluetooth: 5.0
  • USB-C: Yes, to connect to USB-C accessories, including the Sonos Line-In Adapter (to connect to record and CD players) and Sonos Combo Adapter (for ethernet)
  • Dimensions: 160mm H x 260mm W x 185mm D
  • Weight: 4.42kg
  • Colours: black or white.

Does it sound good?

This is really the key thing. And I’m pleased to say that yes, it does. The bass is solidly present, but not overwhelming, high notes are given room to breathe, and the immersion from Dolby Atmos Music is breathtaking at times.

None of my usual headphone and speaker testing songs are mixed in Atmos, which is a thing for a lot of music, it’s going to take a while for everything to be mixed in Atmos. But Chasing Twisters by Delta Rae sounds beautiful. The bass is strong and present without being overwhelming. The vocals sound smooth, everything has room to breathe, and it came as close to reproducing the little “growl” on the second pre-chorus as I’ve seen from a sub-$1,000 speaker.

Full Heart Fancy by Lucky Chops also is only in stereo, but it still has an extra sense of space because of the waveforms, six drivers, four tweeters and two woofers in the Era 300. The horn section can really soar without being made muddy or held back by the bass, but the bass is still strong enough to make its presence known.

Simmer by Hayley Williams is a song with a lot of details that I sometimes find get lost on speakers that have dodgy tuning. But on the Era 300, the driving and intricate drums sound clear, and the bass guitar is tangible, whereas I sometimes find the bass guitar can be something you feel more than hear. You can also really feel the big deep breath and sigh at the start of the song, you can almost see the way the breath moves in her chest. This is a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately, mostly on my Sonos Move speaker that I have in the bedroom, and the experience of listening to it on the Era 300 is different. It’s like it’s a bit more unpacked so you can tune into each little detail and section it off as you wish to focus on each instrument, whereas on the Move it sounds a bit squished together in mono.

I’m still working out my go-to songs for testing out Spatial and Atmos. But one song that I keep coming back to is A Concert Six Months From Now by Finneas. It uses the effect to gently enclose you in the sound of the crowd at the start and then feels like it escorts the listener into the studio to sit at his feet as the guitar washes over you. All of it is so crisp, clear and emotional. I’ve now listened to it on all the Atmos and Spatial speakers and headphones I have, and the effect on the Era 300 is up there with the best Spatial headphones I’ve got, and is predictably leagues ahead of the soundbars, which are more tuned for big movie moments than the little breaths and touches of the acoustic guitar you want from a song like this.

Obviously, given my wife’s name is Karma, I also have to include Karma by Taylor Swift. Again, here the effect isn’t so much used in a noticeable way, but just to separate out the instruments and open up the synth to envelop you more. There’s a lot going on in the song, but mixed in Atmos everything has its own spot, so you can better pick out the details.

Is Spatial Audio/Dolby Atmos for music all it’s cracked up to be?

Top view of the Sonos Era 300
The Sonos Era 300 achieves the spatial effect by putting waveforms in the speaker, as well as having an upward firing section and a pinched shape. Image: Alice Clarke

Yes. Yes, it is. The way to think about it is that mono sound (one channel, one speaker) is like seeing photo of a painting in an exhibition, taken on an old phone: you can see what the picture looked like, and you get the gist, but you’re missing a lot of the details. Stereo (two channels, usually two speakers or a pair of headphones) is like a video of the painting that also gives you a bit of a tour of the room in the gallery it’s in: you can see more details, and you get a better sense of the context of the work. Object-based audio like Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio (multiple channels with audio coming from in front, beside, above and behind you, or some simulated version thereof) is like being in the gallery: You can see the texture of the canvas, the thickness of the brush strokes, you can see that it’s part of a series and where it fits to get the context of the other paintings in their place.

It’s just an extra dimension that gets you closer to the work, and gives each instrument more room to breathe and its own space in the room. As more producers get a chance to play with it, and more artists see the potential (and more people are able to listen to it at home, so record companies see the extra mixing as a worthy investment), you’ll start seeing more artists playing with spatial effects, much like how some songs have stereo effects.

At the time of reviewing, Amazon Music is the only source for Dolby Atmos available on the Era 300. But Apple Music Spatial Audio will be available at launch. Presumably there will also be more streaming services coming soon.

Is the Sonos Era 300 good for movies and gaming?

This is the new part. My second Sonos Era 300 was delayed in the mail, so I’m only now able to share with you my thoughts.

After spending two weeks with the Era 300s as rears on a surround system, I am utterly impressed, I love them, they have ruined my wife for any non-spatial audio music, but I’m not sure I can fully recommend them.

On Dolby Atmos content, they sound fantastic: Immersive, rich, and gorgeous. On 5.1 content, they outperform my old Bose 650 Lifestyle unit by a long way. It has us considering upgrading our Netflix account to be able to get the good audio (or just dropping Netflix and only using services that have Atmos on tiers under $20 a month). Using them in the full set-up with two Era 300s, an Arc and two Subs, we’ve found ourselves listening to music in the evenings more than we did before. Previously we were all TV all the time, and now we’re branching out. However, part of the reason why we’re listening to more music and wanting to watch more Atmos content is that I’m pretty underwhelmed by stereo and 2.1 content on this set-up.

Compared to the Bose Lifestyle 650, watching stereo content on the Sonos set-up feels like a downgrade. The engineers need to work on improving this, or give users the option to use rears slightly in stereo situations to beef it up.

Also, on Xbox Series X, there is a very noticeable half-second audio delay, which takes away from any Atmos benefit. To be fair, I don’t have the delay issue with PlayStation 5, so I’m not sure if the problem originates from the Xbox, the TV or the speakers, but I did not have this problem on the Bose 650, nor do I have it on headphones.

On PS5, the addition of Atmos is giving me a big advantage in Fortnite, and it sounds great. Given that this set-up will set you back roughly $5,600, unless you already have half the components, I’d wait until some tuning updates are pushed before upgrading.

Is the Sonos Era 300 worth $749 and should I immediately get up and sprint to my nearest electronics store to buy one?

Sonos Era 300 top view closer
Look at the beautiful new touch controls that I didn’t even get to mention. They’re glorious. Never skip songs while you’re trying to change the volume again. Image: Alice Clarke

This is kind of a hard question, because the Sonos Five is $700, which is a larger and louder speaker, and also I don’t know what your budget, home, or listening habits are like.

But I will say that to me, $749 is a bargain for a speaker this good, with this many features. I would choose this over the Sonos Five. This is a truly special speaker, and testing it has been such a pleasure.

Dolby Atmos for Music and Spatial Audio are so new that it’s going to take a while for there to be a huge catalogue of music to listen to that fully takes advantage of the technology. So, casual listeners probably aren’t going to get as much out of the Era 300 as music lovers and audio nerds. But given the way spatial makes it possible for you to crawl inside a song and live there, I absolutely love it.

In short, if you love music, and your budget stretches this far, I wholeheartedly recommend the Sonos Era 300 if you’re an Amazon Music or Apple Music subscriber.

Where to buy the Sonos Era 300?

Sonos $749 | The Good Guys $749 | JB Hi-Fi $749

This article has been updated since it was first published.

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