What would it take to make Sonos even more awesome?

By Chris Umiastowski on 29 Apr 2014 02:41 pm

A few weeks ago I unplugged my 25-year old Technics stereo receiver and put it on the curb to "recycle" to whoever wanted it. I'd owned it since I was a teenager, and it went from being connected to a tape deck to a CD player to (in around 2003) an Airport Express to blast my iTunes collection throughout the house whenever I wanted.

Ever since seeing a Sonos system I knew I should upgrade my wireless music experience, and I've now made the switch. Instead of turning this into a Sonos review though, I' d rather talk about where I'd like to see the product go from here.

Review wise, I'll say this: I had my Sonos Bridge and Play:1 wireless speaker up and running with the Sonos controller software running on my Macbook Pro in under 10 minutes. The setup was flawless and the software is incredibly easy to use. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn awesome. Within the first day I had installed the Sonos Controller on my Galaxy S4, my wife's iPhone 5c, our original iPad, a 5th Generation iPod Touch and my wife's iMac. There's a beauty about being able to grab literally any device in the house and control music from it.

I love music, and I think Sonos deserves an A+ for making awesome products. But I'd think there is still so much untapped potential. We are Connectedly, and it's our job to think about device interconnection. The way I see it, Sonos shouldn't just be about music about the broader category of sound. I'd love to have my Sonos system deeply involved in all of the sounds around my house.

Let's look at a few simple examples:

The doorbell: It seems to me that the doorbell in our homes is ripe for the transformation into a connected device. Why do I need a separate sound unit to play a limited set of chimes when I've already got an amazing wireless speaker system? I'd like my Sonos speaker to play a sound when someone rings my doorbell. And if it's someone I know give me something personalized like,"CHIME … Adam is at the door!"

Home intercom: Anyone who has kids can relate to this one. I'd love to be able to tap on a "transmit" button within an app on my phone and have my voice broadcast to whatever speakers I deem necessary. No more shouting at your kids when dinner is ready.

Talk to me about other home automation devices: If a Nest thermostat has learned to change the temperature setting of your house at certain times, I think it would be great to have an audio indicator to go along with it … and it should play via Sonos. If I have door or window sensors that can be connected to a security system, I think it would be clever to have my Sonos speakers broadcast messages such as "Back door is unlocked".

Take over any audio at any time: I love to learn, so I listen to lots of audio books that I buy from Audible and play through my phone's app. I can't broadcast that audio to a Sonos system today. I listen to a lot of quarterly conference calls for technology stocks that I follow. I can't just tell my Mac to play the sound through the Sonos speaker I'll be keeping in my office, and then switch it to the kitchen when I feel like making a cup of coffee. I'd like to see Sonos allowable as an output for any audio from any device.

What's it gonna take?

Realistically, I doubt Sonos can make all of this happen on its own. I think it would require either Google or Apple buying Sonos and then releasing a set of tools to developers to allow third party connected devices to interact with Sonos speakers.

My gut says Google should buy them. Google has already created Chromecast, and I think they could easily take the Sonos product and turn it into something that also supports Chromecast. But then again perhaps Sonos can partner with Google outside of a sale of the company to support Chromecast and allow third party developers to have their apps transmit via Sonos speakers.

What I'm describing is obviously possible from a technical standpoint. It's just not possible today given the state of standards and tools. Sonos is a proprietary system. But I think to be the most useful, Sonos needs to be a hybrid player. It needs to handle music via a proprietary and totally reliable wireless network in the house, while other functions could be handled by the home's existing Wi-Fi network.

I don't know what the best way forward is for Sonos. Maybe they need to be acquired by Google or Apple. Maybe they just need to establish a partnership. But one thing is for sure. Nothing as awesome as the Sonos wireless speaker system should be restricted the way it is today. It's restricted to whatever I can play through the Sonos controller software. I want that to change.

Reader comments

What would it take to make Sonos even more awesome?


"Any audio at any time" basically means Bluetooth support, and I'm still boggled why they don't have it. Maybe they want to keep a closed system to force partners to pay for access, I dunno. Same could be said for the absence of 3.5mm jacks on the back of them.

True, but that defeats the purpose of having wireless speakers. What I want is to be able to use wifi to transmit the all sound to the Sonos speaker, just as if I were using an audio out cable. I'm no engineer, so I don't know how feasible that is, but if it's not possible, I'm not really interested in the product.

I tell my Blackberry to "Play On" my sonos speakers. I can pick whichever speaker I want it to play on. I also have a Play5 which has an audio input so it literally works like external speakers. The Roomtunes app on the Blackberry is much better user experience than the sonos Android app. I do wish that Audible would incorporate the play on feature but it's an Android app which doesn't so that. I can listen to Audible on my sonos but syncing up my phone with my sonos is a bit of a pain. I'd rather just play from my phone.

In other words you can get what you want from sonos :-)

I don't think it's quite so Machiavellian. Bluetooth is very low quality for audio. Works fine for voice, but that's really it. Even pricey BT headphones are pretty shabby with music, though Spotify/Pandora and other streaming audio providers introduce their own issues. Sonos uses wi-fi to achieve high-quality sound.

Also, range is a big factor.

Give me an outdoor speaker, or even a casing I can put a Play:1 in, and I'll be a happy camper. I hate that I can't put a speaker on my deck without having to buy an amp and do all kinds of crazy things.

I did just that Adam and reason number 1 is that I was worried to get my speakers stolen (I was going to put them under an overhang). Now it's all wired and my Amp is safely located in my furnace room.

Adam - a case for Play:1 is a genius idea! Obviously we wouldn't want to leave the Sonos speaker out in freezing cold weather or wind-driven rain, but I think it should be possible to have a fairly safe way to protect the speaker in most situations.

The Play:1 is water resistant so it makes a fine addition on the deck. You don't need any amps. The simplest setup would be a Play:1 and a bridge. That's it. The more devices you have the better the system gets.

I saw that Smartthings have their products using Sonos. You can set it up that when you open the front door, a welcome home recording sounds out. Maybe that partnership is exactly what you are thinking of Chris. I don't have their system yet but will be looking into using it. I think that using Sonos as an alarm and reminder set up with my phone calendar. So much could be done!

I was with you on that, but I just got tired of cheap little Bluetooth speakers or being tethered to a headset. I got a Play5 and it sounds fantastic. Software wasn't hard to set up. If you buy direct from Sonos, they sometimes comp a bridge.

I am considering getting the TV set up at some point in the future.

Agreed! I bought a Play:1 soon after it was released, only to discover that I could not play iTunes Radio or podcasts through my preferred app (Downcast). I returned it and bought a Sony AirPlay speaker. I will admit that the sound quality is not as good but it works with all my apps and devices.

I really love the design and appearance of the Sonos devices, though, and they sound fantastic. Hopefully their recent updates allowing network usage without the Bridge is a step in the right direction.

Would also be awesome if when playing music from a mobile device to have an option for the music to follow you around from room to room as you move.

The price is the only thing stopping me from filling my house with this stuff. I don't mind paying for quality, but with the cheapest speaker being £169 (just for one!) I'd be looking at in excess of a thousand pounds to kit out my whole home.

If I'm not kitting out my whole home, I don't see the point. I got a bluetooth speaker for my office that does a similar job for much, much less.

I want the Sonos Connect to be able to control basic functions of my amp. When I select the Connect to play music, it should turn on the Amp (if needed) and change the inputs. It should also be able to adjust the Amp volume. It could be done with a simple IR bud and some IR command recipes. Alternatively (and maybe even better) it could talk wirelessly to my Harmony Ultimate Hub to get the same effect and open up a whole new range of possibilities. But lets start with controlling the Amp directly connected to a Connect.

I have been using Sonos for about 8 or 9 years and really most of its products have not changed much except for some rebranding. They have added Play:3, Play:1, the playbar and the subwoofer but the basic technology is the same. What makes it great is the simplicity. It just works and it works very well. I agree they need to at least add Bluetooth support. However on the connect:amp, connect and play:5 they do have a wired line-in. I can plug my Macbook, CD player, mp3 device etc directly into the line-in and use the play:5 as my speaker or the home speakers off CONNECT. Furthermore I have my connect:amp plugged into an APPLE AIRPORT EXPRESS, which is plugged into the ethernet port of the connect:amp, so it can act as an access point. But I also plug the AIRPORT EXPRESS into the line-in port, which now allows me to play anything from my mac or iPAD wirelessly via AIRPLAY on the airport express and my speakers connected to SONOS. While this an be done on the CONNECT and Play:5, sadly there is no line-in on the play:3 or play:1. To me though if these smaller devices have a more limited offering, they need to at least support bluetooth. I was most disappointed though that the play:1 was not made portable with rechargeable battery support. The play:5 speakers though are superb, particularly if you have two setup in stereo mode.

I felt exactly the same way about Play:1. I want a Portable Sonos speaker...not necessarily to travel with as I can see the added complexity of different networks but to take the Sonos experience into places I would want to go with a normal set...garden, garage, attic for example.

A Win 8 app would be great. I have Surface 2.

Go to Sonos' website and add your request to the long, long request thread for this.

Oh, and I sincerely hope Google doesn't buy and ruin this company.

No.1 would be to sell it cheaper. I like the idea of Sonos, but at those price points, I'm much more likely to buy higher quality speakers and just run some wires through the attic. I could have higher quality sound, full home audio at a fraction of the cost, and really not that much work. But even more likely than that is not buying anything, because whole home audio isn't worth those price points to most people. I'm fine with my music not following me to the bathroom or to the kitchen to grab some food. I have something for music in any room that I spend any length of time in, and I just don't see how it's worth many hundreds of dollars to have them all playing the same thing just so my volume doesn't drop off when I pop into another room for a few minutes.

With the Squeezebox Touch being dead, eventually years (hopefully) down the road I will have to get a SONOS unless something else better is out then.

I do automation and security integration for a living and the SONOS is a good product. It is too bad it doesn't mingle better with some current automation systems on the market.

Great article Chris.

With the recent smartthings integration, I have been considering at least picking up a play1, but the biggest barrier for me is price. I could take an old phone, set it up with tasker and autovoice and do most of that for close to nothing

I would say lower price points.. it's hard to break into the Sonos family at current price points for me...

I would love some kind of predictive / learning behavior. Think Google Now but for music. I want a notification to pop up on my device that says, "Here's an uptempo dance playlist for you," because it has learned that on Saturday nights I like to listen to uptempo dance music before going out. Or "here's a mellow jazz playlist" because it's learned that I use mellow jazz to decompress after work.

In general I think predictive results are the future of consumer computing, and a music player like Sonos seems like a pretty easy place to implement it.

Take a look at the integration between Smarthings.com and Sonos. Some of the features already exist (at least in beta form.)

I see a lot of people mentioning the price points, which I agree on. I would love to own some Sonos product, but it is currently priced too high for me to consider, especially the "Connect." I invested in a good home theatre setup 5+ years ago which I don't see replacing and a "Connect" system makes sense in my case, but not at $349, IMO it should be cheaper than the speakers. This will attract more buyers to use Sonos with their current speaker setup and buy more Sonos product once they experience it.

I think the functionality is nearly perfect, in light of the update removing the bridge requirement, the final step for me is to make it a little more affordable. The S1 is a decent price point but the $99 or $149 sweet spot would be great too

For me, I would like a wall interface. I know some people have mounted tablets to do this, but it's just not the same.

Love the title of this post... because Sonos is already undeniably awesome (although, I agree, for a hefty price).

I agree with all of your sentiments, Chris. Sonos really ought to be the fully integrated SOUND solution for the entire HOUSE. I think they've (rightfully) focused on MUSIC and the USER so far, but to evolve the offering and continue to differentiate between themselves and all the competitors that are working to develop some answer to their awesomeness, becoming the fully-integrated sound solution is the way to go.

I also would love to see them develop either a web browser plug-in or some other program that effectively lets you play ANY sound from ANY device, no matter the source (make the device the source via the software?).

Thanks for the article.

I would like to see Sonos develop wireless headphones that could be setup in zones just like the play speakers, sub & playbar.

I think the Revolv hub is supposed to take care of some of those features, but do think it needs some sort of Chromecast type support. I appreciate it being device agnostic, but find the price for the Connect and Amp to be stupid. What I would like is a multi room amplifier, but that is more custom needs and less feature orientated. For audio books I would really appreciate a play counter or tag

I just wish i could afford the sonos sound bar lol. Great article Chris, i enjoy your writing.

Some good ideas in this article. Although Sonos cooperated already with Google to bring their Music service to Sonos. They even opened up their API to support universal connectivity allowing for other apps (besides the Google Music app) to stream to their devices. As for WiFi, according to the Sonos blog there will be a possibility to losen the Bridge and connect to the Home WiFi directly in the upcoming weeks. And everybody asking for Bluetooth is missing the whole point of the Sonos system. The price is a bit high, but you get unparalleled sound and connectivity that's unrivaled. They constantly keep updating the software on the devices and improving it also from usability point of view. You can start with a Play 1 and upgrade later on when you have the need and the money. I love my Sonos Play 5 and just bought a Play 1 for my sister. Planning to add some Play 1s in the near future.

Price is an issue so i started looking on Kijiji (local P to P selling used or new items) and was able to save quite a bit. For example, I bought 2 Play:5 for $300/ea on different occasions. Also bought my Connect Amp with high quality outdoor speakers for $500 from a lady who was moving and didn't need it anymore. Every one I've bought through this site works perfectly and I was able to get my house connected and saved hundreds of dollars. I'll be doing the same when it comes to getting the Playbar and Sub. I now have speakers wired outside to the deck and hot tub and stream whatever i feel like listening to without a hitch. And my expensive components are safe and sound inside the house.

The high price of entry is probably the only barrier for me. It's not something that I have a huge use for right now, but if they had a lower priced unit, somewhere in the $100 range, I'd be all over it.

If the system didn't rely on an internet connection and a router and could be self contained it would be so much more flexible, which would let it work better outside, larger homes, and yachts.

I can only agree on the price issue. I'd love to buy a whole set of Sonos, but damn are they expensive. Maybe one day...

The price of the set up prevented me from purchasing for a long long time. Then it was time to get speakers for my new TV and I went with a Playbar and a Play:1 for another room. A week later I had another Play:1, a week after that the Sub and now a Play:5.

Metcalfe's Law states the value of the network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes on the network. This is also true of a Sonos system. The more devices you have the more valuable it becomes. I have one music repository for my entire house and all the members of the family can get to it. I use a Blackberry and a Surface and my kids use iProducts. We all get to control music in any of the rooms based on what we want to listen to.

If you are one person in a small space then bluetooth will probably work for you. If you are multiple people in multiple rooms then Sonos is for you.

I'm pretty much sold on Sonos, but I'm a Windows Phone user, and I want it to be on all 3 major platforms...
Apple or Google buying them, would be HORRIBLE...

Did I get it right from some of the comments? You can't just connect your computer, and have it all sound to them? If this is the case, then they seem pretty useless... :/

Amin to that!!!! MS seems to be sleeping at the wheel here when it comes to connected devices. Google and Apple are snapping up companies that will position them well with the connected home idea but what is MS doing? They seem to have pretty much given up on the idea...

Immediate demand would be for a Sonos Windows phone app... I know I am a minority but there are windows phone out there :)

Wow this article is nearly prophetic, you should be on someone's product planning team... Nearly two years later we have Chromecast audio and Sonofy.co bringing all notifications to Sonos with only an app.