Sonos

Sonos releases new speaker Amp, partners with Sonance for in-wall speakers

Posted by | Gadgets, Sonos, TC | No Comments

Sonos is doubling down on the custom in-home audio market with new products and partnerships. The company today announced a new version of the Sonos Amp and a partnership with Sonance that will result in three architectural speakers — in-wall, in-ceiling and outdoor — that Sonos says will gain additional functionality when paired with a Sonos system.

Sonos is also announcing upcoming Control APIs that the company says will make it easier to integrate Sonos into the ever-evolving smart home. This jibes with Sonos’ long-standing approach of working with other platforms to offer its customers as many services as possible.

The new Amp allows owners to use traditional home audio speakers with a Sonos system. Connect a turntable or stream media with just the Amp and power a set of bookshelf speakers. According to the spec sheet, the Amp has enough power to push most high-end bookshelf speakers.

The Amp replaces the Connect:Amp. The new version is more powerful, works with more platforms and is more expensive at $599 rather than $499. This new version outputs 125 watts per channel at 8 ohms; it can power four speakers instead of two. The additional power makes the Amp more versatile than its predecessor, too. Sonos says the Amp can be used to add stereo sound to a TV (thanks in part to HDMI Arc support) or add wireless rears to a Sonos theater setup. Or, two Amps can be used to add a complete surround sound system. Multiple Amp units can be stacked or mounted in a rack.

The Amp works with AirPlay 2 and with Alexa when used in conjunction with an Amazon Alexa-enabled Sonos device like a Sonos One or Beam.

With a product like the Amp, Sonos has a new offering for those customers looking to integrate the convenient Sonos line into their high-end home theater setup. That’s a serious market, too, and the company’s new partnership with Sonance shows Sonos is committed to addressing the home audio enthusiast while building products to compete with Apple and Amazon.

Together, they will produce in-wall speakers that when used with a Sonos Amp will offer additional functionality. The company stopped short of detailing the added functionality. These speakers are set for an early 2019 release.

This is Sonos’ first large announcement after going public on August 2.

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Sonos prices its IPO to raise as much as $105M

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Fundings & Exits, Google, Mobile, Sonos | No Comments

Sonos today took the next step in its initial public offering price, setting a range for the shares it intends to sell that will help calibrate the final amount of money — and valuation — that it will have when it begins its trading debut.

This isn’t the final, final step in the IPO process, as this is usually done to test the waters and figure out the exact appetite for the company’s shares when it goes public. Sonos is offering 5,555,555 (a wonderful palindrome of a number) shares, where it will raise as much as $105 million if it prices on the upper end of its range and sells them at $19 per share. The official range is between $17 and $19, but this can go up and down throughout the process — with a drop-off signaling a lack of interest or skepticism, and an increased range a sign of heavy demand. Companies will sometimes lowball their range, though we won’t find out for a little bit where everything lands.

Insiders are also selling 8,333,333 million shares in this initial public offering. Including that, the IPO could end up raising around $250 at the middle of that $17 to $19 range that it’s estimating, including the shares sold by existing stockholders. The proceeds from those shares sold by stockholders aren’t going to end up in Sonos’ hands, so the company itself is only going to net around that $105 million at the top end of its range. There’s also an over-allotment, typically called a greenshoe, that consists of shares sold by Sonos and existing stockholders. That could add a total of $15 million and $22.5 million, respectively, at a price of $18 in the middle of that range.

The company is offering some preliminary estimates for its second quarter, saying it generated between $206.4 million and $208.4 million in revenue with a net loss of between $29 million and $27.1 million (this is probably because the final accounting isn’t finished up as we’re just about entering the front end for earnings season for major companies). The company said it sold between 880,000 and 890,000 products as an estimated range in the second quarter this year, up from 796,000 products in the second quarter last year.

Sonos is nicely positioned as a third-party option in an ecosystem that’s getting increasingly crowded by proprietary speakers from the larger companies that own voice assistants like the Echo, HomePod and Google Home. But Sonos has been around for a considerable amount of time and has clearly built up a significant following to ensure that it could find itself operating as an independent public company. In its fiscal 2017 year, Sonos said it brought in nearly $1 billion in revenue, an increase of 10 percent year-over-year. The initial filing indicated that the company had sold a total of 19 million products in 6.9 million households, with customers listening to 70 hours of content each month.

This is basically the next step in the process as the company continues its march toward making its debut, and we’ll get more details soon enough as to whether or not investors are interested in a publicly traded company that’s known for its speakers.

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You can now stream to your Sonos devices via AirPlay 2

Posted by | AirPlay, apple inc, computing, Gadgets, play:1, play:3, siri, smart speakers, Software, Sonos, TC, technology | No Comments

Newer Sonos devices and “rooms” now appear as AirPlay 2-compatible devices, allowing you to stream audio to them via Apple devices. The solution is a long time coming for Sonos which promised AirPlay 2 support in October.

You can stream to Sonos One, Sonos Beam, Playbase, and Play:5 speakers and ask Siri to play music on various speakers (“Hey Siri, play some hip-hop in the kitchen.”) The feature should roll out to current speakers today.

I tried a beta version and it worked as advertised. A set of speakers including a Beam and a Sub in my family room showed up as a single speaker and a Sonos One in the kitchen showed up as another. I was able to stream music and podcasts to either one.

Given the ease with which you can now stream to nearly every device from every device it’s clear that whole-home audio is progressing rapidly. As we noted before Sonos is facing tough competition but little tricks like this one help it stay in the race.

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Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Apple, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Ben Einstein, computing, echo, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, ring, smart speaker, smart speakers, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, Spotify, steel, TC, technology | No Comments

In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.

The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.

“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.

The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.

Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.

Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.

Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.

On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.

Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.

Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.

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Sonos files to raise up to $100M in IPO

Posted by | Gadgets, Sonos | No Comments

Smart speaker maker Sonos has filed to go public.

In the filing, the company says it’s aiming to raise up to $100 million in the IPO. However, that number may simply be a placeholder, or it could change as the IPO approaches.

Sonos says that as of March 31, it’s sold a total of 19 million products to 6.9 million households, with customers listening to 70 hours of content each month.

Revenue is growing — in the six months ending on March 31, the company brought in $655.7 million, up 18 percent year-over-year. In its most recent full fiscal year (2017), it brought in $992.5 million in revenue, an increase of 10 percent from 2016, while its net loss shrank from $38.2 million to $14.2 million.

Looking at the broader landscape, Sonos emphasizes its role as an independent player that can work with music streaming services like Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and TuneIn.

It also points to the opportunity presented by growing interest in voice assistants — Sonos released its first voice-enabled speaker, the Sonos One, last year, but rather than building its own assistant, it integrates with Amazon Alexa and has plans to add support for Apple’s Siri (via Airplay 2) and Google Home this year.

“Our system is not — and never will be — an entry gate into a walled garden,” writes CEO Patrick Spence. “We’re deeply committed to keeping Sonos open to every voice assistant, streaming service and company that wants to build on our platform. This approach is unique in our industry, and it requires substantial investment and long-term thinking.”

In terms of risk factors, the company points to its history of losses, the unpredictability of its revenue growth and the fact that it operates in “highly competitive markets” and is “dependent on partners who offer products that compete with our own.”

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The Sonos Beam is the soundbar evolved

Posted by | Amazon, Android, apple music, Assistant, consumer electronics, Entertainment, film, Gadgets, Google, HDMI, home audio, loudspeaker, Pandora, Reviews, Sonos, sound systems, Speaker, Spotify, Surround Sound, tablet computer, TC, technology | No Comments

Sonos has always gone its own way. The speaker manufacturer dedicated itself to network-connected speakers before there were home networks and they sold a tablet-like remote control before there were tablets. Their surround sound systems install quickly and run seamlessly. You can buy a few speakers, tap a few buttons and have 5.1 sound in less time than it takes to pull a traditional home audio system out of its shipping box.

This latest model is an addition to the Sonos line and is sold alongside the Playbase — a lumpen soundbar designed to sit directly underneath TVs not attached to the wall — and the Playbar, a traditionally styled soundbar that preceded the Beam. Both products had all of the Sonos highlights — great sound, amazing interfaces and easy setup — but the Base had too much surface area for more elegant installations and the Bar was too long while still sporting an aesthetic that harkened back to 2008 Crutchfield catalogs.

The $399 Beam is Sonos’ answer to that, and it is more than just a pretty box. The speaker includes Alexa — and promises Google Assistant support — and it improves your TV sound immensely. Designed as an add-on to your current TV, it can stand alone or connect with the Sonos subwoofer and a few satellite surround speakers for a true surround sound experience. It truly shines alone, however, thanks to its small size and more than acceptable audio range.

To use the Beam you bring up an iOS or Android app to display your Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Pandora accounts (this is a small sampling; Sonos supports more). You select a song or playlist and start listening. Then, when you want to watch TV, the speaker automatically flips to TV mode — including speech enhancement features that actually work — when the TV is turned on. An included tuning system turns your phone into a scanner that improves the room audio automatically.

The range is limited by the Beam’s size and shape and there is very little natural bass coming out of this thing. However, in terms of range, the Beam is just fine. It can play an action movie with a bit of thump and then go on to play some light jazz or pop. I’ve had some surprisingly revelatory sessions with the Beam when listening to classic rock and more modern fare and it’s very usable as a home audio center.

The Beam is two feet long and three inches tall. It comes in black or white and is very unobtrusive in any home theater setup. Interestingly, the product supports HDMI-ARC aka HDMI Audio Return Channel. This standard, introduced in TVs made in the past five years, allows the TV to automatically output audio and manage volume controls via a single HDMI cable. What this means, however, is you’re going to have a bad time if you don’t have HDMI-ARC.

Sonos includes an adapter that can also accept optical audio output, but setup requires you to turn off your TV speakers and route all the sound to the optical out. This is a bit of a mess, and if you don’t have either of those outputs — HDMI-ARC or optical — then you’re probably in need of a new TV. That said, HDMI-ARC is a bit jarring for first timers, but Sonos is sure that enough TVs support it that they can use it instead of optical-only.

The Beam doesn’t compete directly with other “smart” speakers like the HomePod. It is very specifically a consumer electronics device, even though it supports AirPlay 2 and Alexa. Sonos makes speakers, and good ones at that, and that goal has always been front and center. While other speakers may offer a more fully featured sound in a much smaller package, the Beam offers both great TV audio and great music playback for less than any other higher end soundbar. Whole room audio does get expensive — about $1,200 for a Sub and two satellites — but you can simply add on pieces as you go. One thing, however, is clear: Sonos has always been the best wireless speaker for the money and the Beam is another win for the scrappy and innovative speaker company.

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The NEEO universal remote is a modern Logitech Harmony alternative

Posted by | Android, Apple, apple remote, Assistant, ethernet, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, hardware, harmony, iPhone, Logitech, logitech harmony, Philips, Remote Control, Reviews, Sonos, TC, technology, Universal Remote | No Comments

The advanced universal remote market is not a very crowded market. In fact, for a while now, Logitech’s Harmony line has been pretty much the only game in town. Newcomer NEEO wants to upset that monopoly with its new NEEO Remote and NEEO Brain combo ($369), which is a system that can connect to just about any AV system, along with a smorgasbord of connected smart devices including Nest, Philips Hue, Sonos and more.

NEEO’s two-part system includes the Brain, which, true to its name, handles all of the heavy lifting. This is a puck-shaped device with 360-degree IR blasters dotting its outside perimeter, and which has one IR extender out (there’s one in the box) for connecting devices held within a closed AV cabinet, for instance. This central hub also connects to your Wi-Fi network, and setup requires plugging it into your router via Ethernet to get everything squared away, similar to how you initially set up Sonos speakers, if you’re familiar with that process.

Most of the setup work you need to do to get NEEO working happens on your phone, and that’s where it becomes apparent that this smart remote was designed for a modern context. Logitech’s Harmony software has come a long way, and now you can do everything you need to do from the iOS and Android app, but it’s still somewhat apparent that its legacy is as something you initially setup using a desktop and somewhat awkward web-based software. The NEEO feels at home on mobile, and it makes the setup and configuration process much better overall.

The other core component of the NEEO system is the NEEO Remote. This is a fantastic piece of industrial design, first of all. It’s a sleek rectangle crafted from aerospace-grade aluminum that oozes charm, in a way that nothing in the current Logitech Harmony lineup can come close to matching. The minimalist design still doesn’t suffer from the ‘which way is up?’ problem that the Apple Remote faces, because of subtle design cues including bottom weighting and the presence of ample physical buttons.

A NEEO Remote isn’t necessary for the system to work – you can just use the Brain along with the companion app for iPhone or Android, but the remote is a joy to hold and use, thanks to its unique design, and it features a super high density display that’s extremely responsive to touch input and pleasingly responsive to touch. NEEO took a lot of time to get this touchscreen experience right, and it pays off, delivering a clear and simple control interface that shifts to suit the needs of whatever activity you’re running at the time.

The NEEO Remote also has an “SOS” feature so that you can locate it if you happen to misplace it, and it can even be configured to recognize different hands if you want to set profiles for distinct members of the household, or set parental control profiles limiting access to certain content or devices. This kind of thing is where NEEO’s feature set exceeds the competition, and shows a particular attention to modern device use cases.

One NEEO Remote can also control multiple NEEO Brains, which is another limitation of the completion. That means you can set up NEEO Brains in each room where you have devices to control, and carry your remote from place to place instead of having to have multiple. The NEEO Brain is still $200 on its own, however, so it’s definitely still a barrier to entry.

NEEO otherwise does pretty much everything you’d expect a smart remote to do in 2018: You can set recipes on the deice itself, including with triggers like time-based alarms or motion detection (without using IFTTT). You can connect it to Alexa, though that functionality is limited at the moment, with more updates promised in future to make this better.

The bottom line is that NEEO offers a competent, intelligent alternative the big dog on the block, Logitech’s Harmony system. Logitech’s offering is still more robust and mature in terms of delivering Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, as well as rock solid performance, but NEEO has some clever ideas and unique takes that will serve more patient and tech-forward users better over time.

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Sonos One’s Alexa support comes to Canada

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, artificial intelligence, california, economy, Gadgets, hardware, smart speakers, Sonos, TC | No Comments

 Sonos One users in Canada can now join their peers south of the border in yelling requests at their connected speakers – a free update issued today enables Amazon Alexa on the Sonos One. The One launched with Alexa support in the U.S., but while the speaker has been available to Canadian buyers since late last year, Alexa voice commands are new with the update. That means Canadians will… Read More

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The Sonos Playbase is a home theater in a slab

Posted by | audio equipment, Gadgets, Sonos, TC | No Comments

 Sonos makes some of the best whole-home wireless audio gear I’ve used, bar none. I’ve tried Bluetooth and Zigbee models, wired and unwired gear, and nothing comes close to Sonos’ ease-of-use and reliability. So it comes as no surprise that their latest product, the slab-like Playbase, works as well as anything else they offer and can turn your living room into a… Read More

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Apple adds Sonos speakers to its stores as it focuses on wireless audio

Posted by | apple inc, Gadgets, Logitech, Sonos | No Comments

Sonos Play5 Did you hear? Wireless audio is the future — at least to Apple. And to that end, Sonos, perhaps the best wireless speakers available, are now available in the Apple Store alongside speakers from B&O, Logitech, and Apple’s Beats. Apple already sells several wireless speakers but the Sonos speakers would be the first multi-room system available. The Sonos PLAY:1 and PLAY:5… Read More

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