Amazon wants to manage your digital world through its Echo speaker and Alexa, a virtual assistant who can help control your smart home and technology. Sonos is happy to stream high quality music around your home via its successful and proprietary system.
Those two competing goals somehow seem to have crafted two products that compete on price, so let’s see which way you might want to lean when it comes to kicking your tunes around the home.
This comparison takes into account the features, and the pros and cons of both devices and services to see which could be best for you.
Bottom Line Up Front: I prefer the Amazon Echo for pure home automation. With the latest update, Echo now supports Sonos, so you should start with the Echo (see how it goes) and then add the Sonos if you are a true audiophile.
Contents (Jump to)
Key Features of Both Systems
Home Intelligence: Amazon Echo was a left field 2014 launch from a company more used to e-readers, tablets and the botched Amazon Fire smartphone. Here was something new to merge the growing popularity of smart homes and streaming audio.
It got a wider launch in summer 2015, and is now proving popular as a home interactivity solution that is growing in features and intelligence with every firmware update.
Design: The Echo consists of two speakers in a tall, slightly skinny tube. You can play music from your smartphone or other device through them, for a hassle free blast of your favorite tunes.
Voice Commands: Around the edge is an array of seven microphones to monitor your voice control commands.
Via your WiFi connection and Amazon’s cloud services, you can access Alexa, a virtual voice assistant who can help out with music playing requests, local weather, and increasingly complex input as her intelligence is regularly updated.
Technology (This, Then, That): Using natural language processing, which won’t work if you Internet is down, she can respond to your questions, and commands for smart home devices using If This, Then That syntax. Regular updates add more features, so check the Echo site for the latest improvements.
Sonos Play 1
The Base Model: The Sonos Play 1 is the budget model in Sonos’ wide-ranging line of wireless speakers.
As with smart home gadgets, many people have found themselves picking up one Sonos for the living room, another for the bedroom, and expanding their collection, with different models appropriate for each location. Together they can tie into a true multi-room audio system.
High Quality Audio: Focused on those who want a high sound quality listening experience, users can get two Play 1s for a stereo experience, or just enjoy the music from a single unit.
The smallest member of the Sonos family, each unit offers a pair speakers, one tweeter and one mid-range, powered by two dedicated digital amplifiers.
Sounds Better Than You Think: The mid-range driver offers plenty of cone movement for a bigger sound, and while you’ll soon want a pair for the stereo experience, hearing one on its own is a pretty impressive experience.
App Compatible: The Sonos app works well on iOS and Android and Sonos is compatible with the majority of streaming services.
Pros and Cons to Consider
- Plays Well With Others: The Amazon Echo is something of an experiment for Amazon. Therefore, there are lots of updates to help flesh out what was a rather skinny feature set at launch. Recent updates for the Echo include support for smart home technologies including Philips Hue lighting, Belkin Wemo devices and a selection of hubs including Insteon, SmartThings and Wink.
- Best for Casual Listing: If you just want to listen to music, or radio, it does a fine job, but the device is not really in the prosumer stereo market, so is more for casual listening. Still, if you do buy an Echo, then you are going on a learning and rewarding journey with Alexa.
- Helps People With Mobility Issues: A recent feature allows you to set up contacts, so you can tell it to “ask a buddy” and it will get in touch with people you need to make requests of. This is one of the Echo’s most praised features, it can let people with mobility issues control smart home gear and get in touch with people to help out, which has to be seen as a great positive.
- You May Want the Extra Remote: On the negative side, if you’re out of range of the microphones, or in another room, you will need the optional extra remote control to talk to Alexa.
- Loud Music Muffles Alexa: Also if loud music is playing, it will be hard for the Echo to hear your pleas to turn it down.
- Lots of Connectivity Options: The Sonos Play 1 comes with a Ethernet port so you can plug it directly into your network, removing the need for a wireless connection. Options includes the Bridge or Boost radio units to link to more speakers around the home.
- Can Scale as You Go: And then you can get started on the Sonos Soundbar, the bigger Sonos Play:3 and the higher end Sonos Play:5 speakers as the units magically multiply around your home. The streaming technology is awesome and the quality of sound is very impressive, as you’d expect for the prices.
- Serious Audio: As a single unit solution, the Play:1 is a mighty effort of design that looks great around the home, delivering audio way beyond its diminutive size.
Comparison – At a Glance
|Specs||Amazon Echo||Sonos 1|
|Dimensions||3.27” x 3.27” x 9.25”, 1.68lb
|4.7” X 4.7” X 6.4”, 4.1lb|
|Color options||Black||Black or White
|OS support||Fire OS, iOS, Android
|iOS, Android, PC, Mac|
|Speakers||1 x 2.5-inch woofer
1 x 2-inch tweeter
|1 x tweeter
1 x 3.5-inch mid-range
|MSRP||(see here for cheapest)||(see here for cheapest)|
|WiFi||Bluetooth, dual-band, dual-antenna (MIMO) 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi
| WiFi, Ethernet
Other Smart Speaker Options to Consider
I never like to just evaluate two devices in a proverbial vacuum. The Echo and Sonos Play are not the only options to consider. I’ve covered some of the competition elsewhere, so I’ll provide some highlights on these smart speakers below:
Amazon Echo Dot: If you are an audiophile, you probably won’t like the lessened sound quality here. HOWEVER, I like pairing the Echo Dot (for control) with the Sonos Play (for optimal sound). Unless you really need the extra features or want the optionality of the full Echo unit, the Dot is a great pairing companion. You can read more about the Dot here, or you can see the latest pricing on Amazon here.
Apple HomePod: The HomePod is yet to be released (pending early 2018), but you may want to hold off if you love Apple products and want to integrate seamlessly with your other Apple products. However – knowing Apple – expect to pay a bit of a premium for this.
Google Home: If you are more of an “Android person”, you may want to check out the Google Home in lieu of the Echo. It’s not quite as smart (in my opinion) as the Echo, but it does have many integrations with cheaper smart home devices and systems. In terms of audio quality, I prefer the Google Home Max over the Echo devices as it offers an integrated speaker with dual excursion sub-woofers and dedicated tweeters. Additionally: You can check out the Google Home Mini here as a more affordable alternative to the Echo Dot.
Final Recommendation – Which Would I Go With?
Both of these devices require mains power, but can otherwise be used free of wires for a less cluttered musical experience. When it comes to music, the Sonos Play:1 is far ahead of the Amazon Echo in terms of clarity and volume.
Its dedicated app is also a well-crafted piece of software focused on delivering that music, or radio to any Sonos device in the home. For audiophiles, the Sonos Play 1 is the better choice.
But, the Echo is a mad professor’s lab in miniature, digital form, and the smart home lover will appreciate all it can offer. Those who like their Siri or Cortana on a smartphone will also enjoy Alexa’s growing utility, Alexa app ecosystem, and experience, making this a natural choice.
For those looking for pure home automation and integration, the Amazon Echo is a better solution
Unfortunately Echo doesn’t support Sonos, and since Sonos is basically a glorified speaker, they appeal to two different use cases. So if you want your music to sound good, and enjoy smart home technology you’ll probably end up buying both.
UPDATE: Thanks to a tip from reader: The Echo now supports Sonos, so you really can’t go wrong by choosing the Echo. Not to mention, Amazon is also selling refurbished Echo’s at a very attractive price here.