Today I’ll shed some light on whether Sonica is a worthy player in the high-end wireless-speaker arena.
OPPO’s Sonica Wi-Fi speaker is solidly built with quality components and packs useful features that can be easily controlled from its specially developed iOS or Android app. It features versatile connectivity, with both wired and wireless options. Moreover, it has room-compensation and placement-adjustment presets that further improve performance. Overall, Sonica produces high-fidelity sound that belies its size and price, making it an easy to recommend product.
OPPO Sonica Wi-Fi Speaker
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity with AirPlay support
- Wired Ethernet, USB and 3.5 mm line-level connections
- Three active drivers in a 2.1 design (two wideband and one bass driver) with two passive radiators
- Separate amp and DSP for each driver
- 40 watts total power
- Aesthetically pleasing and solidly-made enclosure
- Compact size
- Great balanced sound
OPPO has been a strong player in the audio and home-theater world. It has built a strong reputation around its highly-regarded universal disc players and personal audio products (headphone and headphone amplifiers). The Sonica Wi-Fi speaker reviewed here is the first wireless speaker made by OPPO. OPPO introduces Sonica as a Wi-Fi speaker, but this can be misleading, as Sonica can also handle Bluetooth transmission. Therefore, I prefer to call it a wireless speaker here. Although it may seem to be in a totally different category than what OPPO has produced before, it actually fits nicely among the company’s existing product lines. Sonica represents OPPO’s commitment to accommodate the different ways people listen to their music.
Check out the First Look of the Sonica Speakers by our Editor-in-Chief, John Johnson, including video of Jason Liao, Chief Technical Officer and Vice President of Product Development of OPPO Digital, Inc., installing two of the Sonica Speakers.
Jason describes the goal of the Sonica speaker as intended to bridge the gap between products the company makes related to music enjoyment. OPPO’s universal disc players are great for music playback in a more serious system; which in some situations might be located in a dedicated listening room. Their personal audio products are great for listening to music alone or on the go. However, for people who just want to have good music in the house for casual listening, existing OPPO products may not be suitable. A stereo music system based on the universal player might be troublesome to set up and operate just for casual listening. Wearing headphones while moving around at home is not always practical either. The Sonica offers an alternative way for casual listeners to enjoy music with its wireless capability, portability and high-resolution playback.
One might argue that similar wireless speakers are already available. In fact, I’ve had a chance to review a few such products for Secrets within the last two years. The market still indicates that the demand is still there though. Moreover, OPPO believes that it has a few things to offer in the Sonica, which would allow it to join the crowd and still be successful. The key here is to market the smart way by offering a high-performance product at the right price. Drawing from OPPO’s abundant experience in high-resolution audio decoding, wireless connectivity and app-based user experience, creating a successful wireless speaker does not seem to be a difficult goal to achieve. The Sonica wireless speaker reviewed here is a reflection of the very approach mentioned above. OPPO’s experience is exhibited very well in the Sonica, which is equipped with features that can compete well with the other high-end wireless speakers in the market. Moreover, OPPO prices it aggressively at $299 putting it mid-range in the wireless-speaker category.
Wi-Fi protocols 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Apple AirPlay®
Analog 3.5mm line-level input (max. input 2 Vrms)
AAC, AIF, AIFC, AIFF, APE, FLAC, M4A, M4A (Apple Lossless) ALAC, MP2, OGG, WAV, WMA
1 x 3.5-inch long-displacement bass driver, 2 x 3-inch balanced bass radiators, 2 x 2.5-inch wideband drivers with neodymium magnets
Temperature 5°C – 35°C, Humidity 15% – 75% (No Condensation)
100 – 240v ~ 50/60Hz
35W / 6W (Standby)
135 (H), 147 (W), 301 (L)
Oppo Digital, Oppo, Sonica, Wireless speaker, Bluetooth, AirPlay, WiFi, Wireless speaker Reviews 2016
The Sonica is relatively small. Width, which is its longest dimension, measures only about a foot. Its compact size implies easy portability and a small footprint suggests flexible placement. It can sit comfortably on a small bookshelf, or a small coffee table or just in one corner of a desk. The Sonica’s curved cabinet looks modern and stylish. My review sample has a dark-gray enclosure, which makes the overall look unassuming. This means that the Sonica can easily blend into your room décor without calling attention to itself. For people who like a more exciting appearance, a silver-color version of the speaker will be available, possibly by the time you read this. Other finishes are also under consideration.
The outward appearance of the Sonica speaker is very clean with only a volume up/down rocker and mute button visible on top, along with Bluetooth and speaker status indicator lights. There is no on/off button which means the speaker will always be in stand-by condition and ready to play back any program material sent to it when connected to power. The speaker status indicator glows white when the Sonica is connected to the network and ready to use and orange when volume is muted. Provision for wired LAN, USB and 3.5mm analog line-level inputs are available on the Sonica’s rear panel.
The Sonica’s simple appearance hides some sophisticated engineering within. It uses three active drivers (one 3.5-inch bass and two 2.5-inch wideband) and two 3-inch passive radiators that enhance bass response. The bass driver features a heavy magnet system and large displacement capabilities. The wideband drivers feature neodymium magnet systems with copper shorting caps, which are used to minimize distortion.
Such a feature is normally only found in high-end speakers. Each cone is individually driven by a specially-designed class D digital amplifier equipped with a Digital Signal Processor (DSP). Each of the wideband drivers is powered by a 10W amplifier and the bass driver is powered by a 20W amplifier. These amps along with the power supply are installed on a solid metal baseplate to facilitate cooler operating temperatures via even heat dissipation. To further minimize distortion, the Sonica’s enclosure is molded from rigid glass-filled ABS polymer compounds supported by multiple internal reinforcement ribs. The Sonica’s curved surfaces also help minimize internal resonances for better sound dispersion.
Sonica can be connected wirelessly via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Its Wi-Fi receiver can handle the common dual-band transmission frequencies of 2.4 and 5GHz, and is compatible with standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac protocols. Control for wireless connectivity can be done via the Sonica app, which is available in iOS and Android versions, or by using Apple AirPlay, which allows music streaming from iTunes. The Sonica app also streams from smartphones, tablets or network drives; or online music services like TIDAL.
The app actually does more than just control the Sonica’s wireless connection. With the availability of DTS Play-Fi used by some other brands, one might wonder why OPPO developed its own app. I was skeptical myself in the beginning, but after using it for awhile, I realized my skepticism was unfounded. In fact, I like the clear interface and intuitive use of the Sonica app. Also by developing its own software, OPPO can customize it to better control the detailed settings of the Sonica speakers. Even the selection of the wired inputs can be done through the app. The drawback in this case is only obvious if you also have DTS Play-Fi compatible devices in your system. In this case, you cannot control them collectively using a single app.
Sonica also has a stereo-pairing feature which is rarely found in single-enclosure wireless speakers such as this. Two Sonica speakers can be set up as a pair to deliver improved channel separation, as John Johnson has done, reporting that the sound is incredible. In such setup, Sonica serves as powered speakers for more serious music listening. The stereo setup is not evaluated here as I only had a single speaker sample.
The Sonica also has a mood lighting feature below its grille which can be controlled from the Sonica app. This mood light can be kept on constantly, set in breathing mode (pulsing on and off), or turned off. The coolest part is that the mood light’s color is changeable. The default is blue, but through the Sonica app, you can change it to one of the eight other hues. It is a small feature, but it can add a nice accent to your décor.
One of the important features of the Sonica is sound optimization. It comes in the form of built-in presets in the Sonica app that adjust the sound based on room size, speaker location and bass preferences. In the current iteration, there are four presets and one Super Bass mode, the selection of which is guided by a series of questions about room size, location of the speaker with respect to the room boundaries and bass preference. The answer to those questions leads to the suggestion of a preset that best optimizes the sound. Based on my trials of moving the Sonica speaker to different rooms of various sizes and in various placement within those rooms, I found that the suggested preset typically yields the best outcome. This shows that the feature is not just a gimmick and really does get the best out of the speaker.
After some break-in, I played various types of music through the Sonica using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the line-level analog input. Although I tried not to form an opinion about a product at the beginning of the review per my usual practice, immediately after listening to some music I could not help thinking that this little speaker was awesome. And as I became more familiar with it, I enjoyed it even more.
The Sonica can literally produce sound bigger than its compact size indicates. Played at normal to moderate listening levels, I did not notice any of the vocal congestion or strain commonly-associated with small speakers. The vocal power of Adele in the song Million Years Ago from her 2015 album 25 was conveyed convincingly, even down to the details of her breathing which are present in the recording. There was no thinness or congestion at all in Adele’s voice reproduction through the Sonica.
The Sonica is no slouch in reproducing the sound of acoustic instruments either. For example, the saxophone played by Dave Koz in his album Collaborations: 25th Anniversary Collection, sounds completely believable. Other instruments are also reproduced with a sense of accuracy, except for those that generate low frequencies such as a double bass. Another song I want to highlight from this album, that exemplifies the Sonica’s performance, is For Sentimental Reason by Rod Stewart.
Not only do the vocals sound full bodied but his signature raspiness is presented vividly. Accompanying instruments are presented with great texture and good soundstage depth.
My comments above mostly come from listening to the speaker on-axis. I suspect that users of Sonica would typically not listen to the speaker this way. One general observation from the on-axis evaluation is that the vocal and midrange presentation through Sonica are a bit forward. Your preference may vary, but it brings a sense of intimacy to the music. Of course, a single Sonica speaker with its close-driver configuration does not convey soundstage width well, however it somehow has the ability to present soundstage depth. Background instruments are nicely layered behind the plane of the main performers.
Overall, within its frequency-response range, the Sonica produces well-balanced sound with good dynamics and details. It may not have that last bit of smoothness, but music never sounds flat, which is a good thing. It’s definitely a more-than-capable speaker that can fill any room with good sound in a casual listening setting, which is what the Sonica is intended for. When pushed too hard however, it becomes slightly edgy, which is especially noticeable on vocals. This occurs only at high volumes beyond a normal listening level, hence it is not a serious limitation.
Like any other compact speaker, the Sonica cannot avoid the laws of physics in the bass department. It is a limitation, rather than a weakness. By itself, the Sonica can produce a nice tuneful bass which is fulfilling on music that does not call for the lowest partials. The Sonica app has the Super Bass preset in one of its sound optimization section, which boosts the low-frequency range. Personally, I prefer the sound from the regular preset, but your mileage may vary. Confronted by this limitation, I’d like to see the addition of subwoofer integration in a future iteration of the Sonica to enable full-range sound reproduction. This could be in the form of a wireless subwoofer transmitter or a subwoofer line-level output.
Although I got respectable results from the Sonica regardless of the connection I used, there were some subtle differences here and there. The best outcome during my listening tests was obtained by connecting the analog outputs of a Musical Fidelity A3.2 CD player directly to the line-level input of the speaker. Compared to the others, this combination yielded the smoothest sound performance with a subtle improvement in dynamics. However, this result might be specific to that component, as I did not observe this performance advantage when connecting my smartphone’s headphone output to the line-level input of the Sonica. Considering that the performance differences among these various methods of connection are relatively minor, users can just opt for connection to the Sonica based on convenience rather than on the resulting sound quality.
THE OPPO SONICA WIFI SPEAKER is an Excellent Compact Wireless Speaker with Versatile Connectivity and High Performance-To-Cost Ratio.
- Solidly built compact speaker
- Versatile wireless and wired connectivity
- Excellent sound quality
- Nice Sonica control app
- Subwoofer integration support
- Windows version of the app
OPPO has created an outstanding product in the Sonica. This compact speaker has solid build quality and features excellent wired and wireless connectivity. Moreover, it’s easy to set up and operate thanks to the Sonica app with its intuitive user interface and excellent control features. The room optimization feature is a plus, providing the necessary adjustments to get the best sound out of the speaker. Also, a pair of Sonica speakers can be used in a stereo setup. Overall, the Sonica offers a nice balanced sound across its frequency range making it a very capable speaker for casual listening in a whole-house application. Though the price puts it in the middle range of wireless speaker products, it exhibits features and performance that compete favorably with high-end products. Even with its limitations, the Sonica is still a great wireless speaker with a hard-to-beat value.