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The Best Whole Home Audio System (The Wirecutter)

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If you want a music system that covers your whole house and will play all of your music, no matter where it’s stored, Sonos is your best option.

 Last Updated: October 30, 2015

Sonos replaced the PLAY:5 speaker in its lineup with a new model, also called the PLAY:5. Compared to the previous model the new one has six drivers instead of five, replaces the hard buttons with touch-sensitive ones, and adds the ability to be placed on its sides in a vertical configuration. The price has also increased from $400 to $500. Having listened to both models over the past 10 days, the updated PLAY:5 sounds far better than the old model. When placed flat it does a better job at creating some stereo separation than the older PLAY:5 did. When placed vertically and paired with another PLAY:5 the sound dispersion completely changes and it behaves more like a standard stereo speaker. The PLAY:5 is easily the best speaker Sonos has made to date, as you would expect for the price. Little touches, from how the touch-sensitive controls change based on the speaker orientation to the design of the box, help make the complete Sonos PLAY:5 experience a very positive one. The new speaker will be available on November 20. 

 After more than 10 hours of research and more than 30 hours of listening and daily use, we can confidently say that it’s the easiest to use and best-sounding system of its type. Sonos is the most mature and sophisticated of all current streaming music systems with the most diverse array of speaker types, ranging from desktop to home theater listening.

What is a whole home audio system? Who should get one?

If you want different—or even the same—music to play in multiple rooms of your house from any source, using any of your gadgets or computers as a controller, the only real way to do that is with one of these systems.

If you only want a way to pipe music into a single room from your smartphone or tablet, you should look into an Airplay or Bluetooth speaker. It will be easier to set up, more portable and less expensive. If you only want music from your TV and a tablet or smartphone, our soundbar guide has a number of solutions to help fix that problem that also sell for less.

What makes a good whole home audio system?

The ideal system for playing music across your entire home should be easy to integrate and implement, flexible, reliable, scalable and easy to operate.

It all breaks down to one main goal: Providing access to all the music you want to listen to, anywhere you want to listen to it. That music can be on your computer, on a network storage device or in the cloud somewhere. No matter where it is, the better the access that is provided, the better the streaming system is. If there are major sources of music that can’t be accessed—a NAS, a phone, a certain online service—that is a problem, and a common one with systems that are limited to Airplay or Bluetooth. Because of this, users often find themselves tied to multiple devices for their music instead of being free to listen to it anywhere.

A good whole home audio system should be able to play music in any room, from any source, regardless of the distance. A great system will work in any situation you come up with. If the system works well in the basement but not on the upper floor, it isn’t a successful product. If it has specialized units that can also be used outside, or are portable with an integrated battery, then it’s better.

A whole house music system also has to be reliable. The Sonos systems use their own wireless mesh that is ultra reliable and not dependent on or competitive with your other wireless devices for bandwidth. Sonos still connects to your network, so you can control it with your Wi-Fi equipped smartphone, but it sends audio over a mesh network instead of your regular Wi-Fi network, which makes a huge difference in audio quality and reception. This allows for a higher-quality connection, free from interference from other Wi-Fi devices. If someone on your network is downloading large files or streaming Netflix, it won’t interfere with your music. And since each Sonos speaker becomes an extension of the network, Sonos has more range than what you would get out of a system that works off a single Wi-Fi router.

What about single speakers powered by Airplay or Bluetooth or on your home’s Wi-Fi? They’re not as reliable. Bluetooth speakers are semi-reliable because your music source is in the same room as the speaker, but they don’t work well as a whole house solution for that same reason: You have to keep the source close to the speaker. Airplay has better range than Bluetooth, typically, because it is powered by Wi-Fi. But if your home network is congested, your audio will drop.

It also needs to be flexible: If you want to start with a single room and add on more rooms later, you should be able to do that. If you want to integrate it into an existing stereo system, that should be possible as well. It is nice if it can tie into a TV, either with a specialized soundbar or with a soundbar-style setup. Having to maintain different systems for whole house audio and TV or movie audio causes redundancy, extra systems and wasted money. It also makes everything complex while we are trying to simplify.

It needs to be simple to operate. If you have a family of four and each member has their own music library, their own listening preferences and their own playlists, you need to be able to work with all of that. There should be a seamless, integrated system that ties everyone together instead of a group of four separated walled gardens that don’t talk to each other. An ideal system can integrate all of these without forcing you to spend hours updating and collating your libraries together.

How we picked (and why we didn’t test the others)

When we last covered this category more than a year ago, the field was much sparser, with only Sonos offering viable whole house audio solutions. Since then, a number of competitors have emerged, including the Bose Soundtouch and the Samsung Shape M7. But they don’t offer much compared to Sonos. The Bose is easy to eliminate, as most of its features aren’t complete yet and won’t be until the end of 2014. The price is higher and the features lacking compared to Sonos as well. The Samsung lacks streaming support for many services, which is simply a dealbreaker. And neither of these competitors operates on a discreet mesh network, so they’re less reliable and have less range.

As for other offerings on the market—there aren’t many. They all have some sort of fatal flaw when compared to the Sonos. Perhaps they cost as much, but rely on Wi-Fi, making them exceptionally prone to drop-outs. Or they cost a whole lot more and only offer niche features, like high-resolution audio, that might appeal to some but not everyone. Or they could be designed around the custom installer, which is great if you’re already having one over but not if you want to get something from the company yourself. Past devices that did well, like the Squeezebox system, are now discontinued.

One of the only reviews available for the Bose SoundTouch system is from Dave Oliver of Wired UK. “The problem is that the options are still fairly limited,” he finds, and that “Spotify isn’t there yet, nor are most streaming services.” Additionally “there’s no Bluetooth for direct streaming from mobile devices” to listen to those streaming services. While they sound clear and detailed, the “soundstage is necessarily limited and localised… a compromise to help keep the box thin.”

If Bose’s offering improves, we’ll test it versus Sonos, too. Right now the Bose isn’t worth testing as half the features on it aren’t working yet and won’t be for months. It might be nice once those are enabled, but we don’t know.

Other systems all have negative overall reviews or can’t be installed without a professional, which put them out of the running. Custom install solutions can be wonderful, but they’re also more expensive and less flexible for most users than a Sonos system.

How I tested

The Sonos helping out in the kitchen.

My testing was largely focused on versatility and usability, since those are the main differentiating factors for whole house music systems. For two months, I used the Sonos in my home, a three-story house with at least one media system on every floor. The upper-floor bedroom has a TV and Blu-ray player, but no audio sources. The main floor has a TV with a 5.1 channel home theater sound setup that I use to listen to music in that room, but also in the adjoining kitchen or kids’ rooms. The basement has a dedicated home theater room with 5.1 channel sound as well as an adjoining office.

 For two months, I used the Sonos in my home, a three-story house with at least one media system on every floor.

I wanted to know if the Sonos could conveniently play anything and everything I threw at it. All of my music is stored on a network-attached storage device in the basement; additionally, I stream a lot of music from TuneIn, Spotify and Amazon Cloud Player. I also set up libraries on a pair of computers to share and integrate into the system to simulate having multiple users in a single household. I have a wide variety of formats, from MP3 to Apple Lossless to WAV to high-resolution FLAC files.

I also know that I might find a complex system easy to operate while someone else might not. To find out how easy the Sonos really is, I took the whole system over to my Dad’s house for a week. He, his wife, my two teenage siblings and my brother and his daughter all live there, each with their own music libraries and tastes. I set up a Sonos PLAYBAR with SUB in a bedroom and two PLAY:1 speakers around the house and provided virtually no instructions to test how well the Sonos works when thrown into a normal household, not an AV reviewer’s home.

Why Sonos is the winner

Sonos is flexible, easy to use, integrates into your current system and works with a huge array of services and content providers. It has been around since 2004, and that time has let the company build up its product to be better than anyone else’s. It also sounds fantastic.

The $50 Sonos BRIDGE enables a separate wireless mesh network that your music streams over without interfering with your Wi-Fi network — and it’s one of the reasons we recommend Sonos. However, as of September, a Sonos firmware update makes it possible to stream music through the speakers via your local Wi-Fi network, no BRIDGE (or physical connection to a router) is necessary.

If I were starting out with Sonos, I would purchase a pair of PLAY:1 speakers and get the BRIDGE. I could use them in a stereo pair or have music in two rooms. They are small enough to easily move around the house to determine where I want them, or if I need a larger speaker in a particular room. They’re compact enough to sit out of the way but still can fill a good-sized room with music.

Expanding beyond those two PLAY:1 speakers would be a harder choice. If I already have a dedicated stereo setup or home theater, the CONNECT might be where I look. I think it is a bit expensive for what it does, but it is still cheaper than replacing an existing system with something new. If I had no sound system for my TV, I’d probably look at the PLAYBAR. It sounds very good and does a wonderful job with music. My main reservation about it is the single Optical input when I’d like to see an HDMI input with ARC as well.

Beyond that, the system is versatile, and can be arranged (and rearranged) however you want to use it. There is a huge selection of Sonos products, from speakers to a soundbar to a subwoofer, and you can also integrate it with your existing stereo or use it with speakers you own. Your options include (prices in USD):

  • PLAY:1. A single speaker for $200 with a tweeter and midrange/woofer drivers.

  • PLAY:3. A $300 speaker with a tweeter and dual midrange/bass drivers for greater output.

  • PLAY:5. A $500 six-driver speaker with three tweeters and three midrange/woofers for larger spaces that can be oriented vertically or horizontally.

  • PLAYBAR. A $700, three-channel, nine-driver sound bar to be used with your TV as well as stream music.

  • SUB. A $700, dual-driver subwoofer to pair with other Sonos speakers when greater bass output is required.

  • CONNECT. A $350 device with line level outputs to connect to your existing Hi-Fi system.

  • CONNECT:AMP. A $500 device with a 55-watt per channel, stereo amplifier to directly connect to speakers.

  • BRIDGE. A $50 hub to create the Sonos mesh network if your speakers will not be placed next to your wireless router.

  • BOOST. A $100 a supercharged BRIDGE with more antennas and a more powerful radio to extend the range of the Sonos system in larger systems and houses.

Competitors like Bose and Samsung only sell units that are integrated into speakers without line-output jacks. If you already have speakers, you’ll be buying another set of speakers with the Bose and Samsung units and cannot use your existing ones.

Beyond a larger selection of hardware, Sonos lets you access more music and content. Almost all streaming services you might use are supported, from Spotify to MOG to Amazon Cloud Player to far less common ones. And as of April, Google Play Music can stream directly to the speakers. It also supports a wide selection of audio formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WAV. Other systems have a much smaller selection of content and supported formats to choose from, meaning you might have to switch services or manually convert the music on your hard drive before you can play it back.

It took less than an hour to go from opening the packages to having all four separate speakers playing.

With Sonos, it’s incredibly simple to get everything set up and working together. For this guide, Sonos sent over a set of packages including two PLAY:1 speakers, a PLAYBAR sound bar, a SUB, and BRIDGE. It took less than an hour to go from opening the packages to having all four separate speakers playing. All of this is due to iOS and Android apps that carefully walk you through everything on-screen. If you can install an app on your smartphone, you can set up a Sonos system for your whole house.

The sound quality of the Sonos products is superb. I reviewed and measured the PLAY:1 speaker, and it performed much better than you would expect from a $400 pair of speakers. Averaging 48 in-room measurements to get an accurate response, I saw bass extension down to 80 hertz. That’s an admirable number for a small bookshelf speaker, and the vocal clarity is very impressive. With a pair of PLAY:1 speakers the soundstage they present is wide and deep. The PLAYBAR sounds wonderful in a living room and combines with the optional SUB to produce a full-range, dynamic system that sounds bigger than it looks. Many people are fine with sacrificing a bit of quality for convenience, but the Sonos products do not force that choice.

A Sonos system works together flawlessly and is also easy to expand. The system I described earlier can easily provide audio to three rooms in a house using one TV room with the PLAYBAR, and two other rooms with the PLAY:1 speakers. The SUB can be added to any of those systems where you might want more bass.


Sonos has also launched Trueplay, which works on the PLAY:5 as well as most of the other Sonos speakers aside from the PLAYBAR. Trueplay uses your iOS microphone (not Android yet due to hardware issues) to measure the frequency response of the Sonos speaker in your room. It can then correct for room issues and make the speaker sound more like it should.

Testing it with the new PLAY:5 and other Sonos speakers around the house, it does a very good job with speakers that are poorly positioned. With a PLAY:5 stuck in the corner of my kitchen it corrected the bass hump caused by the position and created overall better clarity. Since Trueplay is free, as long as you have an iOS device, it helps to set the Sonos system apart from others. Paradigm showed PlayFi speakers at CEDIA that use their Anthem Room Correction technology but those models start at $600 for a single speaker.

Trueplay is still in beta testing now, but will be available to everyone soon, likely around when the PLAY:5 ships on November 20.

Ready to form Voltron (AKA Sonos is surround sound capable)

The Bridge lived on top of the receiver.

The BRIDGE lived on top of the receiver.

Or you can combine these all into one system and make it a true 5.1 channel surround sound system. The flexibility of Sonos lets you rearrange the speakers into any configuration you want. Every other solution on the market right now is focused on one or two speaker solutions and leaving the home theater alone. Sonos has expanded to handle a home theater as well as music.

With their PLAYBAR and SUB you can form a true 5.1 system. Doing this is easy enough that you could make it a 5.1 system for movie night and then take it apart later. All you need is a couple of outlets and 5-10 minutes in the app. The individual models—the PLAY:1, 3, and 5—can be used on their own or in stereo pairs. The PLAYBAR can be used as a three-channel sound bar, with a SUB or with two of the PLAY models for a full surround sound setup. None of the other brands on the market have the same product selection as Sonos, meaning there’s no way to combine them into a full surround sound setup.

As mentioned earlier, Sonos’ special wireless mesh network makes a noticeable difference in audio quality and reception. In the months I’ve spent with Sonos, I never once had a hiccup in the connection. I can’t say that about my other media streamers, which only use Wi-Fi.

I’ve also tried my set-up without the BRIDGE, using the updated Sonos software that takes advantage of my home Wi-Fi network. It’s worked fine, but I’m also using our new best router pick, and all of our Sonos speakers are no further than 15 feet away.Sonos also says that it’s best to to keep a BRIDGE that’s already in place, or get one if you plan on creating complex, multi-room sound systems at home.

Depending on the complexity of your set-up (and traffic on your Wi-Fi network), Sonos has another option too: the $100 BOOST. The BOOST acts as a supercharged BRIDGE with more antennas and a more powerful radio to extend the range of the Sonos system in larger systems and houses.  But if you have Sonos and using Wi-Fi works for you, then you have no reason to add a BRIDGE or BOOST. If you want to run a multichannel system with a subwoofer (like the PLAYBAR with the SUB) then you need one of these as that setup is not supported over Wi-Fi only. If you have a highly congested Wi-Fi network, a 5GHz-only network, or are having range issues, then you should consider a BRIDGE or BOOST.

The most common complaint in the past with Sonos has been the high cost of entry, but that barrier has been reduced. Sonos no longer produces the $300 dedicated remote, replacing it with the app for your iOS or Android phone. The PLAY:1 speaker can be hooked directly to your network and be ready to go for just $200. (By comparison, the Bose SoundTouch system starts at $400 for the cheapest unit and uses Wi-Fi, making it vulnerable to drop-outs. The only Samsung speaker is the $400 M7, and if you want more than one, you need the $50 Hub.)

Who else likes the Sonos?

Sonos has been around much longer than any of its competitors, meaning there are more reviews to sift through. Glancing through reviews for any of their products, you’ll find wide support for the line and brand.

Wirecutter founder Brian Lam has talked about how setting up a whole house Sonos system let him listen to 10 times as much music as he did before.

There is near-universal praise for the recent PLAY:1 speakers. Matthew Moskovciak of CNet says the PLAY:1 “finally brings the company’s wireless audio magic to the masses”. Andrew Williams of Trusted Reviews also says, “This is probably Sonos’s most impressive product to date.” Wirecutter contributor Brent Butterworth gives it a perfect five-star rating on About.com and raved about the measured performance, finding it “measures extremely flat, comparable to what I might usually measure from a very good $3,000/pair tower speaker.”

Sonos isn’t perfect

As good as Sonos is, there are a few things that it can improve upon. For one, it could really use Bluetooth and Airplay support. Let’s not mince words—that’s a flaw in an otherwise perfect hardware and strong software system.

Sonos lets you stream audio stored on your phone through your system using their software instead of Bluetooth or Airplay. It doesn’t substitute for the other benefit of those services: Being able to play anything off your phone, no matter what app it’s streamed from. Sonos’ wide support for streaming services also means you can play those back inside of the Sonos app instead of needing to stream them directly from your device. But if a new service comes out, you’ll need Sonos to add support for it since you can’t stream it from your phone. In our subjective experience, Sonos usually tends to add support for new services in a timely manner.

You can add Bluetooth or Airplay to Sonos, but in a roundabout way that is fairly expensive. Sonos provides a convenient guide to doing so. You’ll need to purchase a $95 Airport Express Base Station to act as your Airplay target. You’ll also need either aPLAY:5CONNECT, or CONNECT:AMP in your Sonos system, all of which are at least $350.

Once you connect the Airport Express to the Sonos device, you can set up the Sonos to automatically turn on one zone, or many, when you connect a device using Airplay.Setting up Bluetooth is similar, but the Logitech Adapter is cheaper than the Airport Express. Sonos really needs a $100 BRIDGE unit with a Line In feature to help eliminate this issue.

Some older components are overpriced: The CONNECT and CONNECT:AMP should be half the price, or less. The CONNECT sells for $350 and simply provides a signal for your existing stereo. Compared to the $200 PLAY:1 speaker, that seems high. And at $499, the CONNECT:AMP alone, without speakers, fares poorly compared to a pair of PLAY:1s or PLAY:3s, or even the PLAYBAR.

Sonos also lacks a portable battery-powered speaker, so there’s no way to unplug one and take it outside for music unless you have access to a power line. Bose offers one in their SoundTouch line, but Sonos has nothing.While easy to set up and mostly easy to use, the Sonos app’s interface could also use an overhaul. The mobile app can be confusing at first because it doesn’t seem to flow in the same way other music apps do. (The desktop app seems less annoying to me, though Wirecutter editor Jacqui Cheng thinks it could use some usability work as well.) Once I figured it out, it’s simple, but some of the controls work differently than the modern smartphone apps people are familiar with. Both could benefit from updated versions to remove the learning curve.

It also lacks the ability to play files with higher-than-CD resolution—which, to be honest, is more of a niche feature. People that require this can get a whole house music system from Bluesound (although, unless you want this specific feature, it’s really too pricy—see below). If Sonos adds support for these, even sampled down to regular CD quality, it would improve upon their already-excellent file format support.

Long-term test notes

The Sonos system still continues to perform well after a few months of continual use. Occasionally Spotify tracks will skip, but this also happens to me on receivers with Spotify Connect. There was a week where sometimes a zone player would not show up in the software, but after I finished configuring my new router correctly that went away. After months of daily use it continues to hold up well with no issues aside from those.

What about a Bluetooth/Airplay speaker?

A Sonos system can possibly replace a Bluetooth/Airplay system, but it can also complement it. You can connect the Sonos system to a Bluetooth or Airplay speaker that has a line-in, but you probably wouldn’t want to. As mentioned earlier, that would require using the Sonos CONNECT, and at $350 for the CONNECT you should just buy a Sonos PLAY:3 speaker instead to complement the Airplay or Bluetooth speaker.

The most important thing is determining if Sonos supports what you listen to and how and where you listen. Are all your streaming services and local files supported, or do you have another media format or source on your phone? If you listen to something on your phone that Sonos doesn’t support, then a Bluetooth or Airplay speaker might be better.

If you also do all of your listening in a single room and thus only need one speaker, or need your music system to be portable, you should probably look at a Bluetooth or Airplay speaker. Sonos doesn’t have a truly portable solution, as everything needs a wall outlet. You also need at least one component or the BRIDGE to connect to your home network, probably at the wireless router, for it to work. If you don’t have access to a network for some reason, then you can’t make Sonos work for you.

Wrapping It Up

Sonos has the enviable combination of the best performance, best product lineup and best service ecosystem. Other products might offer a feature the Sonos lacks, like Bluetooth or high-resolution music support, but don’t have the complete package that Sonos does.

— — — — —

Blog review courtesy of The Wirecutter

Klipsch R6i Earphones Does It Again

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By now, you should know that the Klipsch Reference R6i in-ear Earphones are our best seller and favourite.
Well, if you do not yet know, now you do.

Klipsch R6i

Klipsch R6i gains another 5-star review from the credible WhatHifi gadgets guru. The pretty photo above is courtesy of the gadgets experts themselves.

WhatHifi boasts the R6i’s “pros” with the following pointers:

  • Comfortable fit
  • Rich, weighty bass
  • Warm and articulate midrange
  • Expansive treble

Well, we will be frank with everyone. They mentioned one “con” in their review: Significant cable noise.
But hey, it’s a give-and-take. Every flat tangle-free cable comes with this cable noise. It’s all about preference.

The cool thing about this particular review is that they tested the R6i earphones with various song choices. Obviously these earphones handle every and any genre well; from pop, to country, to even heavy Slipknot metal. Earphones aren’t just all about that bass. It’s versatility and performance that counts.

No, it ain’t about which celebrity is buying them too. That’s important. Write it down.

It’s the people’s choice that matters, not what appears on advertisements. Klipsch earphones are the No. 1 on Hardware Magazine Awards Readers’ Choice – for two consecutive years. The people have truly spoken.

If you would like to find out more, go ahead and read the full detailed review here.

Till next time, ciao!


Sonos unveils its smartest speaker ever with their new Play:5 (Hardware Zone)

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The new Play:5 comes in a choice of white or black.
The new Play:5 comes in a choice of white or black.
Sonos was arguably the first to hit the scene with multi-room audio, but there were some limitations in their earlier products – you needed an additional Sonos Connect unit to reliably play to multiple speakers, and the speakers didn’t feature HRA (High Resolution Audio) support at the moment, leaving them behind competitors like Lenco and Sony.
Well, that’s all changed with the new Play:5 though, and despite the lack of change in naming, the new speaker is being described both as “the future of Sonos” and as their “smartest speaker ever”. We were told that every single part of the speaker is designed by Sonos, with the aim of delivering a world-class speaker product that fits readily into people’s lives.
Every driver is custom built.
Every driver is custom built.
The Play:5 has six custom-designed drivers that are perfectly synchronized, with three mid-woofers for smooth mids and deep bass, and three tweeters for crystal clear highs. All of them are powered by dedicated amplifiers, and that allows the mid-woofers to create sounds as low as 27Hz. For reference, that’s about as low as the Sonos Playbar goes, which is pretty impressive when you consider how much smaller the Play:5 is.
The new Play:5 speaker gives a focused, intense sweet spot in vertical orientation.
The new Play:5 speaker gives a focused, intense sweet spot in vertical orientation.
The drivers have been specially designed so the speaker can work equally in three orientations – vertically, horizontally, and as part of a stereo pair. When placed as a stereo pair in horizontal orientation, the Play:5 speakers offer a large stereo image for better room-filling capabilities.
When placed vertically though, the Play:5 speakers offer a focused, intense sweet spot for more intimate listening, something we noticed when we were treated to Firestone by Kygo. This is a dark, moody track that picks up the beat pretty quickly, and we were quite impressed to hear the clarity in the speakers on some of the higher electro synth notes, as well as to feel the deep thump of the grounding bass beat.

Design updates

 The buttons on the original Play:5.
The buttons on the original Play:5.
The touch sensitive LED buttons on the new Play:5. You can also see that the overall design has a more new-age look and feel to it.
The touch sensitive LED buttons on the new Play:5.
You can also see that the overall design has a more new-age look and feel to it.
The new Sonos Play:5 features touch sensitive controls unlike the buttons on the old model, these work with smart sensors within the speaker to ensure that the volume-up button is always oriented properly, making it easy to use regardless of how you choose to place the speaker. The speaker grill is curved to optimize the speaker’s acoustic projection for a large sound stage, while the grill features almost 60,000 holes to ensure transparency of sound. Even the “Sonos” label is perforated, which goes to show the extent Sonos has gone to optimize the capabilities of the Play:5.
Even the label is perforated for optimal sound transmission.
Even the label is perforated for optimal sound transmission.
Compared to the old Play:5 speakers, the new Play:5 speakers are a bit shorter and slightly narrower, but also quite a bit deeper too. It features a polycarbonate shell that reduces wireless interference and allows the Play:5 to endure high-humidity conditions like kitchens and our tropical climate, so that should mean the speaker can last a lot longer.
From the side it's more evident: the new Play:5 speaker (foreground) is definitely deeper and shorter than its predecessor (distant background).
From the side it’s more evident: the new Play:5 speaker (foreground) is definitely deeper and shorter than its predecessor (distant background).

Performance: Old vs. New


Interestingly enough, Tat Chuan Acoustic had a Play:5 from the old series present, and switched between the old and the new Play:5 set to let us hear the difference. Clearly, the new Play:5 speakers demonstrate better resolution and clarity over the entire audio range of the speaker. Vocals on the old speaker sounded a little muddy in comparison, and the low bass notes lacked the detail brought forward by the new speakers, so evidently Sonos has done quite a bit of work between generations!
They look similar, but sound vastly different.
They look similar, but sound vastly different. 
Next up was a more interesting demonstration: Tat Chuan invited a local singer by the name of Deon to perform one of his tracks live – after we heard it play on the Play:5. The idea being is to show that the Play:5 was capable of rendering audio so realistic that we would barely be able to tell the difference. We took a short listen to the track (Winter), and then Deon took to stage to perform it live.
The result? Well, there is a certain palpable energy to a live performance that comes from both the vocals and musical instruments of the performers that doesn’t quite translate to recordings, so that was definitely lacking from the Play:5’s rendition, but otherwise, we must say the little speaker performed most admirably. Here’s a short video clip of the test so you can judge for yourself:

Trueplay gets your system going the right way

We all have different rooms and spaces, so Trueplay helps you get optimal audio without special equipment.
We all have different rooms and spaces, so Trueplay helps you get optimal audio without special equipment.
A new feature in the Sonos app that will soon be available to all Sonos speakers, Trueplay is a piece of audio tuning software that uses the microphone on your iPhone or iPad to capture test tones emitted by a Sonos speaker. The system uses these tones to analyze how sound reflects off all the different surfaces in the room and then calibrates your speakers so they take these into effect. The end result is that your audio will be optimized for the room your speakers sit in so they sound their best. That’s an important innovation as now you won’t need to be an audio engineer or spend thousands of dollars to fix your room to get the best sound, simply run the app, follow the instructions, and you’re done. It’s certainly a useful feature, and we’re glad to hear that it will be slowly rolled out to all Sonos products.
At the end of the day, we have to say the Play:5 really did impress us, so we’re eager to put it in our labs to see how it stacks up against the rest of this year’s competition. Multi-room audio is certainly heating up, and that can only mean better sounding music to the ears of audio lovers every where.
The Sonos Play:5 will be available at all authorized retailers from 25 November for S$999.
Blog by Hardware Zone (http://www.hardwarezone.com.sg/m/feature-sonos-unveils-its-smartest-speaker-ever-their-new-play5)


Sonos: everything you need to know (WhatHiFi)

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Want to listen to music anywhere in the house? A wireless Sonos sound system may be the answer. But what is it, what can it do, and what are the alternatives out there? We’re here to help.

In times past, you’d come across some fairly major logistical issues if you wanted to be able to listen to your entire music collection anywhere in your home. You’d either need to move your sound system from room to room, or put up with wires and cables trailing under doors and rugs and up the stairs. Or, of course, you could spend a fortune on a home install system.

The rise of digital and computer-based music made things easier by adding the element of portability to your audio collection. But there was still the question of having a system that didn’t need constant moving or the trailing of leads around the home. That’s where the wireless revolution comes in…

You can now stream audio from a range of devices to speakers around the home using a wireless connection – with no great compromise on sound quality. There are different ways to do this, different products and technologies, but one of the companies to lead has been Sonos, carving out a niche as a mass market, mainstream solution.

Now there are many players in the home wireless sound system game, with a range of manufacturers like Bluesound, Bose, Cambridge Audio, LG and Samsung offering ways to enjoy your music collection – wherever you are in your home.

That’s why we’re here to help, providing you with the answers you need to set-up your own multi-room system.

What is Sonos? How does it work?

Sonos is an American company founded in 2002 with a simple aim – to transform your home sound system for the digital age. It has released products and software designed to “fill every room” of your home. Its real bonus is the flexibility and functionality of its products.

The Sonos wireless sound system works by connecting one single device to your home network to play music – from either online or local sources – before adding more Sonos devices (up to a maximum of 32) that all connect using a secure wireless mesh network known as Sonosnet.

Sonos launched the amplified ZonePlayer ZP100 and CR100 controller back in 2004. And it hasn’t looked back since, continuing to innovate with new products to expand and enhance the listening experience at home, while adding streaming services to its ever growing roster of offerings.

There are two main types of players in the Sonos system: all-in-one Zoneplayers such as the Play:1 or Play:3, and CONNECT-branded products that can turn existing audio equipment into a Sonos Zone. A subwoofer and a Sonos-enabled soundbar have also come to the market for use with a TV.

Sonos apps and services

In addition to the ability to play a digitally stored music collection, which can be streamed from a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, Sonos comes with a multitude of music apps and services that allow you to customise playlists and explore new or forgotten music.

These include, but are by no means limited to, SpotifyNapsterDeezerRdio, SoundCloud and Last.fm. It’w worth noting, though, that you will need subscriptions for some of these.

French company Qobuz and the now Jay-Z-owned Tidal bring CD-quality, lossless streaming to Sonos. While other services offer files at 320kbps, Qobuz and Tidal on Sonos offer unlimited streaming access to CD-quality FLAC files at 16-bit/44.1kHz for a monthly subscription charge.

As for the recently-announced Apple Music, it seems Apple Music on Sonos should arrive by the end of 2015.

Sonos: Getting Started


A Sonos system is fairly straightforward to set up. If you want to play music in the same room as your wi-fi router, you can just hook up a Play:1, Play:3 or Play:5 speaker. It used to be the case that you’d have to do this directly using an ethernet cable or connect a Bridge (£39) to the router, the latter being particularly helpful if you wanted to play music elsewhere in the home.

However, after Sonos’s 5.1 software update made it possible to connect your Sonos speaker direct to your wi-fi network using the dedicated Sonos controller app, that is no longer the case. The app transforms the units into true, one-box wireless speakers and removes the need for a wired connection to your router.

That now means the Play:1 (£169) – arguably the most flexible of the speakers as it can be moved from room to room – is the entry-level price for a Sonos system, with the Play:3 (£259) and old Play:5 (£349) moving up the size, bass and cost scale. And don’t forget there’s the new Sonos Play:5 for 2015 (£429).

The Connect (£279) will turn your stereo into a streaming system, while a Connect:Amp (£399) works with your wired speakers.

And Sonos has also launched the Boost, a more powerful version of the Bridge which is there to lend a helping hand in more challenging wireless environments. The company says it offers “complete 360-degree signals through walls and ceilings” and is twice the strength of the Bridge. It’s on sale for £79.

MORE: Sonos software update removes need for wired connection

Sonos Trueplay

image: http://images.cdn.whathifi.com/sites/whathifi.com/files/styles/big-image/public/brands/news/Sonos-Play-5/dsc02947a.jpg?itok=bC1RXLNg

Also announced alongside the new Play:5 was Sonos Trueplay. Launching on the new speaker, but soon to be made available on the existing wireless speaker products, it’s a new feature in the Sonos app that will calibrate your speaker to your room.

Wherever you place your Sonos speaker in the room will affect the sound. The Trueplay feature aims to counter this, using the microphone on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch (it’s not yet available on the Android or Windows Phone Sonos apps) to take your speaker through a set up process.

Running through a series of test tones and sweeps, which will be familiar to anyone who has set up an AV receiver, the process aims to tune your speaker to the room, adjusting the bass and the treble, to get it sounding as good as it can. If you don’t like the changes, you can always change it back.

MORE: What is Sonos Trueplay? Everything you need to know

Sonos: Missing features and things to consider

Of course, while Sonos may bill itself as a “wireless hi-fi system”, there’s no denying that a dedicated separates system will deliver better sound for a little more cash than, say, the Play:5. Perhaps no surprise, they’re different products.

And there are myriad streaming options should you value sound quality above the flexibility Sonos offers: a NAS device allows you to stream music to, say, the Pioneer N-50 or the Cyrus Stream XP2-QX, and the more streamers you buy the more rooms of music you can have.

But you don’t get the multi-room functionality, nor the simple, brilliant interface of the Sonos apps. And it’s notably more expensive.

You would however get high-res audio support – something not offered by Sonos, which maxes out at CD-quality files.

There’s also no AirPlay or Bluetooth functionality built in to Sonos products, meaning you can’t direct stream from music apps, YouTube and others on a phone or tablet (apart from on Google Play Music, thanks to an update). It is possible to add an AirPort Express to Sonos models with a line input, however.

MORE: Awards 2014 – Best multi-room systems

Sonos: Products and Reviews

Looking to invest in a Sonos wireless speaker? Fancy creating your own home sound system and don’t want all those trailing wires?

Take a look at our round-up of all Sonos products that we’ve had in our test rooms.

Sonos Play:1

5 stars

Tested at £170 / compare latest prices

The Play:1 won us over in the same way the Play:3 and Play:5 did. It’s ease of use is a huge draw, but it’s backed up by fantastic sound quality and an affordable price. Sound quality that was boosted by an update this year, no less.

Whether you’re looking to get started on your Sonos journey, or just adding bits to an existing set-up, you won’t regret finding a spot for the Play:1 in your home.

MORE: Sonos Play:1 review


Sonos Play:3

5 stars

Tested at £260 / compare latest prices

Like the Play:5, the Play:3 is an all-in-one that combines a network music client, amp and speakers, making it simple to add an extra zone to an existing Sonos system.

You can also link two Play:3s together to make a stereo pair, as well as being able to stream music directly from your Android device, iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

MORE: Sonos Play:3 review

The new Play:5

Sonos Play:5

5 stars

Tested at £349 / compare latest prices

When we reviewed the Sonos Play:5, it showed just how far the company had come. It is perfectly pitched, stylistically and technologically – a premium-feeling proposition we described as being ‘”as close to hi-fi as wi-fi gets”.MORE: Sonos Play:5 review


Sonos Play:5 (2015)

Tested at £429 / compare latest prices

It may have the same model number but the new Play:5 is a big departure from the existing model. The speaker drivers are redesigned, and there’s one more, while the outside has a new style, which allows it to be placed horizontally and vertically. There are also touch sensitive controls. A whole host of other upgrades and improvements promise to make it the best Sonos speaker yet.

MORE: Sonos Play:5 (2015) review

Sonos Playbar

5 stars

Tested at £600 / compare latest prices

If you’re after a simple device that will massively improve the sound from your TV and give you immediate access to more music than you could ever hope to listen to, only the Sonos Playbar will do. And it has had an update to boost the sound quality further.

MORE: Sonos Playbar review


Sonos Playbar and Sub

4 stars

Tested at £1200

If you sign up for the Playbar and Sub, you’ll need to take into account a couple of minor caveats – only a digital optical connection, some compatibility issues and no DTS support.

Essentially an over-qualified soundbar, it will however boost your TV’s sound and deliver another room of music. The sub certainly helps fill the sound out, too.

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Blog review courtesy of WhatHiFi

Sonos' New Products Are A Win Against Forced Obsolescence (Forbes Tech)

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This past week, Sonos—makers of speakers that have become popular for their ability to play music directly from a wide variety of streaming services—made two big announcements: An evolutionary update to their Play:5 flagship speaker (out November 20), and one almost-magical software feature called Trueplay.

First, lets back up. As far as consumer electronics companies goes, Sonos is a strange beast. The gadget world is notorious for an unending train of forced obsolescence. Whether it’s an operating system update that slows or freezes an aging gadget or the addition of a must-have new feature, your year-old devices never quite seem good enough. Sonos largely ditches that playbook, opting instead to keep its products on shelves for years, while releasing new ones on a blue-moon basis. To put some numbers behind this, the last major Sonos release was way back in 2013, when the company released the bookshelf-and-bathroom-sized Play:1.

Sonos is also a company that tends to nurture its existing product line. Longtime Sonos users will notice that regular software updates fundamentally change the way their years-old products operate, giving these devices the smarts of brand-new gadgets, without forcing consumers to spend more money. When the Play:1 launched three years ago, it required a device called a “Bridge” to hook into your home network router before its wireless magic could do its thing. Today, updated software allows these same Play:1 devices to stream songs sans Bridge. And if you happened to already have a Bridge, it’s not wasted: Sonos’ new software allows them to serve as network extenders for the Sonos system, making it easier for speakers in the far reaches of a large house to play nice with each other.

Sonos' new TruePlay feature tunes the company's speakers for specific rooms (photo: Sonos)

Which brings us to Trueplay, which may be the most ambitious effort I’ve ever seen to breathe new life into old electronics. This feature, which arrives via an update to the iOS version of the Sonos mobile app sometime prior to the Play:5′s November 20 release, is designed to map a room’s unique acoustic properties, and then use this information to optimize the way each speaker plays. According to Sonos reps, this is important because consumers tend to be pretty haphazard in terms of how they place their speakers. Sure, audiophiles may know these things matter, but the average consumer is just as likely to leave speakers behind a nightstand, or facing a wall, or squished together in a corner. “We visited hundreds of homes with Sonos and it became super clear that the real world is really messy in terms of what speaker placement and room acoustics do with the sound,” says Jon Reilly, a Sonos product manager.

TruePlay works by having the user slowly walk around the perimeter of a room, waving their iOS device around in the air. The entire process takes about 45 seconds (after a short tutorial video), during which time the Sonos speakers play a high-pitched chirp that sounds like it came from a Space Invaders-esque video game. As it moves around the room, the iOS device’s microphone picks up this chirp, and uses all sorts of software and algorithmic wizardry to tune the speakers accordingly. If you use a modicum of common sense when placing your speakers, you’re unlikely to notice a huge change in the way things sound, but if you tend to shove things in the corner or behind books (hey, I have friends who do this!), you’ll probably be pretty pleased (and possibly astonished) with the improvement.

The new Sonos Play:5 streaming speaker (photo: Sonos)

The new Sonos Play:5 streaming speaker (photo: Sonos)

And while one can be forgiven for viewing such support for old speakers as a sign that Sonos doesn’t actually want us to buy their new products, the company has one worth looking at. The brand-new Play:5, which replaces a years-old model of the same name, is the company’s biggest and baddest sound speaker yet. A slick rounded box, the Play:5 contains six discreet speakers behind its grill: three tweeters and three midwoofers, each with a dedicated amplifier. These guts deliver what Reilly describes as “well over two times the acoustic horsepower” of the old Play:5, making this speaker plenty loud and plenty clear at these high volumes (I never once felt like my room was anything less than full of sound), with a surprising amount of bass for a standalone box. Like other Sonos speakers, the new Play:5 also works as an expandable set, with the ability to easily pair it with a second Play:5 for an impromptu stereo performance.

In many ways, Sonos’ strategy feels like a throwback to the old days of hi-fi, when speakers were treated more like furniture than gadgets, and built and bought to last for years—or even decades. With software as a tool, Sonos reps told me their goal is to design products that last at least 10 years. And in era where we’re used to throwing out our phones every year or two, this is an approach I can get behind.

Seth Porges is a writer and co-creator of Cloth app. For more fun, follow Seth on Twitter at @sethporges, or subscribe to him on Facebook or Google+.

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Blog review courtesy of Forbes.com

How Sonos Built the Perfect Wireless Speaker (Bloomberg)

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How Sonos Built the Perfect Wireless SpeakerPhotograph by David Brandon Geeting

The Sonos Studio is easy to miss, tucked between vintage furniture stores and art galleries on a sun-bleached stretch of La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles. Sonos is a company that makes exactly nine products—five wireless speakers for playing music at home and four accessories—but here at the studio, its only permanent retail space, it’s not possible to purchase any of them. Instead, one might encounter a listening party, a music-inspired art installation, a class on sound production, or a concert. Off to one side is a wall-mounted skateboard “lending library,” and across from that is a living room decorated in late-era hipster, with cow skulls, taxidermied squirrels, and a chandelier shaped like an octopus. The room is laid out to show how a consumer might install a Sonos audio system at home. On repeat visits there’s but a single customer, who seems most interested in the free Wi-Fi. An employee estimates that 10 people come in on the average weekday.

John MacFarlane, Sonos’s co-founder and chief executive, shrugs when asked about the wisdom of a showroom where none of his products are for sale. “Maybe it’s a bad idea,” he says, smiling.

MacFarlane is a tall man prone to relaxed postures. He’s comfortable doing the seemingly weird thing and waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. It’s what has allowed Sonos, a business he helped start in 2002, to outsell some of the biggest technology companies on the planet in the single category—home audio—in which it chooses to compete. Sonos, however, is growing less niche by the year, as more consumers find they want what it does.

Sonos’s speakers may be the perfect conduits for streaming music services. It sells three core models, Play:1, Play:3, and Play:5, which are best understood as loud, louder, and loudest. There’s also Playbar, a long, thin speaker that goes under a TV, and a subwoofer. They range in price from $199 to $699. Sonos also sells a $499 device that will hook up old-fashioned speakers to Sonos’s system, as well as hardware for improving wireless signals.

CEO MacFarlane with Sonos designers and product managers
Photograph by Julian Berman for Bloomberg BusinessweekCEO MacFarlane with Sonos designers and product managers

The sleek, minimalist products all talk to one another, and most users control the system with a smartphone app. With the app, users can play music from virtually any source—Spotify, Internet radio stations, a local computer—and make it come out of all the speakers at the same time, or play different songs on different speakers. Those who cling to the ancient ways of the audiophile can make a stereo pair out of two units by changing a setting, but most customers get their music out of just one Sonos speaker per room. And the biggest devotees have them all over the house.

Until recently, home audio systems capable of such varied setups were bespoke indulgences for early adopters and the carefree rich. But Sonos’s products are becoming almost commonplace. The company turned profitable in 2012 and says it will surpass $1 billion in annual sales in early 2015. Before the invention of the iPod and iPhone—even before most people had Wi-Fi at home—Sonos predicted the era of ubiquitous, streaming music. It spent the next 12 years meticulously refining its speakers’ design, such that they’re now more like smart furniture than consumer electronics. It took that long for the idea of playing music from the cloud to take off. Once it did, so did Sonos.

When MacFarlane and three co-founders—Craig Shelburne, Tom Cullen, and Trung Mai—started Sonos in 2002, they had no background in audio technology or hardware. They’d been selling messaging applications to giant telecoms at Software.com, a Santa Barbara, Calif., company MacFarlane had founded in 1993. In 2000 the startup merged with Phone.com in a $6.8 billion deal near the peak of the dot-com bubble. The foursome left about a year later, rented an office in downtown Santa Barbara, and tried to figure out what to do next.

They understood Internet infrastructure and believed that two developments were going to fundamentally change the typical home. One was Wi-Fi, which was on the cusp of becoming widely affordable. The second was Napster, which had just exposed a generation to the idea of a virtually limitless music library.

“Literally we took a clean sheet of paper and said, ‘Well, what if we made a stereo system for the modern age?’ ” MacFarlane says, leaning back in his chair in the small, Spanish-style courtyard in front of headquarters. “I think we still have that paper around. I swear, it looks like a bunch of Sonos units you’d buy today. It just takes a while to build this stuff.”

They listed the three features they wanted for the hi-fi of the future: You shouldn’t have to get up from the sofa to control the music; you should be able to pick any song you want to play; and you shouldn’t have to mess with wires. That was it. That was the whole plan. It still is.

Many Silicon Valley startups subscribe to Facebook’s (FB) mantra that one should “Move fast and break things.” At Sonos, flush with capital from the Software.com sale and operating in sleepy Santa Barbara, rushing was anathema. To come up with a name for the company, the founders hired David Placek, the branding guru who coined the names for the PowerBook, the Zune, and the BlackBerry. They rejected so many of his suggestions that he almost quit. Eventually Placek hit on Sonos. A palindrome and an ambigram (a word that’s still legible when rotated), it has no meaning in any language, and it’s easy to pronounce. “It’s an empty vessel you can put a lot of work into,” MacFarlane says.

Most decisions got this treatment. The design team fought with engineers over the placement of a mute button, while the acoustics team battled with wireless experts over where the antenna should go. “We just sat down and argued about everything, from the very beginning,” says MacFarlane. It took more than two years to create a working product: a $1,199 bundle consisting of two speakers, two amplifiers, and a controller.

MacFarlane brought a prototype to the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show, the annual gadget-unveiling orgy in Las Vegas. A product manager from Yamaha went up to the Sonos booth. He’d heard that something like a thousand different audio sources could plug into the system. Where did they fit all the plugs? MacFarlane tried to explain that the system was fed by data from the Internet, not traditional analog audio connectors. The guy walked away shaking his head. Few people were quite as clueless, but the exchange encouraged MacFarlane and his partners that they had a product no one else had, and that gave them a shot at taking on the giants of home audio.

Later in 2004, Sonos showed off its remote control at a Wall Street Journalconference. The device featured a scroll wheel, not too different from the interface of an early iPod. At the conference, Steve Jobs came up to MacFarlane in a rage, poked his finger at his chest, and said he’d sue Sonos out of existence. The incident made the front page of the Journal. No suit was ever filed. Sonos was on the map.

The bundle hit the market in 2005. Sonos sold systems to about 7,000 households that year, MacFarlane says, mostly via high-end audio stores, whose main line of business was wiring complex speaker systems through rich people’s homes. The Sonos system was radically simple. Each speaker had only three buttons, and, of course, there weren’t any wires to trip over. Like Apple (AAPL), Sonos built every important element in its system as well as the code that knits it together, so the whole thing seemed to just work. Users became obsessives. Of those initial households, MacFarlane says, virtually every one still uses a Sonos—in many cases, parts of the original bundle. The company knows this because all its products connect to the Internet, allowing them to be tracked remotely.

Rapturous product reviews came quickly. “Pure heaven,” David Pogue of the New York Times wrote in 2006; “the Lexus of the category,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg. The price, though, remained too high for most—Sonos’s next controller featured a touchscreen and cost $350. Help came from a familiar place. A few months after the new remote came out, Apple unveiled the iPhone, and soon began accepting apps from third parties. Sonos shifted resources away from its own touchscreen development and hired software engineers to create an app for iOS. Customers and reviewers were astonished that it seemed to work better than the proprietary remote. With the price of entry to the Sonos ecosystem now lower, overall sales rose, MacFarlane says.

From the outside, Sonos appeared to move with all the urgency of a mollusk, releasing just four products from 2009 to the October 2013 introduction of its version of an entry-level speaker, the $199 Play:1. Big infusions of capital—$110 million in total, including from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR)—allowed the company to take its time and burnish its reputation as a perfectionist. Patrick Spence joined the company two years ago from then-Research In Motion as the head of product development. He was shocked to witness the delayed release of the Playbar, which hooks up to TVs and video players to deliver surround sound. The device was supposed to come out before the 2012 holiday shopping season, but the design team wasn’t happy with the cloth that covered the front grill. It didn’t look elegant enough and sometimes pilled after packaging. Sonos held the Playbar until February—an unthinkable decision at most companies. “A question I kept hearing was: Is this beautiful enough to deserve a place in someone’s home for 10 years?” Spence recalls. The Playbar is currently the best-selling product in its class, according to NPD Group.

As Sonos was polishing its products, MP3 sales were leveling off and streaming music services were starting to catch on. Pandora (P) went public in June 2011, followed a month later by Spotify’s introduction in the U.S. Today, Sonos estimates that some 150 million people worldwide are what it calls “modern music lovers”—anyone who listens to music via the Internet and wants better-quality sound. It doesn’t matter that virtually no streaming music company has figured out a way to make money, just so long as consumers get hooked on the format. The more people begin to treat music like a utility, the more they’ll desire an object that projects it—the way you need a TV if you’re paying for cable. “Basically,” MacFarlane says, “it’s as simple as, if you already pay to stream music, you already get what Sonos does. We don’t have to work to educate you.”

Sonos makes a careful study of how its products fit into the home. Two years ago, the company hired Mark Trammell, a designer who’d worked at Digg, Twitter(TWTR), and on President Obama’s 2012 reelection effort. Both the campaign and Sonos involve what Trammell calls “a transfer of passion.” With speakers, this often plays out along gender lines. Typically, a guy brings a Sonos home because he’s into gadgets. How does his wife, girlfriend, or daughter become a Sonos fan? Trammell likes to interview customers in their homes, sometimes in the moment when a Sonos speaker first arrives and a family is taking it out of the box and deciding where it should go.

“They’re looking for a Sonos-size hole to fill,” he says. The small Play:1 is good for bathrooms and kitchens; the Play:5 tends to go in living rooms and dens. The accessories allow for attaching other kinds of sound equipment, such as weatherproof outdoor speakers, to the network. The average Sonos household has 2.1 units.

A key moment tends to be when family members discover how to add to and remix playlists together. Mark Whitten, Sonos’s chief product officer, compares the experience to that of the Xbox. “The reason gaming consoles became ascendant wasn’t because of the games,” he says. “It’s because two kids were sitting on a couch, playing together.” Whitten was hired six months ago from Microsoft (MSFT), where he introduced and oversaw much of the Xbox, including Xbox Live. He says he was attracted to Sonos, a company one-140th the size of his former employer, because it was going after something very simple, and “doing something that’s very simple is very, very hard.”

Take the basic Sonos proposition: playing the same music out of two speakers in two adjacent rooms. One box is downloading the song from an Internet music service and sending that information to the second box. There’s an acoustic challenge—the sound must be in perfect sync or the effect is ruined. And there’s a software challenge: If the user wants to start playing a different song on the second speaker, that speaker must immediately switch from being in harmony with its partner to pulling in its own data. Whitten describes a good user experience as a series of “ands”—you do this, and then that, and then another thing, all the while never noticing a lag or sensing the technology behind the experience. The tech, if done right, disappears. “How many things do I have to explain to you before you can go play music? If it’s more than one thing, that’s too many.”

In pursuit of such simplicity, Sonos’s R&D department has grown to 325 employees, split between Santa Barbara and Cambridge, Mass. Worldwide, Sonos now has about 1,100 workers, triple the number in 2012. The company’s acoustics lab is in a Santa Barbara neighborhood called the Funk Zone. Inside, there are a drum set, amps, and local beers on tap. On Thursday or Friday nights some of the engineers get together for jam sessions. Foo Fighters, Weezer, and the Rolling Stones blast overhead on Play:5 speakers. The place is beyond cluttered—the aesthetic opposite of the austere, reverent image that Sonos projects.

Down a long hallway referred to as the bowling alley sits a stack of discarded grills, the metal outer shell of the speakers. The preferred process of punching holes into each grill is—no surprise—an ongoing debate. On the Play:1, the company tried acid, lasers, even an old-fashioned punch machine. Each approach changed the look, feel, sound quality, and wireless range. Eventually Sonos developed its own drill machine to do the job.

In Los Angeles, the company is happy to provide its Sonos Studio, for free, to almost any artist of a certain stature or cool factor who wishes to use it. Moby and Alanis Morissette have performed there, and the band The xx created an interactive installation with 50 robotically controlled speakers. The studio is a clubhouse, but it’s also a honey trap—a space to lure artists, and even, eventually, customers.

The company did briefly yield to the obvious last year, allowing some sales of its products at the La Brea showroom during the 2013 holiday season. Greg Perlot, who oversees marketing and branding, says the company hasn’t decided whether to repeat the experiment this Christmas. “We just don’t yet have that experience sorted out,” he says.

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Blog courtesy of Bloomberg

Sonos Adds Simpler Wi-Fi Streaming to All of Its Speakers (Wired.Com)

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Sonos Bridge

You no longer need a Bridge to stream music to your Sonos speakers. (Photo: Sonos)
Can’t decide what song to listen to on your Sonos speakers today? You should start with “The Bridge Is Over” by Boogie Down Productions. That’s because you won’t need the $50 Sonos Bridge to stream music to the company’s speakers anymore—but you may still want to use one in many cases.Sonos just announced a firmware update that eliminates the need for the Bridge, which had to be physically connected to a router with an Ethernet cable for any Sonos system to work. Now, you can connect to one or more Sonos speakers directly via Wi-Fi, with no hard-wired connection. During configuration, a speaker will form an ad hoc connection with your mobile device. You can set up one of the speakers to act as a wireless bridge for multi-speaker setups, although there are some limitations as compared to a Bridge setup.The free over-the-air update will go out today, and the new feature is backwards-compatible. All new Sonos speakers will come with the new firmware, and the update is also being pushed out to all older Sonos systems. You’ll be able to choose between a “Standard Setup”—the new way that just uses Wi-Fi—and a “Bridge Setup” that uses the traditional wired-in hub.

According to Nick Millington, vice president of product development at Sonos, the Wi-Fi setup won’t impact performance. Millington says that network reliability and synchronization between speakers won’t be issues, and you’ll get “95 percent-plus” of the performance of a Bridge-equipped system. However, there are still scenarios in which a Bridge will still be the best route.

If you’ve already got a Sonos setup with a Bridge in place, you will likely want to keep it that way. Although the Wi-Fi connectivity is a simpler way to configure a single-room or single-speaker system, Sonos says that the Bridge is still the best way to drive more-elaborate and farther-reaching setups.

For the Wi-Fi-only setup, all speakers will need to be in range of your Wi-Fi router, which means you are limited in terms of speaker placement. And although the Wi-Fi feature will work with the company’s Playbar soundbar by itself, a hardwired Bridge is still required for 5.1- and 3.1-channel Sonos home-theater setups.

We haven’t had any hands-on time with the new “Standard Setup” feature, but it’s a welcome option especially for users of the compact and affordable Play:1. You won’t need a separate piece of hardware to stream music to it, and one less wire and one less gadget are generally good things.

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Blog courtesy of Wired.com