Sonos One vs One SL: are the extra features worth the price difference? I own both, here's what I think...

When it comes to weighing up the Sonos One vs One SL, consider what you need your speaker to do, says this Livingetc editor

a sonos speaker on books
(Image credit: Hugh Metcalf)

If you're considering buying a Sonos speaker, it's definitely worth comparing the Sonos One vs One SL before you buy. From a quick glance, they may seem like they offer the same proposition - they're pretty much identical when it comes to their good looks, and even their proposition when it comes to sound is even-footed. 

What it really boils down to is whether you're looking for the best smart speaker or you're just looking to add to your home's sound system, as the big difference between the two models is that the Sonos One has Alexa or Google Assistant built-in, the One SL doesn't. 

With only $20 between them, the answer might be obvious. Why not just pay that little bit extra for all that smart assistant compatibility? Well, below we outline potential reasons to opt for the One and the One SL, respectively.

What's the differences between the Sonos One and One SL?

While I could pull together a list of technical specifications for each of the speakers, when you look at them comparatively, you'll soon see they're exactly the same. Both speakers have the same identical 360-degree sound experience, which I'd categorize from personal use, as pretty much sublime. 

One thing to know about these Sonos speakers is that they're loud. No, not in a bad way - the sound itself is crystal clear and the bass powerful yet never muffling - when I say these speakers are loud, I mean you'll never find yourself wishing they went up another notch or two. For context, I live in a relatively small, open-plan home, and I'd never have to move the speaker from room to room if I wanted to listen to music in the kitchen when the speaker is in the living room. On the flip side, I once took my Sonos One and Sonos One SL to throw a party in a barn shed, and with one at either end of the hundred-meter-or-so building, it filled the space with sound effortlessly. 

Both are available in white or black (though there have been limited edition color runs at times in the past). The only visual difference between the two speakers is on top of the device. The Sonos One has a button to turn your smart assistant on (ie. allow it to start listening for commands), with a light that indicates when it's engaged. It's by far one of the best Alexa speakers you can buy. 

a sonos speaker on a desk

(Image credit: Hugh Metcalf)

What's the price difference between the Sonos One and One SL?

As I already mentioned, the price gap between the two speakers is quite low, but at the end of the day, that's $20 you could save to spend elsewhere if the voice assistant compatibility isn't required. 

When bought directly through Sonos, the One is priced at $219, while the One SL costs $199.

When would I buy a Sonos One SL over a Sonos One?

So why, you might be thinking, do I have both a Sonos One and a Sonos One SL? These Sonos systems are designed to be perfect to set up as a stereo pair, helping provide more directional sound when hooked up to your music or TV. In this case, you wouldn't need two speakers in the same space with competing smart assistant compatibility. In fact, it might be quite annoying if accidentally both turned on. In that case, save your $20. Basically, you're likely to only need a Sonos One SL if you're just trying to add to your home's sound setup, rather than shopping for a smart speaker, per se. 

On the note of music, both of these speakers work with Spotify Connect and Airplay 2, but with the Sonos One, you can also set your default music provider through your smart assistant (of which you'll need to choose between Alexa and Google Assistant). I use Alexa, which has Amazon Music, thankfully now free to use, set to its default music provider, if you ask Alexa to play a song. 

So which should I buy?

There are plenty of instances when the Sonos One smart-assistant capabilities are worth it. It allows you to adjust the volume remotely, for example, through Alexa or Google Assistant, which is ideal if you've put your phone down somewhere and need to turn down the music quickly. And like most smart speaker owners I know, I probably use my Sonos as a glorified egg timer for the kitchen, more than anything else.

If you already have a smart speaker in the room you're looking to add a new speaker to, the Sonos One allows you to streamline your tech, replacing the likes of your Amazon Echo for something that is, in reality, much better looking. 

However, the Sonos One has more limited smart-assistant capabilities in that respect, and won't be able to perform certain routines or Alexa skills, such as Drop Ins, Calling or Announcements. 

After using a Sonos One for a few years, I'd have to say the smart assistant function is the one weak link in this device. The integrated Alexa in my Sonos One has developed 'selective hearing', it's fair to say, which means I might not hang my hat on this device being my home's sole smart speaker going forward. 

However, in most instances, opting for the Sonos One over the One SL is probably the best idea for the sake of $20, unless you're buying it the One SL second Sonos speaker for your home. 

Hugh Metcalf
Deputy Editor

Hugh is the Deputy Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2022.