If you’re thinking of buying the new Sonos Era 300 — the company’s first smart speaker designed specifically for spatial audio with Dolby Atmos Music — and you’re not currently an Amazon Music subscriber, listen up: you definitely need to consider switching from whatever music streaming service you’re currently using.
Don’t worry, I’m not getting a kickback from Jeff Bezos for saying that. It’s a simple matter of compatibility and audio quality. And, unfortunately for services like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Tidal, none of those services can provide a speaker like the Era 300 with the same level of support as Amazon Music. At least, not for the immediate future.
Specifically, I’m talking about Dolby Atmos Music and lossless, hi-res audio. If you’re about to drop $449 on a Sonos Era 300 or $853 for a stereo pair of Era 300s, you deserve to get the most out of these speakers, and that means having access to both of these audio formats.
Dolby Atmos Music is arguably the most important format when it comes to the Era 300. The speaker’s six drivers have been arranged to project sound forward, upward, and to both sides — the same formula Sonos has used so successfully to produce an immersive audio experience on the Dolby Atmos-capable Sonos Arc soundbar.
When the Era 300 starts shipping to folks who have preordered the speaker on March 28, there will only be two streaming music services that can deliver Dolby Atmos Music tracks to the speaker: Amazon Music and Apple Music.
That immediately rules out Spotify, YouTube Music, and Tidal — even though Tidal has its own catalog of spatial audio tracks with Dolby Atmos Music. I have every reason to expect that Tidal’s spatial audio content eventually will be supported, but Sonos hasn’t given any indication of when that might be. What’s more remarkable is that Sonos’ own in-house subscription streaming music service, Sonos Radio HD, won’t have a Dolby Atmos Music channel ready for the retail launch of the Era 300 either, and the company hasn’t indicated when or if that will change.
But here’s the rub. While both Apple Music and Amazon Music will let you play Dolby Atmos tracks on an Era 300, only one of them can also stream lossless music to the speaker in both CD-quality and better-than-CD-quality hi-res audio, and it’s not Apple Music. Amazon Music is one of a few streaming services that can deliver hi-res audio via a Sonos system.
It’s not that Apple Music lacks lossless music — a huge chunk of its catalog is available in up to 24-bit/192kHz hi-res lossless audio. The problem is that you can’t access this quality tier from a Sonos system. Apple Music on Sonos (including the Era 300) is currently limited to what Sonos calls “standard quality audio” — the company’s terminology for digital audio that uses lossy, 16-bit compression. It may be possible to stream Apple Music to a Sonos speaker at CD quality when using AirPlay 2, but not when using the Sonos app.
Sonos says that it’s continuing to work with Apple on ways to expand listening options and it hopes to deliver support for lossless in the future, but there’s no specific timeline for that to happen.
If you aren’t currently signed up for either Apple or Amazon’s services, check out all of the differences in our Apple Music and Amazon Music explainers. At a high level, you should know that both services have similar catalog sizes of about 100 million tracks. Amazon Music Unlimited individual subscriptions cost $11 per month. That makes Apple Music a little cheaper at $10 per month unless you already have an Amazon Prime subscription, in which case Amazon Music Unlimited only costs $9 per month.
- Just wait until you hear lossless Dolby Atmos Music
- What is Amazon Music: everything you need to know
- Sonos’ new Era 100 and Era 300 wireless speakers go all-in on spatial audio and Bluetooth
- Bose Music Amplifier takes a direct shot at the Sonos Amp
- What is Tidal? The hi-fi streaming music service fully explained