Sonos: I Just Don’t Get It

Sonos has introduced a new, less expensive speaker, the Play:1; less expensive being $199. And this is for one speaker; if you want stereo sound, you need to buy two. Plus a Bridge (though Sonos has a promotion where you get a Bridge free if you buy a Play:1). Plus a Connect. So if you want stereo sound, that’s 2 x $199 + $349, or $749.

I don’t get it. While I understand the idea of having a streaming system around a house, where you can have speakers in different rooms, the cost of a basic Sonos system is well above the cost of a stereo that would sound just as good, plus a $99 Apple TV. I simply don’t see the attraction of the Sonos system. Yes, it offers easier access to streaming services, so if you want to use Spotify, it’s pretty simple. But you can get a decent stereo for less.

I’ve used an Apple TV for streaming for a long time. It’s easy to use, and offers more than just music streaming. So I don’t get why people are willing to pay the high prices for limited Sonos devices. If any readers use a Sonos system, I’d love an explanation. Feel free to comment below.

Update: Judging from the comments here, and a number of responses I’ve gotten on Twitter, Sonos really needs to work on explaining what their system does. Several people I know claim that they didn’t understand it at first; an audio system shouldn’t be hard to understand.

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16 replies
  1. Steven de Mena says:

    Too many people simply don’t want to use iTunes or Apple products and won’t bother to look at them as an alternative.
    Speaking of Apple TV, I can get Netflix on my Apple TV, on my TiVo and direct on my LG television. The experience is far better on the Apple TV (higher quality, it’s not “Super HD” as advertised on the other platforms for “The Walking Dead”), faster connections, episodes titles, quicker playing with less stuttering/buffering. The TiVo is particularly bad, even the pause button only works intermittently.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      Yes, Netflix on my Apple TV is better than on my TV set. I don’t think the quality is different, but the interface is more responsive. What I find odd is that different devices show different things for Netflix: the genres and stuff they show you are different on the Apple TV, my TV and the iOS apps.

  2. Shaun Hutchinson says:

    Me neither, totally baffled by Sonos. Using iTunes, the free Apple Remote app, an airport express and a pair of say the Harmon Kardon Soundsticks you and fill a room with amazing sound for less than £180.

    • William Allbrook says:

      Yes, I use iTunes and the free Remote app too. I listen on my Mac but then stream to a decent system downstairs (Rotel RA12 amp) via an old Airport Express which actually sounds a little nicer than my Apple TV. It is a pain however to have to turn on my Mac every time I want to listen to music downstairs so I am planning to buy a second hand Mini to become my music server and it will sit beside the Rotel.

  3. Dave Hamilton (@DaveHamilton) says:

    It’s interesting how misunderstood Sonos is by us geeks. I say “us” because I was firmly in this “Sonos doesn’t make sense to me” camp right up until the day I wasn’t. Kind of like how Windows geeks used to be (and some still are) about the Mac. “It’s too easy.” “It looks cheap but costs too much.” “It doesn’t have a zillion settings that make me feel comfortable knowing I’m getting full geek value out of it.”

    It seems we geeks truly have trouble grokking just how easy and profound Sonos is. I did. Again, like the Windows/Mac thing I think it’s because we geeks become very comfortable rolling our own solutions. We take pride in them. Lots of moving parts, any one of which can malfunction, but that’s OK: we assembled it ourselves and we know how to make it all work. Heck, I take *enjoyment* out of every aspect of that: creating it, using it, and troubleshooting it. It’s truly a hobby for me.

    And if it’s just us geeks, then that’s perhaps OK. I had one of those solutions so that I could bounce my music to any room (ok, well, 2 rooms) in the house. And when I wanted it to work, by golly it worked. But no one else in the house *wanted* to use it. They *could* … they’re all really smart and fairly technically savvy. But they didn’t *want* to.

    Truth be told, I didn’t *want* to, either. Especially as I began rolling that solution to even more rooms. It always seemed to require a computer to be on to make it work right. And the right software running. And always something to tweak.

    And right about that time one of our Mac Geek Gab listeners bugged me again about Sonos. So I went down and met with them and … the rest is history. I’m a full-on Sonos kool-aid drinker now, and not only am I happier for it, but my family is happier. We finally listen to music again. They make music social. The playlist is stored ON the Sonos system… not only does that mean it can easily be bounced to any room with the tap of a button on any iOS device or computer in our house, but it also means that ANY of those devices can add to or modify the playlist as it’s playing.

    Listening to music has again become that thing that a family — our family — can do together. These things are a pain in the neck with AirPlay, despite how wonderful it is.

    I’ll leave you all with one last thing that impressed me about Sonos when I first met with them. One of their VPs said to me, “listen… you’re a geek… both a music geek *and* a computer geek. We understand that you grok how this stuff works. And we love that. But we don’t want your feature requests. However… if your *family* has any feature requests, please pass them along to me immediately.”

    Seemed like a very Apple way to handle things. ;) I’m still amazed no one else is out there truly competing with them.

  4. Chris Breen says:

    I think it’s a perfectly understandable system. It’s just that you don’t listen to audio the way that works best with Sonos. In my case, I use it for these reasons:

    1. It provides me the ability to listen to different music in different rooms. If you still had a teenager in the house you’d see the power of this feature immediately.

    2. My audio systems are now portable. If I have company and the weather is nice, I can grab a Play:5 and bring it to the party.

    3. I’ve stopped purchasing music. Subscription makes this possible, of course, but Sonos has access to a load of services—some paid and some free—which encourages listening to music this way. So the “it costs too much” argument doesn’t work for me. I used to spend at least a thousand bucks a year on music. Now, it’s my subscription fee and Sonos.

    4. Sonos works with an NAS. With an AirPort solution you have to have iTunes running (meaning a computer running) in order to access your music library.

    5. It just works. Apple’s solution is cool but it can be complicated and, again, much of it depends on a running copy of iTunes or an iOS device pushing audio via AirPlay. To me, AirPlay feels like me pulling on something. Sonos is more like turning on a tap.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      I can understand the teenager thing (though does she really let you manage her music?). I don’t have any kids at home any more, so that’s not a factor.

      You can grab a Play:5 and bring it to a party – because it can access the music on your NAS remotely? Or do you mean just in a different room of your house?

      As for subscriptions, you have far more options there than I do here. I originally bought a Sonos because there’s a good subscription service for classical music in France. But when I got it set up, there were problems (and I don’t recall what; this was almost a year ago).

      Personally, I’ve never had problems with AirPlay. I can control music playback either from the Apple TV interface or the Remote app, and either pull it to a room or push it.

      And, still, $400 entry level price for two speakers that are, most likely, of middling quality, that’s not cheap.

      • Chris Breen says:

        Managing my daughter’s music: No. The power is that she can listen to what she wants in her room and I can listen to other stuff in the house.

        Play:5: Because it can access any music Sonos can touch — so, NAS or streaming. It’s a flexible party speaker that I can control from my pocket (iPhone).

        $400 for two speakers: As I said on Twitter, don’t get the speakers. Get a Connect and add it to your existing stereo. Or a Connect Amp and add it to unpowered speakers.

        Price: That $400 for a Bridge and Connect saved my $1000 in purchased music each year. So, I’d suggest a habit of purchasing a lot of music is the more expensive addiction.

        • Kirk McElhearn says:

          As I understand, the Connect simply gives me access to streaming services, correct? It doesn’t link up with my existing wireless network, right?

  5. Kevin Mandeville (@KevinTwymx) says:

    There’s no need to purchase a Connect unless you want to add sonos wireless streaming to an existing stereo system. The Sonos Connect:Amp is if you want to hook up a set of your own speakers (no receiver needed). If you are purchasing any of the Play products, you do not need a Connect at all. You don’t even NEED the bridge as long as you hardwire one of the Play-ers to your router.

    Disclaimer: I work for Sonos

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      Huh, I was told that the Connect was exactly what I did need to connect to my stereo. And at €350 (I was in France at the time), it was way overpriced for being nothing more than a bridge.

      Your website is confusing. I’m not an idiot as far as audio is concerned, and I couldn’t figure it out then, and I still don’t get it.

      • Kevin Mandeville (@KevinTwymx) says:

        The Connect WILL add Sonos streaming capabilities to an existing stereo. If you want just a stand alone speaker or speakers, you don’t need a Connect.

        And yes I agree a bit that it can be a bit confusing. I had explained our products to my dad a while back, but it wasn’t until he had one and used it for a little bit that he really GOT it and now loves it and wants more already.

  6. davep says:

    Agree with everything Dave Hamilton says, but want to reinforce that, for me, the real utility of Sonos is for multiroom audio. I also have drunk the Sonos kool-aid, having 1 each in kitchen, living room, bedroom, patio and home office. All can be controlled by iOS or Android app or desktop app. All can play same music perfectly in sync, or you can play different music in each zone. And my wife, kid and mother-in-law can use it when I’m not home.

    Also, you don’t need a Bridge and a Connect. The Connect connects your Sonos to an existing music system and acts as the wireless transmitter, but if you just want to stream to their speakers you only need the Bridge.

  7. Nick says:

    I’ve been using Apple’s solution since the AirTunes days.

    Always loved it and found it very affordable.

    Sonos has always appealed to me. But never felt the price justified the features.

  8. Mark Percival says:

    I don’t think anyone can convince someone to buy a Sonos system. They are an expensive bit of kit. I tried a couple of average 5.1 and 7.1 systems with my Apple TV and airplay for a few years. Then, in January this year, after hearing Sonos at a friends place, I struck out and paid up for a Soundbar, Sub and Play 5. I have to be honest and say I couldn’t be happier. The sound is fine for me. I can Apple TV my computer iTunes library via this system to my lounge, dining and kitchen or be flexible and play different music to different areas. I have just 1 bridge and it was a ‘give away’ when I forked up and bought the Sonos set up. It works flawlessly; no dropouts or lag.

    Because I agree with you that iTunes doesn’t like Classical music, and downloads are expensive, lacking in added value, tagging, books, video extras etc and that disc space on my MacBook Pro is limited, I recently decided to try a streaming service. I ‘went French’ with Deezer. For the monthly cost of 1 download, I now get all the music I want and it plays nice with Sonos. Lisitsa, Pires and other albums you have recently mentioned are all available now on Deezer as is a DG app and so I’m saving money to pay off the Sonos, so to speak. Yes, I wil be giving a listen to and probably buying the Play 1 in the next month or so. All the better if I get another bridg thrown if ith the deal. Great for the upstairs bedrooms I figure.

    That’s my story to date. Your articles and reviews are invariably interesting for me. Appreciate the chance to contribute. Cheers!

  9. MCM says:

    Just in case anyone comes across this like I did at a later date: we use a Marantz amp and our Apple devices to control music in three rooms. (Could be more but we live in an apartment.)

    You can use any source of music: Rdio, Spotify, iTunes, Internet radio, etc. You can also play through the Apple TV. Or I can listen to the TV over the kitchen speakers while loading the dishwasher.

    [Sidenote: We used to spend a lot of money on music and now we pay for streaming services. I still buy albums from musicians I really like because streaming services don't pay them enough.]

    It has sometimes seemed like the Marantz software and the Airplay software sometimes fight each other, but now it’s working seamlessly and can be easily controlled (different music in each space if you want) from phones, iPads, computers.


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