Sonos Roam SL - The new more affordable portable speaker

Video Transcript >>>

So Sonos have just announced the launch of their new Sonos Roam SL speaker - a variation of their compact Sonos Roam portable speaker launched last year in 2021. This new launch is very similar to what they did with the introduction of the Sonos One SL - a microphone-free alternative to the Sonos One Gen 2. So not a brand new speaker altogether then so what’s the difference?

Well the very short answer is that there are no microphones in this new Roam SL and the SL stands for “speechless” as the lack of mics mean there’s no voice control with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Other than that, pretty much everything else in terms of design and sound is exactly the same. Same build, same size and shape, same internals for sound performance, both are IP67 rated (waterproof up to 30 minutes in up to 1 m of water) and both offer the same battery life of 10 hours. Same connectivity with both WiFi and Bluetooth with AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and the Sonos app ecosystem, etc but you do lose some key features which I’ll cover in this video. Now if you’re new to Sonos and have just landed on this video you might want to delve a bit deeper on some of those features so i’d highly recommend watching our in-depth review of the Sonos Roam as this is exactly the same speaker so sound tests, durability tests are all there (including Lui taking it for a little swim).

Instead, in this video I’m going to tell you how this one change of dropping the mic brings about 4 important differences from the original Roam. And answer the 3 most commonly asked questions we get about the Roam.

Number 1 - Price

This is a pretty obvious one but needs to be highlighted, this new Sonos Roam SL comes in £20 cheaper than the Roam at £159 so it’s now the most affordable entry into the Sonos ecosystem. If voice control isn’t important to you and you're looking for the most affordable way to get into Sonos, then this SL version could be perfect for you. Also just to level with you guys, the original Roam did launch last year at £159 but Sonos increased the price of a few of their products later in 2021 which took the Roam up to its current price of £179. This SL version at £159 brings it back down to a more affordable price point and it’s sitting in a similar price point to the likes of the Bose Soundlink Flex at £149 and the JBL Flip 6 at £129 - other popular bluetooth speakers which don’t offer voice assistants.

Number 2 - No Auto-trueplay

Now this is one that’s going to require a bit of testing. To catch you up if you’re not sure, Trueplay tuning is Sonos’ own software which acoustically optimises the speaker to sound best in the space it’s in. With the majority of Sonos products, this is done manually in the Sonos app using test tones from the speakers and the microphones in an IOS device to detect the size and shape of your room and any furniture in the space. Trueplay will then tweak the EQ to best suit the space. Now a great thing is you can toggle this on and off to see the difference and I’d say 9 times out of 10 whenever we’ve tested it, there’s been a notable improvement in sound performance. Now as the Sonos Move and Sonos Roam have their own microphones built in, they have auto trueplay. This means that the speaker will detect when it’s in a new location and will automatically recalibrate within 15 seconds to be optimised for the space you’re in. As the Roam SL doesn’t have mics, it cannot support this feature. Now on the surface, this is a big negative for the SL and could lead to a poorer sound performance in different environments. HOWEVER, i think we need to do some tests to see how well auto trueplay works and whether it’s worth the extra £20. For auto trueplay to work you obviously need to ensure your mic is enabled on the Roam.

Right then guys, so from that test, after about 15-20 seconds, I think we all agreed that there was a slight improvement in the EQ. For example, when the Roam was placed inside the box, it remained boomy until after about 15 seconds and then it balanced out the bass. When we tried it in a true-to-life environment such as on a cluttered bookshelf, again after 15-20 seconds, we noticed a slight overall improvement to the EQ. After that, we tested the Roam in an open air outdoor environment and we couldn’t tell the difference. Off-camera, we tested it in lots of different environments and it was harder to tell when Auto-trueplay had taken effect as you are relying on your own ears rather than switching it off manually when you want to. But let me know what you guys find, how did auto trueplay work for you and where did it best perform?

Difference number 3 - No sound swap

Sound swap, if you're not aware, is a feature Sonos brought in new with the Sonos Roam and lets you send music from your Roam to any other Sonos speakers in your home. How this would work would be if you’re listening to a playlist out in the garden and then come back inside and want to carry on listening on a Sonos One in your kitchen, you simply press and hold the play/pause button and the music will swap over from the Roam to the One. Pretty handy feature and one I’ve actually found myself using quite a lot at home, from garden to kitchen or over the winter actually from the bathroom to the bedroom. The Roam SL doesn’t support this feature so you’d have to use the more traditional sonos methods of control with either the app, a native music app or voice. Worth noting if you think you’d make use of this feature much or if you wouldn’t miss it!

Difference 4 - No Voice Control

The final difference is the most obvious one, there is no voice control available with the Roam SL. Thanks to the inbuilt microphone array in the Roam, you can control your playback using either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant but only when you’re on WiFi. I feel like voice assistants are a bit like marmite these days, some people get a lot of use out of them - i personally use it all the time with my Roam and it’s a huge reason I recommend the Roam as a bathroom speaker as you can skip songs etc when you’re in the shower using your voice - BUT a lot of people are very skeptical about voice control. Either because they don’t see a need for it or because they are worried about people listening in. One thing I would just highlight is that you can completely cut the power to the mics in the Roam if you did want total privacy but of course, having no mics at all would remove that concern. I think this one is purely a personal preference and whether you want the option or not.

Now something I want to note is that, although the Roam has inbuilt microphone, it cannot be used for voice calls - for whatever reason this isn’t something Sonos have currently enabled so you’re not missing out there with the SL. I suppose there is the chance Sonos could enable this via a software update in the future but if it’s not been done by now, I’m not sure why they would add it at a later date.

 3 most common questions?

1. Can 2 Sonos Roam SLs be used as rears? At the time of filming, unfortunately not. As with the other portable speakers in the Sonos range, Sonos have removed the ability to use 2 x sonos roam SLs for surround rears to a sonos soundbar such as a Beam or Arc. This is something we’ve been wanting since the launch of the Roam and even earlier, the Move but to date it’s still not something they've enabled. You’ll need to opt for Sonos Fives, Sonos Ones or our preferred option - One SLs for a cheaper alternative.

2. Can you stereo pair 1 Sonos Roam and 1 Sonos Roam SL? Yes you can! When in WiFi mode, it’s possible to stereo pair a Roam with an SL so if you have a Roam at home and fancy creating a stereo pair, this would be a cheaper option for you. As you’ve got a Sonos Roam in there, you’ll also get voice assistance on this stereo pair too.

3. Can you add a Sonos Sub to the Roam SL? Unfortunately, just like the Roam, you cannot pair a sub with the Roam SL - Sonos have chosen to not enable this pairing as they feel having a stationary subwoofer paired up with a portable speaker would be a bit of an awkward setup. Given the size of the Roam and SL, we do tend to agree that this is a bit of an unnecessary addition and wouldn’t offer an ideal sound performance.

SHS Verdict

So hopefully that’s answered any questions you have and shown you the key differences between the Roam and Roam SL so final question is - why wouldn’t I buy the Roam SL? Personally, I think that the sound swap and particularly the voice control feature is worth an extra £20 for me as I use that a lot when I’m in the shower and want to control the music.

However, if you don’t need the voice control or sound swap, I can certainly appreciate that Sonos are giving people a more affordable option here and given the popularity of the Sonos One SL I have no doubt that this is going to be a popular alternative for many of you guys.

So what are your thoughts on the Roam SL? Is it a good new addition to the Sonos lineup? Will you be grabbing one or do you think the extra £20 is worth it for the original Roam? Let me know! General release of this product is March 15th and link in the description is below and flash a QR code up on the screen if you want to find out more. Thanks for watching, see you next time.