Sonos has a come-to-Jesus opportunity through Bluetooth

It can be difficult for brands to admit when they’ve made a mistake — especially when they’ve spent time, money, and customer trust on a single message. But taking a good second look at a previous strategy, especially if customers have told you it wasn’t what they wanted, can be a necessary, if painful step.

That’s where Sonos finds itself today. With the launch of the company’s latest wireless speakers — the $249 Era 100 and $449 Era 300 — several previously held beliefs about what makes for a good home audio experience have been upended. -o or is discarded altogether.

A Bluetooth button can be found on the Sonos Era 300. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Perhaps the biggest change is the rethinking of Bluetooth. In the past, Sonos has not only refused to support the wireless technology embedded in every single smartphone on the planet — it has openly mocked other companies’ Bluetooth speakers, most notably in a series of 2016 ads that has the tagline “you’re better than this” — a reference to the ways in which Bluetooth speakers can undermine the listening experience.

As of March 7, the company has four Bluetooth-enabled speakers, including the newly launched Era 100 and Era 300, along with the existing Roam and Move portable speakers. Why the change? “Bluetooth just got better,” Sonos CEO Patrick Spence told me at the Era launch event in New York City. “It’s become more versatile, but it’s more reliable than ever.”

That may be true. But Sonos’ reluctance to embrace Bluetooth even after it has long been proven to be a useful and reliable technology makes one suspect that there is also an ideological flavor to the company’s stance.

“We’re a little religious about Wi-Fi compared to Bluetooth,” Spence admitted. He’s still a fan of Wi-Fi, the wireless tech that’s propelled the company to its current position as the king of the whole-home multiroom audio experience, but it appears he’s willing to set aside some ideas about what the meaning of delivery. experience. “I think you have to be humble enough to listen to customers.”

Sonos Era 100, back panel.
A USB-C port found on the back of a Sonos Era 100. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

As an example of Sonos’ newfound humility, Spence pointed to the fact that the Era 100 and Era 300 have a USB-C port that can be used with optional dongles to pipe external devices. audio source, such as a turntable.

The Era series isn’t the first Sonos speakers to do this – the Sonos Five (formerly the Play:5) has an analog input as well. But now that these three speakers make up the main line of home products, dedicated to the company’s music, this is a big shift from the days when there were almost no external inputs in the Sonos universe.

Interestingly, now that Bluetooth is on the table for Sonos, there may be an urge to do more than just allow Bluetooth connections to these speakers.

In 2021, the company took the first step in better-than-CD-quality audio with support for 24-bit/48kHz lossless music from streaming service Qobuz. Similar support came for Amazon Music later that year. So when I asked Spence if Sonos was willing to look at high-quality Bluetooth codecs, such as LDAC or aptX Adaptive, capable of much higher audio quality than the currently supported AAC and SBC, I was surprised when he said he was open to. this.

“There is no religion other than, ‘Can we provide an amazing experience?'” he said. Spence expressed some doubt as to whether these codecs would be reliable enough to maintain high quality levels, but remained willing to implement them if they could work. “It’s about the quality of that connection. That’s all that matters.”

The Sonos Era 300 is used as the rear surround of a Sonos home theater.
Sonos

This willingness to reconsider the way Sonos products work has led to the company’s current thinking around the new Era 300. The speaker is designed primarily to offer an immersive music listening experience through Dolby Atmos-compatible spatial audio architecture. It also works as a Dolby Atmos-enhancing surround speaker when used with an Arc or a Beam Gen 2, but it doesn’t do Dolby Atmos-based TV on its own or in a stereo pair.

I pointed out that Apple and Atmos-capable Atmos speakers (the Echo Studio and HomePod Gen 2) work as TV speakers (when paired with their respective streaming devices) and asked if Sonos could -also in the course. “We don’t see many people actually using it [the HomePod] that way,” Spence said. “Most people still choose a soundbar instead.” However, as with the move toward ubiquitous Bluetooth, he’s willing to let Sonos users be the judge. “When customers show us that this is the way they want to enjoy home theater, we’ll figure out how to support it.”

That transition could happen soon. Spence said he thought hard about how to remove the HDMI cable from the company’s soundbars, “I’ve been pushing the team for a long time — I don’t want to have a wire in the soundbar. Let’s make it easier.”

Technical hurdles still remain and, again, he stresses the importance of reliability, but it’s clear that Spence wants Sonos to be better than it is today.

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