Amazon's new multi-room audio is a Sonos competitor — if you don't care about quality

Sonos Playbar
Sonos Playbar (Image credit: Android Central)

So Amazon Echo — or, more specifically, the OG Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show — can now do multi-room audio. That is, they can all play the same music at the same time, in different rooms.

That's a big deal. If you sell multiple speakers, you need to be able to do multi-room playback. Amazon's nearest direct competitor in this sort of thing — that'd be Google and Google Home — has done this for some time now.

So, too, has Sonos. But this needs to be made abundantly clear:

For as good as the Amazon Echo and Echo Show are, they're not Sonos (opens in new tab). They're not a Play:1, the least expensive of the Sonos stable at $199. And they're definitely not of the quality of the Play:3 ($299) or Play:5 ($499).

Start with the actual speaker hardware. The original Echo is decent, especially if you can get it at the current sub-$100 sale price. The Echo Show isn't awful either when it comes to audio. It fills a need in the kitchen, where things tend to be a little noisy a lot of the time.


But neither the OG Echo nor the Echo Show — or Google Home, for that matter — can hold a candle to the stock audio quality of the Play:1. (Which I also keep in the kitchen because — well, it doesn't matter why. It's not normal to have this much stuff in one place, but that's the hand I've been dealt.)

Three speakers, one obvious winner: Sonos.

And that's before you get into the whole Sonos TruePlay thing, which individually tunes each speaker for improved sound in whatever room it's in.

How do you make an already-great speaker even better? This is how.

That's something that neither Amazon nor Google currently do with their speakers.

Echo continues to grow by leaps and bounds, but Sonos is in another class of its own.

I haven't mentioned Apple's HomePod speaker yet. And that's because, save for SEO purposes, there's no real reason to worry about comparisons. You can't yet buy one. And it's not expected until later in the year anyway, so any mention until then is moot. Same goes for the Harmon Kardon Invoke, which will sport Microsoft's Cortana assistant. You can't buy it yet.

So yes, Sonos and Google are the only current "competitors" for Amazon's multi-room audio. But they're just not on the same playing field. Not by a long shot.

And that's something you need to keep in mind as you read headlines that pose Amazon's new multi-room as some sort of Sonos competitor. For one, it's way cheaper. But the sound quality from Sonos is exponentially better.

And in that sense, Amazon ain't competing at all.

Phil Nickinson
  • I hope you feel better getting that off your chest. Not sure why you are comparing a one trick pony of Sonos against the multi-purpose and more functional Echo and Google Home. So I think we all got it. If you want a whole house speaker with best quality pay $199 for each Sonos. Or if you want a product that has reasonable audio quality get Echo for $99 (on sale) or Google Home ($129). Need three rooms, that's $600 for Sonos and, um, er, wait, oh... I could just drop $300 for Echo's, give up a some sound quality and still get more functionality. And yes, I feel better getting that off my chest :)
  • Apparently the rumor is that Sonos is preparing to release a device in the next month or 2 that will give the speakers voice capabilities, which would be great because so far they don't play nice with Alexa. I love my Sonos speakers and agree that few of the smart home products can compare so it'll be of benefit to Sonos to get with the program.
  • Or get a Chromecast or Dot and hook them up to any speaker you want... Both are voice controllable (well the Chromecast is with the Home) with multiple room audio. The regular Echo or the Home was never meant be a Sonos competitor for Audio quality. A very Apples to Oranges comparison.
  • Or you could hook up an Echo dot to a quality stereo you already own and have something completely better then Sonos in every way for $50.
  • Exactly. I guess we are just comparing devices with a speaker built in but why not mention the dot paired with a quality bluetooth or pair of bookshelf speakers? You can get close to the price of a single Sonos speaker that way and still get everything else Alexa has to offer.
  • As somebody mentioned - combine an echo dot with a small and power efficient class D amp (like the S.M.S.L ones) and hook some good speakers to it and you'll get a much better sound quality for your money than you could get with Sonos.
  • I don't disagree with you at all, but between the Dot ($50), the amp ($70 for the one you mentioned), and the speakers (variable), how much are you saving over a $199 Play:1 or $279 Play:3 (which both have sound quality that is definitely more than acceptable for almost everyone)? I think a lot of people will consider the price difference worth it for the Sonos' ease of setup and better aesthetics.
  • Most people have Soundbars and stereo systems of sorts in their homes already. I have an LCR setup with my living room TV and an amp behind it. It got a chromecast audio. My Atlantic Tech Soundbar in my bedroom with the same amp got a CA. And I refurb Ed an old 50's console with the 2 channel version of the amp and have another CA there. Blankets my entire house. Didn't really go out and by anything specifically to use for whole home audio. Now if Echo does multi room better than Google, then I'll happily switch them out.
  • You left off heos. I'd say it's a competitor. Klipsch has launched them as well.
  • Except I have speakers that are better than Sonos. I can put an Echo Dot at my entertainment center. I can put another in my bedroom where I already have a speaker. So, I can use the multi room feature instead of Sonos AND care about sound quality. I get recommending a solution, but this reads a bit dramatic, laced with faux-superiority.
  • No mention of the obvious addition of Google Cast audio devices? They're easily connected to Google home and it's a proprietary standard with many manufacturers making great speakers! If you're comparing smart home assistants and connected speakers they might be relevant 🙂
  • Got to be honest Phil I get it, but I have one OG Echo and 3 dots and have just a tad bit more invested than a play 1. I have the Dots hooked to speakers I already own and frankly worth the trade off. I agree Sonos is better quality, but I'm good with okay. The bigger issue is easy for my 5yo Son to go into a room and yell "Alexa play Kids bop" at that point I have more issues than sounds Q.
  • Well if you connect the the Amazon Echo's to good bluetooth speakers like i did then the sound is amazing i those sony bluetooth gtkxb7 in each of four rooms and setup alexa for whole room streaming and the sound is excellent and it was easy to setup so to each its own
  • I've been trying to set up the Echo and Echo Dot as a group so I can play the same music in different rooms simultaneously. The app automatically closes when I try to name the group. Anybody got any ideas?
  • My android phone had that issue. iOS did just fine, The Android can see the built groups just fine, it just borked trying to enter a name. I bet they fix it soon. Might be device dependent. Mines a Pixel on Oreo. The web interface worked fine for setting it up as well. Actually seemed easier than on the phone(s). Couple of other things they need to 'fix'. Reports are that invoking a group playback drops any BT speaker connections the Echos have. That's not gonna fly. Another thing is that a device can only be in one group. Device 1 & 2 can be in group 1 and 3 & 4 can be in group 2. Group 2 can't be 1, 2, 3 & 4 in that case though. So you could do first floor, second floor, but not first floor, whole house.
  • Thanks, glad to hear I'm not the only one. I've got the Pixel XL with Oreo. Could be Oreo?
  • One thing Amazon just did was change their paid Prime Unlimted streaming plan to a single stream whereas before this week you could stream multple different tunes to individual Echos. So if you buy more than one echo for your house beware only one stream of Amazon unlimited at a time. A big negative for those of us who bought multiple devices thinking we could stream diffent tunes to each.
  • So what you're saying, Phil, is that Amazon needs to wise the heck up and make a high quality smart speaker? It blows my mind how these companies leave such obvious money on the table. Does Amazon not realize how integrated into everyone's life Alexa is now?
  • The biggest difference in sound quality is the source audio. Sonos uses a hifi source (flac is 2 xs the quality of a cd) while the echo uses amazon music (cd quality is 4xs better than an mp3). If you care about the way something sounds you can tell the difference between a flac file and an mp3 with a pair of 8 dollar earbuds. If you need to ask an inanimate object what the weather is gonna be like just carry your phone around. don't pay money for an mp3 service. youtube is free and sounds just as good
  • The source, the quality of the DAC (digital to analog converter) and the speakers are all important. FLAC is the exact equal of the source of the recording, the majority being CD or CD quality (or 1x CD quality). Since the most people cannot tell the difference between a 256bit MP3 and a CD or a golden ears level FLAC with $200 speakers or headphones the source is unlikely to be a huge problem for most and then only if listening to extraordinary good speakers or headphones. For most people it will come down to the quality of the speakers and you can plug any powered speakers into an Echo Dot.
  • Try using your Echo Dot's with decent quality powered speakers. I've got one Dot plugged into an Edifier R1280T, another Dot plugged into a KRK Rokit 6 studio monitor (temporarily) and will be ordering a either a couple of more R1280Ts or more likely another R1280T plus an Edifier R1750BT or an R1850 for the other. It doesn't sound bad for a $150 (Dot plus R1280) for $180 (Dot plus R1750BT) investment.
  • I love the title of this article-- "Amazon's new multi-room audio is a Sonos competitor — if you don't care about quality." Word. Once you turn up the bass and treble of a Sonos Play:1, there's no comparison... Only thing i've heard that's *possibly* better quality for its size is Definitive Technology's smallest Play-Fi speaker.