At an under-wraps press event at its head office in Boston last week, Sonos made three major announcements aimed predominantly at its installer partners: a new Amp to replace the Connect Amp, a partnership with Sonance for architectural speakers, and an open developer platform and new APIs.
"We're not a speeds and feeds company," said Benji Rappoport, Product Manager during his opening discussion about the new Amp, and how and why it came to fruition. "But this is a bit more technical."
The Sonos Amp
Sonos conducted extensive research with dealer partners, including spending time out in the field learning about issues, what motivates them, and what their customers are asking for, before developing the Amp. The goal with the sleek, new black box is to address the core pain points that integrators have with the Connect Amp, which the new Sonos Amp will eventually replace.
Weighing 4.6 lbs. and measuring 8.54 x 8.54 x 2.52", the home audio hub can power traditional wired speakers from nearly any source, and integrates the speakers into Sonos' wireless home sound system. It offers twice the power of its predecessor, able to power up to four speakers with 125 watts per channel instead of just two, as with the Connect Amp. It supports Apple AirPlay 2 so audio from any iOS device can be played wirelessly through Amp, along with more than 100 streaming services, as well as your own music library. When wirelessly connected to an Amazon Alexa-enabled device, like a Sonos One or Beam, Amp is controllable with voice commands as well.
Interestingly, it includes an HDMI Arc port for TVs. "We were seeing TVs connected directly to Connect Amps," Rappoport notes. "We had no idea that was happening!" With HDMI Arc, integrators can add subs or surround for 4.1-channel content mixed into left and right, he explained, to create a "phantom" centre channel. On-board HDMI and line-in ports allows for connecting TVs, turntables, CD changers and other audio components, to make them part of a Sonos system.
Benji Rappoport, Product Manager, Sonos
Another a-ha moment came when Sonos learned, after meeting with dealers, about the prominence and importance of the rack, "The rack," says Rappoport, "is a representation of the craft." Thus, the Amp was designed to fit perfectly into standard AV racks, and to be easily stackable. While the supported maximum number of units is 32, Rappaport says he has seen more than that. The Amp can also be incorporated into smart home set-ups, like smart lighting and centralized control systems, thanks to platform updates.
You can connect Amp to add stereo sound with TV, wireless rears with a Sonos home theatre set-up, or set up two Amps for surround sound. Connect it wirelessly via Wi-Fi, or use Ethernet (it has dual ports so you can also connect to additional Sonos players). An important new feature for integrators: Wi-Fi can be disabled once it's connected via Ethernet.
The Sonos Amp can receive free software updates; and can be controlled using the Sonos app, TV remote, keypads, AirPlay 2, or voice using an Alexa-enabled device.
The new Sonos Amp, scheduled for widespread available in February 2019, but available to professional installers starting December 1, 2018, will sell in Canada for $799, and replace the Connect Amp.
With a Class-D digital amplifier and touch controls for volume up/down, previous/next track, and play/pause, plus an LED indicator light, the Amp includes a centralized heatsink, air inlets, and a discrete output stage so it remains cool, even when multiple units are stacked. Press and hold the play/pause button to have the Amp "join" a group. Direct digital input eliminates the need for analog conversion; and there are custom speaker connectors, including a pair of threaded connections for left and right channels that are standard diameter so you can remove them and use your own banana plugs if so desired. It offers more than three-times the output current (31 amps) and 116dB signal-to-noise ratio.
"Sonos Amp," says Rappaport, "is a real amplifier, and we're really proud of that."
The Sonos Amp will launch globally in February 2019 for $599 ($799 in Canada), but professional installers in Canada and the U.S. can get early access to one starting December 1, 2018, at which point it will also be available for purchase at Sonos.com.
How will it fare among dealers? It's a more expensive option than integrators might be used to with Sonos, at a $150 delta over the price of the Connect Amp in Canada, which currently sells for $650. That said, it offers much more functionality. But can it rival other amps in the same price range, and does the addition of seamless Sonos integration justify the decision? Time, and dealer decisions, will tell.
Three Sonos Amps stacked: a centralized heatsink, air inlets, and a discrete output stage keep them running cool.
Sonos and Sonance Collaboration
Also announced at the event was Sonos' expanded collaboration with Sonance, which will see a new series of architectural speakers launch to market, including in-wall, in-ceiling, and outdoor speakers. Each speaker, which will be sold and marketed by Sonos once available in early 2019, will gain additional functionality through software when paired with the new Sonos Amp. They will also include Sonos Trueplay tuning capabilities.
"Distributed audio should be easy to use, comfortable to listen to, and hidden into the architecture," said Ryan Taylor, Director of Business Development, during his presentation.
"We're making architectural sound smarter," added Matthew Seigel, Chief Commercial Office, "through Sonos software."
The Sonos Amp set-up as it might appear ih the home, working with a TV, pair of front speakers, sub, rear in-celing speakers, turntable, and Sonos One in another room.
"We were able to, from the ground up, engineer and design speakers that know the capabilities of the new Sonos Amp," explains Rob Roland, Executive Vice President and CTO at Dana Innovations, parent company to Sonance. "And [Sonos was] able to understand the characteristics and performance of the speaker and integrate that back to the DSP engine, and then ultimately into the app for the Trueplay. I think that is where the real power of the collaboration goes together."
In a short demo at the Sonos offices, the company showed an Amp working in tandem with B&W tower speakers, connected to a TV, with, for part of the demo, Sonance in-ceiling speakers active as the rears in a 4.1-channel set-up. Rappoport showed how he could adjust volume using the TV remote, and integrate a Sonos One that is imagined to be in the kitchen to initiate a stream of music using voice control. We watched scenes from Game of Thrones and The Force Awakens, and listened to music from Spotify, cranked up to 90% to showcase that there was no audio distortion.
This rack showcases how seamlessly the Sonos Amp fits into a standard AV rack, and can be stacked on top of one another.
Arguably, most customers who buy the Sonos Amp won't be the same ones grabbing a pair of ultra-expensive B&W speakers to pair with it. That said, the short demo was pleasing to the ears.
Prototypes of the speakers will be on display at CEDIA 2018 next week.