Perhaps taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, Sonos on Wednesday introduced a new product that aims to balance between smart and speaker. The Sonos Beam is a miniature soundbar that promises to deliver Sonos’ signature sound profile while also mixing in all of the smart features that consumers expect in a 2018 audio product.
Unveiled at a special even in San Francisco, the $399 Beam speaker is very reminiscent of the Sonos One that launched last year in that it takes another Sonos product and repackages it in a sleeker, smarter package.
At a little more than 25 inches long the Beam is something of a younger cousin to the Playbase. The company says that its 60 percent smaller and 28 percent shorter than the elder soundbar in the family. It’s also much smaller than other soundbars consumers might be used to seeing. That said, the Beam will still pack an impressive acoustical punch. Sonos said in a statement that the soundbar was tuned by a team of engineers who collaborated with leading sound experts from the film, music, and TV industries.
It’s the smart features, though, that will catch consumers collective attention with the Sonos Beam. Like the One, this speaker will maintain its Switzerland-like stance when it comes to voice assistant support. It comes with Alexa support, and, when it starts shipping on July 17, it’ll support Apple AirPlay 2 out of the box. (Sonos will also get AirPlay 2 support for the One, Play:5 and Playbase speakers, likely around the time the Beam starts shipping.) With AirPlay 2, the Beam will be able to stream music to their speaker, but it also adds support for Siri. That means asking Siri to play Apple Music on your Beam speaker, but it also enables you to tell it on which speaker (including the HomePod) or in which room specifically you want to play that music.
Sonos told reporters during the event that it is still working on tight integration with Google Assistant, but there is still no word on when that update could roll out.
“In a smart speaker category increasingly filled with tech clutter, poor audio quality and ulterior motives, Beam is the best example yet of what makes Sonos different,” Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said in the statement. “Our open approach, obsession with design, maniacal focus on quality and commitment to building a system that’s easy to use and gets better over time are at the heart of everything we do. We believe we’ve created the best, most versatile, smart speaker in the world.”
Thinking beyond even all of the tech and impressive audio packed into the Beam, it’s the value proposition that this product creates for the company that really stands out above everything else. As pointed out by The Verge, 38 percent of people who have purchased one Sonos speaker will eventually buy another. At $399, the Sonos Beam is positioning itself alongside the likes of the Google Home Max and the Apple HomePod, but it promises to deliver much more than either of those speakers.
Sonos has put the Beam in a position where it could entice someone who’s in the market for a smart speaker to look their way. But even more importantly, they’re going after the customer who is in the market to upgrade their new TV’s crummy internal speakers with a sound system that’s worthy of the Sonos name. Your first inclination in that scenario might not be to look at a smart speaker, but the Beam opens that door wide open. It also has the potential to create an even wider customer base for a company that doesn’t need any help in the name recognition department.