Sonos was founded in 2002 by John MacFarlane, Craig Shelburne, Tom Cullen and Trung Mai, with MacFarlane wanting to create a wireless service. In 2004, MacFarlane brought a prototype of the company’s soon-to-be first product, the Digital Music System bundle of smart speakers, to CES and the remote at a Wall Street Journal press conference later that year. The bundle won the “Best of Audio” award at the CES Innovations Design and Engineering awards in November and was released in February 2005. In March, the company introduced the ZP100 amplifier (later replaced by the ZP120 and rebranded as the CONNECT:AMP) as an add-on to the current Digital Music System bundle. The bundle was also announced to be sold in the United Kingdom later in May. This was joined shortly afterwards by the unamplified ZP80 (later replaced by the ZP90, rebranded as the CONNECT) with analog and digital input and output connections to link a user’s Sonos system to their traditional amplifier. In 2009 the ZonePlayer S5 (later rebranded as the PLAY:5) an amplified smart speaker was released.
In February 2011, Sirius XM was added to Sonos’ catalog of music services. In July, the company announced the PLAY:3, a second, smaller, amplified speaker in its Play lineup of smart speakers and added Spotify to its catalog. MOG was also added to the catalog of services, with a free 14-day trial, in May.
In August 2012, Amazon Cloud Player compatibility was added. In May, the company announced the SUB wireless subwoofer and added QQ Music to their catalog with collaboration from Tencent. Within the same month, Sonos announced the Sonos Studio, a studio and art gallery in which art was exhibited along with Sonos’ products for free, and featured events with artists like Beck, The Lonely Island, Solange and others, and released a video about its development on July.
In February 2013, company announced the PLAYBAR soundbar speaker. In October, Sonos announced a third, compact, smart speaker, the PLAY:1. In December, the company was estimated to have raised $118 million in venture funding, including a $25 million round; Its investors included Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Redpoint Ventures and Elevation Partners.
In March 2014, the company announced a refresh of its universal Controller app for its system. In January 2015, Sonos was rebranded by Bruce Mau Design, with a new visual identity and improved logotype that was created over the span of four years, from 2011 to 2014. Sonos also announced the limited edition Blue Note PLAY:1 in February, a collaboration with Blue Note Records, which went on sale in March. A new (“2nd gen”) PLAY:5 speaker was announced in September. In October, Amazon Music support was officially added following 3 years of Cloud Player support and pre-orders for the PLAY:5 began the same month. In November, a tuning feature called Trueplay was released in a software update. Trueplay tunes the output of Sonos smart speaker units to the acoustics of the room they are in. The initial tuning process requires the use of a suitable Apple smartphone or tablet.
Apple Music became available for streaming in February 2016 and Sonos also released a study entitled Music Makes it Home Study. In March, CEO John MacFarlane announced the company’s shift to streaming music services and voice control instead of local playback and laid off some employees. In July, the company opened its first Sonos Store in SoHo. In September, the company announced that its products would become available at the Apple Store.
In January 2017, McFarlane announced via the company’s blog that he would be stepping down from his role as CEO, and that he would be succeeded in this position by former COO Patrick Spence.
In December 2017, IKEA and Sonos announced a collaboration to build Sonos’ technology into furniture sold by IKEA. The first products resulting from the collaboration will launch in 2019.
What is Sonos? How does it work?
Based in California, Sonos was founded in 2002 with one simple aim: to transform your home sound system for the digital age. Its products and software are designed to fill every room of your home with music, and the flexibility and functionality of its products has made the company a household name.
The Sonos wireless sound system works by connecting one single speaker to your home network, then adding more Sonos units (up to a maximum of 32, dotted around the house) into the mix using a dedicated secure wireless mesh network known as Sonosnet.
That network is integral to the way Sonos’s multi-room speakers operate, as it sits at one remove from your home network. That means it’s a stronger, more robust signal and isn’t prone to dropouts when streaming music.
Sonos speakers launched the amplified ZonePlayer ZP100 and CR100 controller back in 2004. And it hasn’t looked back since (despite the CR100 recently becoming persona non grata), continuing to innovate with new products to expand and enhance the listening experience at home while adding streaming services and voice control to its ever-growing roster of offerings.
Sonos: Getting started
A major part of Sonos’s appeal and meteoric rise in popularity lies in its hugely simple set-up process.
The Sonos Controller app (available on Android and iOS) will walk you through the set-up, but it requires little more than pressing the speaker’s sync button (to link them to your network and other Sonos speakers), finding the connected speaker on the app and entering details such as your wi-fi password.
It’s really that simple. And the slick, easy-to-use Controller app makes everyday use even easier.
In the app, you can assign each speaker to a room of your house, programme it so the volume can be controlled via your TV’s standard remote, and add your favourite streaming services. The app recognises which speaker you’re using, and in which room you’re using it.
Adding other speakers is a breeze: just tap in the app to add a new speaker, press the sync button on the back and it’s all done. It’s still the smoothest multi-room set-up going.
The current roster of Sonos products include the Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5 wireless speakers, the Playbar, Playbase and Sub, the Sonos One smart speaker with Alexa voice control and the brand-new Sonos Beam soundbar with every feature thrown in.
There are also ancillary products such as the Boost ($160). Connecting this box directly to your router expands and strengthens the wi-fi for Sonos products. It broadcasts 360-degree signals through walls and ceilings – ideal if you’re setting up a multi-room system in challenging wireless environments.
You don’t have to part with your beloved hi-fi system for Sonos to work, either. If you have a traditional stereo-amp-and-speakers set-up, add a Connect ($500) to turn it into a streaming system. Similarly, the Connect:Amp ($700) combines streamer and amplifier – so you can simply add it to your existing pair of stereo speakers.
Sonos apps and services
The Sonos Controller app is a large part of the system’s charm. As well as walking you through the set-up, it’s where you can control all aspects of your Sonos products and access your entire music library.
Sonos’s mission statement is to offer ‘all the music on Earth’, so – along with playing music from digital libraries (such as from a NAS device or a laptop) – you’ll find the widest choice of streaming service compatibility on the app. Company’s aim is to be platform agnostic, and it’s the most comprehensive list we’ve seen in any multi-room product.
Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, Soundcloud, TuneIn – the list of supported apps goes on. It’s worth noting you will need premium subscriptions for some of these.
Additionally, Qobuz and Tidal bring CD-quality, lossless streaming to Sonos. While the other music services offer files up to 320kbps, Qobuz and Tidal offer unlimited streaming access to CD-quality FLAC files at 16bit/44.1kHz for a monthly subscription charge.
One of company’s best features is that you can build playlists directly within the Sonos app, and from multiple sources as well. So if you want to add tracks from both Spotify and Tidal onto a playlist of tracks from your NAS library, you can.
And while Sonos continues to eschew Bluetooth, the recent update to include AirPlay 2 compatibility (for certain memebers of the Sonos family, at least) brings iOS devices into the fold too, and opens up your multi-room system to other brands of speaker.
Finally, there’s voice control. Continuing its agnostic approach, They wants to offer all three main voice assistants – Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant – in its products. The Sonos One was the first to arrive with Alexa support, while the new Sonos Beam will be the first product to combine Alexa and Siri when it receives the relevant update.
Where you place your Sonos speaker in the room will affect its sound. Sonos’s Trueplay feature within the Connect app (available on iOS only) aims to counter this, using the microphone on an iPhone or iPad to measure the response of the speaker in your room and tweak its sound to suit.
This set-up process runs through a series of test tones and sweeps, which will be familiar to anyone who has set up an AV receiver. The process tunes your speaker to the room, adjusting the bass and the treble to get it sounding the best it can.
Trueplay’s calibration is particularly useful if your Sonos speaker is placed in a less-than-ideal location, such as tucked into a corner.
Of course, if you don’t like the changes, you can always set it back to default.
Sonos: Missing features and things to consider
Of course, while Sonos may bill itself as a “wireless hi-fi system“, there’s no denying a little more cash spent on a dedicated separates system will deliver better sound.
There are myriad streaming options should you value sound quality over the flexibility Sonos offers. You can stream music from your NAS device and other digital libraries to the Pioneer N-50A or Cambridge CXN, for instance, to get fantastic audio. And the more streamers (and speakers) you buy, the more rooms of music you can have.
You could even add on the excellent Arcam rPlay to inject streaming powers to your old hi-fi system. But you don’t get the multi-room functionality, nor the simple, brilliant interface of the Sonos app with those options.
You would, however, get high-resolution audio support – something still not offered by Sonos. Want to play downloaded 24bit/192kHz files? You’re out of luck, as Sonos tops out at CD-quality music. It’s an area where rivals such as Bluesound and Denon have been quick to capitalise.
Other formats not supported by company products include DTS, Dolby Atmos and Bluetooth. And what happens if your home network is down? There not being an alternative (and offline) streaming option remains one of our biggest niggles about Sonos (you’ll still need internet for AirPlay and voice control), but you can use the Play:5’s 3.5mm input to hardwire music.