Following up the decade-long success of the Connect:Amp, Sonos is ready to reveal the Sonos Amp - a concrete promise that helps solidify themselves as one of the most prominent audio companies in the market.
But more than just a new product release, Sonos has also revealed a full gamut of internal and external initiatives to empower the custom integration market as well (which you can read about here), giving a host of back-end support that dovetails nicely into the Sonos Amp philosophy.
Turning the Corner
Looking back on nearly ten years without an update, the Sonos Amp fills a void that has been desperately missing from their profile. The purpose of Sonos' original product - yes the ZP100 holds such a title - was to make whole-home, multi-room audio accessible in a time when smart home DIY simply didn't exist. Naturally, that narrative has changed, and home audio can come from any number of sources in a home. And that makes the Sonos Amp so exciting and raises an excellent question... Why did Sonos make an amp?
The answer starts with a high-level philosophy from Sonos CEO Patrick Spence on how the company fundamentally manufacturers a product.
"The industry is conditioned to keep putting out products year after year," Spence said. "But when Sonos looks at a product, we want it to last five years, last ten years. That long-term view on products helps define what technologies we put into a product."
"We're listening to customers and partners, but we are being thoughtful about what to add and when," he added.
And that's what makes the Sonos Amp so unique - it blends aesthetic, form, and function to make a lasting impact on the entire Sonos portfolio and, importantly, the dealers who sell it. That's because the Sonos Amp was, in essence, designed by the custom installer market.
Sonos spent time prototyping and interacting with dealers to find out what functions a product like the Sonos Amp would need. From being able to fit in a rack to being able to turn off the WiFi individually, Sonos listened and sculpted a product that signifies a commitment to the custom community. However, they also haven't lost sight of the direct to consumer strategy that has made them so famous in the first place, adding things like audio pass through and a control interface so it can live independently while still feeling robust.
They are even providing "early-access" to American and Canadian Sonos dealers starting December of this year, with an omnichannel rollout in February 2019.
The end result of their efforts is an industrial-designed amp that looks beautiful on a shelf for casual listeners, can be hidden and controlled wirelessly by a DIY enthusiast, or fit neatly in an AV rack as part of a whole-home audio solution - all while packing a host of functions to last another decade.
Right out the gate, the Sonos Amp is armed with one prime directive that elevates the listening experience of the entire portfolio and does so by utilizing three key philosophies of architectural sound - power, prominence of the rack, and connectivity.
"Times are changing, and things are evolving, " Sonos Product Manager Benji Rappaport said. "What we see is that the world is really starting to embrace, in a new way, architectural sound. This is an investment in living with sound in a way that fits your aesthetic. That aesthetic may be showy, it may be subtle, but architectural sound is all about making that personal and custom."
Although Rappaport considers himself more of an "evangelist" not the mastermind behind the Sonos Amp, his efforts were instrumental in focusing on what users want out of the end product. What he and his team found was smart-home technology quickly became one of the most crucial pieces of the "ask and listen" paradigms currently shaping the architectural sound and how to evolve the Connect Amp.
Which meant Rappaport turned to the custom channel that has installed hundreds of thousands of these products before and found the friction points. The Sonos team visited showrooms, offices, and worksites to learn about the craft and beauty behind a perfectly executed AV rack - something Rappaport thinks is an unsung hero of the industry.
"What became completely apparent is that the rack is the representation of the craft," said Rappaport. "It's not just four metal uprights with some shelves and some panels around it. It is an outward expression of the craftsmanship of the integrator."
"That meticulous craftsmanship in order to deliver the experience for the client really shone through," he added.
These Go to 11
Getting into the nitty-gritty with the Sonos Amp, the 2-channel amp offers more than meets the eye. Although inspecting the back of a Sonos Amp reveals space to power four passive speakers, a subwoofer, two ethernet cables, and an HDMI port. That means any TV, turntables, and CD players become part of the Sonos ecosystem.
But the secret sauce comes as a one-two punch in a revamped Sonos API, as well as the amp, becoming a powerful hub for their full portfolio of products. That means one Sonos Amp can create place passive speakers into any combination of wireless inputs. Play:1's can anchor any audio setup or play in conjunction with source audio from another room. Or two passive speakers can mix an LCR to pan out a 5.1 setup.
And Sonos is really hanging their hat on their new API. They have already begun working with home control giants such as URC, Crestron, and Control4 to begin the first phase of making Sonos work fluidly, regardless of what the consumer wants. Underscoring that is a focus on consumers that enables Airplay 2, Google Assistant, and Alexa to remain cornerstones of how consumers interact with the products. HDMI Arc - as first seen from the Sonos Beam - also elevates the experience to take center channel content and mix it left and right to create a phantom center channel using just two passive speakers.
Which is all the tip of the iceberg for a plethora of plans that include audio passthrough, grouping, volume limit, song queue management, and 'announcements' - the ability to push custom audio clips via vehicles such as IFTT or Stringify mediums. In theory, the custom API enables anyone to create and mold Sonos to fit their needs, not force it to work with their setup.
And that's what makes this project so special. It's a full-blown dedication to the custom integration channel without leaving their core audience of consumers behind.