10 min read

Sonos Sub Mini

Sonos Sub Mini

A few years ago, I wrote about buying into a Sonos 'home theatre' system with the Sonos Arc and 2x Sonos One as surround speakers.

Back then, I commented how I originally turned the bass down on the system as it surprisingly felt a bit much, but over that time I had actually increased the bass a little above default and tuned things a bit more to my liking. That, plus better placement on proper stands, the surround speakers - lead to an overall great sound experience.

Over time, I wondered about the potential improvement to my system I could get by adding a subwoofer. For the longest time, Sonos offered the Sonos Sub. At £799 RRP (£639 currently on sale), it always felt like quite a lot of money to address a problem I didn't think I had. The Arc's RRP is just £100 more than the Sub's RRP - and I couldn't imagine the sub bringing anywhere close to the same value as the Arc in terms of impact.

In the small space I watch TV in, the Arc and surrounds felt like they offered totally acceptable bass.

Additionally, I thought, even if I was fine with paying for the £640-799 for the Sonos Sub - I worried a lot about using a large-ish subwoofer in my apartment. I don't want to annoy my neighbours. My apartment is very well sound isolated from all sides, but there are limits to that.

Nonetheless, the most common recommendation for Sonos soundbar users across the web was often to buy a subwoofer before surround speakers. This to me always seemed crazy, because to me the surround speakers offer so much. I love the immersive impact of surround and spatial audio. Relying on the virtual surround effects from soundbars never felt satisfactory for me.

So a few things ultimately prevented me from ever making that final upgrade to my setup:

  • Price
  • Size of the subwoofer for my very small space being overkill
  • I didn't feel like I needed more bass, I was happy with what I had.

Returning to that recommendation though, why do people recommend the subwoofer so frequently? It's not necessarily all about adding more bass, although that is a big part of it for many depending on their room size, it's about taking away responsibilities from the rest of your system.

The Sonos Arc is a sizeable soundbar, it has 11 speakers and whilst there are some very big soundbars out there, it is definitely on the larger end of the market. The surround speakers, Sonos Ones, have just two speakers - a woofer and a tweeter. These speakers are optimised largely for the mid and high audio frequencies, but they have to handle the low (bass) frequencies as well - and this can impact the clarity, accuracy and volume of the higher frequencies.

This was the most convincing argument to me, offloading the bass from the Sonos Arc and Sonos Ones so that those speakers could be better at what they're best at. It was an argument convincing enough for me that I did begin to think I might buy a Sonos Sub if I saw one at a more acceptable price (new in sale or maybe even used). My logic would be that I would just turn down the sub if it was too much for my small space.

Rumours had been floating around for a while though of a potential new product: a smaller, less expensive subwoofer. Initially I wasn't quite sure if these were rumours that had originated from wishful thinking, as my concerns about buying a Sonos Sub above were far from unique. It was a somewhat common predicament: the Sub is too expensive, too big and probably too much for some use cases.

Sub Mini

But the rumours began to solidify and then the leaks came that practically confirmed it. All we had to do was wait for the price and hope it was reasonable. It came, and was priced at £429 RRP - nearly half the RRP of the Sonos Sub. Great!

But, was it a good product? Reviews seemed to confirm it as so. It's been highly rated and well received as filling a gap in the Sonos product line. Reviews noted that compared to the big boy Sub, it offered much better value, with some suggesting depending on your room size - you're getting 75-80% of the impact of the big subwoofer at around 50% of the cost. Not a bad trade off.

In fact, some noted due to the Sub Mini's sealed design it could be slightly better for music over the main subwoofer. On paper, this felt like it was ticking all the boxes. £429 was probably more than I wanted to pay, but in the world of Sonos - a more premium brand - it seemed well priced.

I didn't buy one on release, it wasn't a priority around the time it came out, and I still placed the subwoofer upgrade in the category of 'nice to have, still a bit worried about annoying neighbours'.

18 months later

18 months later, and after a renewed interest in improving my home AV experience, I saw the Sub Mini on sale for £339, thankfully this sale extended to Amazon as I had around £100 in gift card balance, bringing the cost down to around £239.

That entered the territory of "Let's give it a try", I thought I could return it if it wasn't practical or worth it. It arrived this past weekend and I've had a couple of days with it and tested it in a few scenarios, placements and have been tweaking my system's EQ (after another TruePlay recalibration) to balance the system to how I like it.


Sonos media shot

My first impressions were of the physical device, I think it looks nice. I'm very glad that it's a matte plastic finish, instead of the glossy plastic finish of the larger Sonos Sub, as that was also a mark against me ever buying that. I think glossy plastic ages poorly and often doesn't look great. Plus, all the rest of my Sonos devices are matte plastic. I bought it in black, though the white one looks great too if that's your aesthetic.

Size wise, it's about what I expected is easy to find places to put it. It's not a small device, but it definitely feels pretty compact for a subwoofer. Setting it up was, as is typical for Sonos, quick and easy.

My first test was of course to test how loud and impactful the bass could be. Cranking the volume of the sub up to maximum. It is definitely more than enough for the room I have it in, I don't need to turn the sub volume up anymore than above the default and it can get a lot louder than that. I didn't expect it not to be enough for my room, but still - good to know that when I do move - if it is into a larger room I have plenty of headroom to fill that space.

Thanks to the force cancelling design of the sub, there's no vibrations or rattles at high volume - and testing this out with a glass of water on top of the sub showed only very minor vibrations.

I tested it with music first - and it of course depends on the music you're listening to, some tracks there isn't a significant difference, but others it's immediately noticeable and adds a fullness to the sound. Bass heavy tracks are a lot of fun.

Next test was a few films/tv shows. Blade Runner 2049 has brilliant sound design and the opening is a nice test for a subwoofer. The impact was apparent immediately, even with everything on a relatively low volume, I could feel a hint of those low frequencies in my chest. I'm deliberately saving watching Blade Runner 2049 again so I can better experience what is one of my favourite films from an AV perspective with the upgraded sound system.

Having that impactful bass is great and a nice upgrade in the moments it becomes apparent, but I'd say the biggest upgrade to the system is being able to tune the sound system to even closer to my liking. I can have more bass without drowning out the mids and highs, which in turn causes me to turn the volume up and down a a bit more in films and TV shows.

That I've been able to balance everything out a lot better, I can run on a lower volume and still have a really immersive, clear and potent audio experience. I can turn the volume up without the higher frequencies feeling as muddy and unclear, which typically had me messing around with the volume more than i'd like depending on what's happening in the film/TV show (action/dialogue sequences).

As I'm writing this, I'm sat here past midnight listening to music on a relatively low volume, but it feels like it's filling the room in a satisfying way with good bass. Before, I'd have to turn the volume up higher to get the same feeling and I simply didn't want to do that to avoid the risk of annoying my neighbours. This means I'm more likely to sit here and listen to music in situations I used to not.

Overall, I'm very pleased - the thumping bass in video games and specifically films, and certain music is a load of fun and ramps up the immersion. But the main upgrade, I'd say, is that balancing out of the whole system - allowing the Arc and Ones to focus on what they're good at.

Is it worth it?

For me, I'm happy. For the price I ultimately paid, I'm pleased. At the RRP of £429, I'd have still been satisfied - but for my space where I won't take advantage of the full volume available to me from the sub, it might not have felt like the best value.

For others, if you don't have to worry about annoying neighbours as much, adding a subwoofer - the big one or the mini - is a great upgrade. In terms of value against the bigger Sub, it's unquestionably better - you're getting more per £ spent and I have to credit Sonos for not worrying too much about cannibalising Sub sales and instead focusing on just creating a good product for the gap in their product line that they were addressing.

Is the Sub Mini suitable for the Sonos Arc?

An important point here is that Sonos actually doesn't really recommend pairing the Sub Mini with the Sonos Arc. Instead they push customers to the Sonos Sub (Gen 3). It makes sense, pairing their highest end soundbar with the highest end subwoofer. If you have an Arc, you likely want to fill more space with sound and therefore the larger Sub is more likely to be the better choice.

However, I do think this is partly just customer upselling. They want people to spend more money, and they can more easily make the argument that someone spending RRP £899 on a soundbar should spend RRP £799 on a subwoofer for it.

Whereas with their other soundbars, the Ray (RRP £279) and Beam (RRP £499), it's hard to justify spending a good chunk more than your soundbar on a subwoofer. That's what the Sub Mini was aimed at, and from the reviews, it makes an even larger difference to those smaller bars.

That makes sense, as I said - the Arc by itself - particularly in my room has good bass for what it is. The more natural pairing is a Beam + Sub Mini. I'd maybe argue if you have a Ray though, it might be worth upgrading the soundbar itself to a Beam or Arc rather than spending £330 - £429 on the Sub Mini if you want the most value.

Pairing the Sub Mini with the Arc makes sense to me because of the size of my room and my requirements. I'm not taking full advantage of the mini in terms of air displacement, so I definitely wouldn't take advantage of the bigger Sub (Gen 3). I think the mini pairs really well with the Arc in situations such as mine.

If you do have a large space and/or the ability to turn the volume up a lot more - the bigger Sub, which you can actually pair up with another for even more bass (and the opportunity to symmetrically balance the bass output) is more appropriate. That's one of the features that Sonos omitted from the Sub Mini, the ability to pair it up with another Sub Mini. I understand that, it's a shame - and I think there's a gap there - but I can see the logic as to why they didn't do that.

Maybe it'll come in the future if the hardware is capable, but I wouldn't hold my breath on that.

Subwoofer or surrounds?

Earlier, I highlighted that a very common sentiment online was to buy the sub upgrade before the surround speakers. Now that I've added the sub, do I agree?

In my situation, in my small space? I don't agree. I think the surrounds add more to the system by a decent margin. The immersive effect the surrounds bring is just unmatched by the sub.

But as with this entire post, your mileage will vary. Each component piece of this sound system depends so much on your environment, whereas I feel like the Arc gives convincing Dolby Atmos height effects thanks to the size and shape of my room, others will barely notice it. The same is for the sub and surrounds, all I can do is give my experience in my space.

The sub may be a better choice for your situation and if it is, then I wouldn't hang around too long to add the surrounds after.

Future upgrades

Since my first post, there have been more potential upgrades for me to aim for. The Sonos Era 100 and Sonos Era 300.

The Era 100 speakers are the direct successor to the Sonos Ones I'm currently using as my surround speakers. From the reviews, they seem like a good upgrade - but they don't offer anything substantially new - just a general upgrade over the Ones.

Era 300

Era 300 is where is gets interesting though. It's a speaker designed for 'spatial audio' and is in fact designed to be less directional, aiming to create a bubble of sound around the device - with speakers firing in all directions. I'm interested in these for a music learning experience, but even more so for films and TV, replacing the Sonos Ones as my surround speakers.

I want even better height effects, as when they hit, they're pretty cool. The Era 300 has up firing speakers like the Sonos Arc, and I feel like in combination in my small room, they could be great. This is definitely my next upgrade - but when that happens - I'm not sure.

They're relatively expensive at RRP £449 each, so I'll be waiting for a sale and it likely won't be for another year or two minimum before I go for this. Sonos have applied 2x 15% discount to my account to upgrade to them if I want, but it's not quite enough for me to pull the trigger on that. Especially as I'll have to spend more on some new stands for the Era 300s too.