- Manufacturer & Model:
- Oppo Sonica Wi-Fi Speaker
- High-quality custom drivers, low distortion, Wifi connectivity, and extreme versatility.
- Superb clarity and even tonality from a little speaker that sounds like a much bigger one and can stream lossless audio over your local network.
A Streaming Speaker In Every Room
by Wayne Myers
Not quite as essential as "a chicken in every pot," as presidential hopeful Herbert Hoover promised during his campaign back in the early 20th century, having a nice-sounding speaker in every room of the house is almost that important to the serious listener in the 21st century. And it gets a lot easier when it can be a Wi-Fi streaming speaker like the Sonica Wi-Fi Speaker from Oppo Digital.
The Sonica, retailing at $299 each, first strikes you as another small speaker trying to sound like a big speaker. But it is much more than that. It IS a small speaker that sounds like a big speaker, perhaps more effectively than many, but the Sonica has some very cool surprises up its sleeve, and takes wireless, lossless, nearly-flawless small-speaker stereo sound to the next level of nirvana-like goodness.
Imagine that you are creating a great-sounding small Wi-Fi-capable speaker and have the power to endow it with whatever wonderful features and specs that you can think of. Make a list of those features and specs. Most likely, you will not be able to include any significant list items that the Oppo engineers missed in their design.
That list starts with Wi-Fi capability. Wireless rules, and gets an extra boost of approbation in a house like mine where there are cables pretty much everywhere and the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) for the AV equipment therein ranges from poor to abysmal. But recent
developments in lossless Wi-Fi capability have the future losslessly blasting its way into the present, and the listener who insists "give me lossless or give me..." (maybe a little extreme, but not far off for many of us) will appreciate the liberating clarity of the tinkles of bells and the splashes of cymbals as they make their way across the ether to his ears.
Our big-little speaker features quite an impressive set of drivers:
- 1 x 3.5-inch long-displacement bass driver.
- 2 x 3-inch balanced bass radiators. By placing these radiators at opposite ends of the Sonica’s enclosure facing away from each other, their nonlinearities are cancelled out and distortion is kept very low. Even with passive radiators, this can be an effective strategy for smooth, clean bass enhancement.
- 2 x 2.5-inch wideband drivers with Neodymium magnets.
It would have to be able to play music from just about any source. Sonica’s possible sources include:
We would want it to be able to play pretty much any kind of audio file. Sonica can do so, including WAV, FLAC, ALAC and a long list of other file types.
- USB flash drive
- A USB hard drive
- AUX IN
- Online streaming sources
- Tidal (with option for lossless sound quality)
It would give you true wireless freedom - you would be able to use them anywhere within reach of a power outlet. Sonica features the latest in Wi-Fi speed and distance complying with the 802.11.a/b/g/n/ac high-speed Wi-Fi standard.
Hey, this is getting fun.
With the Sonica application - Apple and Android versions exist - you would want to be able to select sources, select Sonica speakers in different rooms, and control each unit’s volume. There is even a heartbeat LED on each Sonica speaker, to make it easy to tell at a glance how it is paired and assigned, and its color can be controlled from the app.
You might think that active crossovers would be an extravagance, and would probably not even consider including DSP for impulse response and frequency response optimization. But both were included in Sonica's design.
I have to say that these features really intrigued me. Selectable Dirac Live presets for room matching and impulse correction, in an under-$300 unit, what a concept!
The latest Bluetooth 4.1 would be included in your big-little speaker, and you might think the aptX spec should be included for near-CD quality transmission, but that particular need is actually covered in a much better way in Oppo’s design. The Sonica features 24 bit / 192 kHz true lossless sound over Wi-Fi from FLAC, WAV, and ALAC files. In a review a few years back I took a close look at aptX capability, at how close it came to matching lossless fidelity. It came close, better than MP3 sound, but did not quite stand up to scrutiny. True lossless, as with the Sonica, is the ultimate for critical listening. But is there really a benefit to having lossless capability in a speaker like the Sonica? We’ll come back to that later.
Apple AirPlay - An improvement on Bluetooth, but still not truly lossless.
802.11ac high-speed Wi-Fi capability - This allows the bandwidth and distance capability needed for lossless over Wi-Fi, without dropouts.
Speakers can be grouped to play in sync.
You are going go like this one...
Grouped as stereo pairs!
Brilliant! I have to admit, I would not have come up with that one. An inspired choice!
The Oppo Sonica is compact (301 mm (L) x 147 mm (W) x 135 mm (H)), beautiful, comes in black or light gray colors (black grille for both), sounds bigger than it looks like it should, weighs less than it sounds like it should but more than it looks like it does (2.4 kg, 5.3 lb), and while it might not completely replace all other speakers and amplifiers in your casa, might just take over as a little burro of a work-horse in many of your rooms and applications. Sonica contains a 100 to 240 V, 50 or 60 Hz universal power supply that dissipates 36 W (6 W on standby)
Setup and Listening
The Sonica app was easy to find and install on my new LG G5 smartphone and on my ASUS Nexus tablet. With the Sonica simply plugged in and turned on, and with the Sonica app started up, the app located the speaker via my in-house Wi-Fi in just a few seconds. Given a few more seconds to select Tidal from the source list and select a tune from my favorites, the Sonica was ready to entertain.
Jerry Was A Racecar Driver - Primus
When I first fired up the Oppo Sonica, the volume control was on a high setting, and this was the first song on my playlist. The song starts out with a revving racecar engine. The throaty roar really startled me with its depth and fullness. No doubt, a frequency response measurement would show a peak in the mid-bass range, that is pretty much expected with a small speaker that is trying to sound like a bigger speaker. But the Oppo is voiced in a way that does not make that peak at all obvious or distracting. Featuring that pair of bass resonators in the design, bass tones are delivered smoothly and with no obvious emphasis.
The depth of the bass really was impressive. So was the quality of the highs. I am a bit of a tweeter nerd, and treble quality is one of the first things I pay attention to when evaluating speakers. The Sonica’s drivers kept the high frequencies flowing with a crisp and transparent ease. The fact that they were being evaluated at the same time as a new pair of electrostatics, with their absolutely unbeatable highs, is worth noting. My Name Is Mud was another track which had deep bass emanating from the little Sonica.
The temptation to see whether the smartphone and tablet versions of the app would recognize each other and cooperate was overwhelming. They ran in parallel flawlessly. At one point, the tablet version gracefully recognized the smartphone version as having control first and bowed out - back to the main control screen - allowing the phone to continue with the control process. When it came time to play with sound optimization settings, the tablet was used to choose those settings while the phone continued with playback control. That kind of attention to detail on the part of the designers says a lot about a product and a company to me.
Tip of My Tongue - The Tubes
Here I played around with the room-tuning settings, and found I preferred Setting 4. It gave the right balance for the room and speaker locations within.
Proximity ends up being a factor after a while, and my first haphazard positioning of the Sonica led to a few minutes of setup experimentation. First sitting at an angle and a bit low for my listening position, the bass amount was a little more than I was looking for.
Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime - Beck
Now sitting properly on axis, the little Sonica gave two immediate impressions: Nice stereo delivery, even in a large room, and a quick crispness about the mid-bass and upper-bass tones. The Dirac Live tuning that is part of the product, while limited in what it can do for room anomalies, can be very effective in ensuring time alignment and impulse response correctness. While I am sure that such detailed effects were not in huge evidence in this session, they can surely - over time - contribute in subtle ways to a fatigue-free experience. Quality drivers most certainly contribute to the end result.
Three Wishes - Roger Waters
With volume up, the Sonica handled the DEEP bass on this song with aplomb. Of course the Sonica will not deliver 30 Hz tones at 100 plus dB like the song calls for, but gave the impression that it knew what they were about, without distorting or losing control. Jeff Beck’s guitar tones sang through the tiny speaker with clarity and ease. At this point I was just enjoying the music. The Sonica had convinced me to forget it was there for a minute. The clarity of the piano notes later in the track surprised me. And the barking dog came from clear across the room, a nice voice-throwing act.
Perfect World - Broken Bells
A bass punch test for sure when the kick drum starts in, the Sonica managed it without losing control. Cymbal and hi-hat had that nice clarity that you look for from electrostatics - wait, this is the Sonica, not the electrostatic - heh heh, just kidding. The Sonica’s clarity even with the volume up had me thinking more than once that I was listening to a much bigger speaker.
Vision Of A Kiss - B-52’s
Crisp tambourine and thumping walking bass stand out on this track. Then came another feeble attempt to mess up the app - switch control to the tablet and exit the app on the phone. “No problem, I knew you were going to do that,” the app seemed to respond. Even the difference in volume control settings between the two devices caused no concern or confusion. The volume control on the Sonica and that on your controlling device are independent, and the volume from the phone/tablet is a relative setting, not absolute, so those devices never argue about how loud to play.
Ain’t It A Shame - B-52’s
Crisp hi-hat, accurate vocals. The background synth that arpeggiates through the song seemed a little farther back in the mix at times, but not notably.
Another Nail In My Heart
Squeeze - Opening dual bass lines jumped out with excellent clarity.
China Girl - David Bowie
David’s vocals and the guitar tones on this track were conveyed with easy accuracy. Cymbals and sibilants sounded crisply easy. Again, the music took over and the Sonica was forgotten, as though there was nothing more to say about it - “Oh baby, just you shut your mouth.” Punchy drums throughout helped carry the track.
Summer’s Cauldron - XTC - The unusual drum combination - floor tom replacing snare - makes this track a nice test, causes you to listen differently to the rhythm and the spaces in between. The floor tom, as with all percussion through the Sonica, has a crisp, clear punch leading its round, full tone.
Second time around on some of the same tracks, with the Sonica downstairs, the Wi-Fi router recently restarted, the Sonica connected with Ethernet cable, and a new version of the app, there were apparently enough variables that its location was not obvious, and the app had me identify the unit by the color and state of the status indicator light on top, I was then asked to reset the network connection and was given simple instructions via the app. A tap on the app’s onscreen test button had the unit emitting an electronic verification.
This was the only time that the Sonica app process confused me, or I it, which was not absolutely clear, and I had to repeat it several times before it would complete properly. Then a firmware update was applied, all controlled from the app, taking only a few minutes.
The Sonica app now includes built-in support for both Tidal and Spotify streaming. Tidal is my personal choice, and it worked flawlessly through the review process.
The Sonica spent time in several rooms of my house, standing in as a temporary TV speaker in the bedroom, along with a large monitor as the TV screen after the trusty unit there died, in my downstairs listening room slash laboratory, and then in the living room, while I put the finishing touches on this review. I was particularly pleased with the living room performance, where the Sonica reminded me again how clear its drivers sound, being dwarfed by a large pair of electrostatic speakers being reviewed.
I did not get a chance to play with the feature that allows the grouping, or linking, of a pair of Sonica speakers for stereo operation. This feature is going to be a big deal for many listeners, transforming a couple of very capable little stereo speakers into a VERY capable speaker pair to fill a bigger room with favorite tunes at a VERY-GOOD stereo performance level. Even the super-critical listener is likely to have a sun porch or great room where a big stereo sound is to be enjoyed from time to time without all the setup issues of a bigger pair of speakers - and all the devices and wires it used to take.
This is not a simple matter to pull off. The Sonica app basically tells the Sonica device(s) where to find the files to be played, and what other Sonica device to coordinate with when grouped together, and allows those devices to manage all of the Wi-Fi communication and timing issues for themselves, with no "special Wi-Fi control box" like other wireless speaker designs tend to use. You can even turn off the Wi-Fi on your Sonica app's device after starting a track, and allow the Sonica(s) to play the track on their own as proof.
Placed at the head of the guest-room bed where I sometimes nap, right at head level and properly centered, the Sonica was sometimes allowed to run a long relatively vocal-less electronic piece like while(1<2), by deadmau5. This album, with bonus tracks, weighs in at almost 4.5 hours in length, just right for an extended snooze on a rainy afternoon. The only problem is the Sonica sounds SO GOOD that there is a tendency to be distracted and end up focusing on the high-frequency clarity, on the soundstage and imaging, which are remarkable from the Sonica, on the fine details of individual sounds, and on the overall clarity and balance of presentation. Who wants to sleep when there are great tunes ringing through great speakers to be heard?
The feature pairing of lossless Wi-Fi streaming along with the quality of the drivers in use puts the Sonica in the league of serious speakers. Tweeter quality makes the lossless streaming capability completely worthwhile. Comparing the Sonica to an electrostatic or a design with ribbon tweeters is a little unfair, but they come close in clarity of delivery. Applause to the Oppo engineers once again.
Sonica Frequency Response: The blue- and plum-colored plots are the individual Left and Right channels with 6th octave smoothing and the green plot is both together with 1 octave smoothing. I wondered if the dip at 300 Hz might be due to a reflection / cancellation in the measurement, but after many positionings, I concluded that was not the case. The dip is minor and was not noticeable during listening tests. This measurement was taken at 1/4 m on the tweeter axis for L and R, and on the woofer axis for Both.
The Sonica app allows the user to select among 4 levels of bass boost. I did most of my listening with Preset 4, the flattest of the curves (least bass boost) shown below.
Distortion stayed very low through the tweeter's frequency range, below 0.35% THD+Noise at frequencies above 1 kHz.
Impulse response, with a 3 mS analysis window. A tiny amount of ringing above 15 kHz will not be audible to most humans, and indicates snappy response by the tweeters.
Like the smartphone which is being used to control it, the Sonica is a listening device which threatens to upset one’s very definition of a listening device, and doubly so with the smartphone literally becoming part of the Sonica as its control unit. Indeed, Oppo might well have plans to do a minor, or major, takeover of the planet, with the recent release of the Sonica DAC, and who knows what other devices might be coming down the sonic Interstate? The Sonica HiFi IED (the listening kind - In Ear Device - not the exploding kind - we are envisioning a planet-wide peaceful takeover by way of great music)? How about stereo Sonica High Definition Deep-Brain Listening Implants? Knowing how thoughtfully and thoroughly the Oppo team designs their products, I volunteer to have the first pair implanted for review.
The small-but-big-sounding Sonica is attractive and versatile and excels at everything it has been designed to do, which is almost everything having to do with delivery of great-sounding lossless music playback. It will not replace a serious two-channel listening setup, although a pair of them might come close in some situations. Sonica is a little powerhouse that can entertain on the patio or by the pool or on a nightstand in the bedroom or above the microwave in the kitchen or over the workbench in the garage or in Junior’s dorm room off at school. The Sonica’s sleek shape almost begs the imagination to try it elsewhere, in as many elsewheres as you can think of, and to have fun while you are at it. I dub the Sonica the “Beginning of a Beautiful Series,” from Oppo, a company that is already expected to exceed and excel at surpassing and redefining the norms of audio devices.
- Power Supply: 100 V - 240 V ~ 50/60 Hz
- Power Consumption: 35 W / 6 W (Standby)
- Size (mm): 301 (L) x 147 (W) x 135 (H)
- Weight: 2.4 kg (5.3 lb)
- Wi-Fi Protocol: 802.11.a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth Standard: Bluetooth 4.1
- AUX Max Input: 2 Vrms
- Audio Formats: AAC, AIF, AIFC, AIFF, APE, FLAC, M4A, M4A (Apple lossless) ALAC, MP2, OGG, WAV, WMA
- 1 x 3.5” long displacement bass driver
- 2 x 3” balanced bass radiators
- 2 x 2.5” wideband drivers with Neodymium magnets
- Operating Conditions: Temperature 5°C - 35°C
- Humidity: 15% to 75% (No Condensation)
- Wall Mount: Optional
- AudiocRaver Senior AdminStaff MemberThread Starter
- Nov 21, 2016
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- Lincoln, NE, USA
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