Sonos cuts support for older devices, then backtracks

Sonos received an Internet smackdown this week when they announced that they were going to stop supporting old equipment. Some of the backlash was because it wasn’t clear that support was being dropped for systems with really old products only, but the damage was done. In the end they apologized and backtracked, but will this be a good thing for Sonos users? And what is a reasonable expectation of manufacturer’s home tech support of our favourite devices?

What happened?

OK, so what is this all about then? Sonos announced that they will stop software updates for some Connect and Connect:Amp (plus Gen 1 Play:5) players. If your system has one or more of the affected products in it, your whole system would have been held back and would not get software updates. Sonos likely made this hard decision so they could keep offering new features people want, and the old gear needed to be culled to allow this. These products just didn’t have the horsepower to keep up the home tech support of features like voice control and smart home integration.

To ease the pain and get you on their latest gear, they’re offering a 30% discount to update your gear. The media and Internet haters missed that only the really old gear is effected. Even if two pieces of gear look exactly the same on the outside, they’re not the same.

Underneath the covers

Like many manufacturers, Sonos updates the electronics of their products without changing the outside appearance much. They do this for manufacturing cost reductions or tweaks and improvements. So, while one Sonos Connect might look like another Sonos Connect, they might be quite different on the inside. Sonos would not support the older version of the Connect but will support the newer version. To us though, they look the same. If you have several Connects or Connect:Amps, the easiest way to tell their vintage is to log into your Sonos account, and Sonos will tell you which of your devices are too old. It’s quite possible that many people have different vintages of equipment in their homes and don’t know it. The Connect we bought last year is quite different from the Connect we bought over 10 years ago.

The reality is that Sonos is more of a software company that sells physical music players, rather than a stereo manufacturer. The issue is that many of us Sonos customers expect to buy stereos that we can hold onto for decades like we used to with our old simple stereos. Good or bad, this isn’t the case anymore. We also want our new ‘simple stereos’ to support all of the world’s music services, voice control and whatever’s next. We have learned to not expect Microsoft to support our 10 year old PC and our TV needs to be replaced when its doesn’t have HDMI inputs, but it looks like we’re not ready for our music streaming systems to not be supported even if they’re ancient in a technology timeline.

What happens next?

The good news is that Sonos has backed away from stopping the support of quite old gear. Good for them for listening to their customers, apologizing, and trying to make things right. This is good for customer’s bank accounts and saves much gear filling landfills. The bad news is that this might slow or hobble future features that Sonos may want to introduce. First it will divert a lot of engineering resources to allow Sonos to split your old gear (no new features) and new gear (with new features) groups while still allowing them to work together in your home. Sonos will eventually have to retire these and other product though.

While we’re huge advocates for getting quality gear that can run for a long time, it’s also unreasonable to expect home tech gear to have an infinite lifespan and be maintenance free. It’s extremely hard to achieve this when home tech is evolving at an accelerated pace. We offer home tech support to keep our clients’ home tech goodness going, but manufactures likes Sonos are part of the solution.

We are torn on this one, as we understand both sides of the coin. It brings up some good questions. What is a reasonable amount of time a manufacturer should offer updates for a home tech device? And how much home tech support should these devices need? We hope Sonos can navigate it and continue to provide great products that many of love to use everyday. In the meantime, we’ll help clients with home tech support as they need it.

Sonos streaming music architectural speakers

Sonos has been pretty busy of late. They’re bolstering their streaming music portfolio with additional products. Last year, they released a more affordable TV sound bar, and recently they updated with their Amp. Now, they have announced branded architectural speakers.

Sonos architectural speakers

Sonos is already great when used with architectural speakers. People get great sounding streaming music, and the speakers don’t visually impact a room. Architectural speakers are passive speakers (they need a separate amplifier) that are installed in ceilings and walls, so there is no need to have regular bookshelf or floor standing speakers in the room. This is great not only for current modern home aesthetics, but they also save valuable floor space. Sonos has announced three speakers: in-ceiling, in-wall and outdoor speakers. Sonos partnered with Sonance, a respectable speaker brand, for these speakers. These ‘matched’ speakers make it easier for consumers to understand and select architectural speakers if they’re the DIY types. The Amp also enables Sonos’s Trueplay which allows for easy speaker sound optimization. Other speaker brands will continue to sound great with the Sonos Amp, but these will help make architectural speakers more mainstream.

Sonos has more to come

Sonos recently also showed off some product prototypes that they have partnered wth Ikea for. The intent is to make Sonos compatible speakers more affordable and widely available. Sonos also quietly stoped selling their Play:3 speaker, so we suspect an updated version may be on the horizon. While we’re fans of Sonos, they’re not the only great streaming music solution out there. These recent updates are great as it pushes all brands forward and provides more great streaming music options available for consumers.

Tip for great home music systems: subwoofers

small subwoofers like sub air help home music systems sound better

People are listening to more music, often using streaming music. Many have music (and surround) speakers discreetly installed in their living spaces. Frequently this involves installing ceiling speakers. While they can sound great and are hidden in plain sight in the ceiling, there’s something missing,.. true low-end bass. This includes the low-end dance beat or the rumble from a movie explosion. These low-end sounds require subwoofers. But, there are ways to hide subwoofers too.

Speakers need to be physically large to create proper bass – blame physics. Even with the technical sorcery that manufactures build into their products to make small speakers produce surprising bass, they just can’t hit the true low notes. Its not just for dance music aficionados or action movie fans, good bass helps better fill sound in the room and is more pleasing to listen to (often without specifically noticing ‘bass’). We always encourage people to consider a discreet subwoofer (or completely hidden) whenever possible.

Standard subwoofers

A standard subwoofer needs to be large to properly produce proper bass – especially if you want explosion feeling bass. A true audiophile or cinephile will require a ‘proper’, read very large, subwoofer. In these cases, aesthetics often lose to sound. It doesn’t always have to be the case though. If you’re building or renovating, often some planning can greatly minimize impact to your living space. For example, its sometimes possible to cloak subwoofers with end tables or cabinetry. Often this doesn’t work for a room though, so we have to look to the next two categories.

In-wall or in-ceiling subwoofers

In-wall and in-ceiling subwoofers only need the speaker itself exposed. All the electronics can be hidden in some other part of the home. Some in-wall subwoofers use the space in the wall as part of the speaker to create great sound. Others like in-ceiling subs have the speaker cabinets hidden in the ceiling. Our ears can’t perceive where bass is coming from, so we often ‘hide’ speakers low to the ground behind furniture. Even if exposed, they’re usually barely noticed – like a vent cover. While you can get audiophile or cinephile grade in-wall subwoofers, even a reasonably priced setup can really open up the musicality and sound of a room.

Alternative subwoofers

Sometimes you’re in a bind – perhaps you want to more bass, but you can’t plan for a standard or in-wall/in-ceiling sub. Here you can look at clever subwoofers that are either small or non-standard shaped. While this category of subs can’t play as low as the others, they definitely improve the sound without a large visible presense. For example a small sub can easy be placed under an end table. You can also consider one like the Focal Sub Air that is just over 6” deep. If you’re a Sonos fan, their Sonos Sub is also just over 6” deep. These and others are wireless if you can’t run cables. Some are available in black or white to help blend into your decor as well. These can be  placed under or behind furniture as still sound great.

The addition of a good subwoofer will help improve the sound of home music systems. Depending on your situation and budget, from building to simply adding a wireless music streaming system, there are many subwoofer options available. With some planning, you shouldn’t have to compromise your home’s sound system.

Case Study: User Friendly – “nice and simple”

Living Room cropped shrunkThis busy couple were looking to update the home technology in their new high-rise home to work for their tastes and lifestyle. When they took over the space, it had a weak and dated music system in the living room, kitchen and master bedroom & bath. The old system didn’t provide any flexibility for their preference for satellite and iTunes music, and the only space to watch TV and movies was shoehorned into the den.

They previously had expensive and complex systems in other homes, but those didn’t live up to promises and were wrought with reoccurring issues. We decided to step back to focus the technology side of their home renovation on what truly mattered to them: simplicity with music throughout, and immersive but not overbearing TV & movie experiences. For this update, we worked with Sandra McIntyre of McIntyre Cresswell Design to meet this power couple’s aesthetic and home tech needs.

DenThe first task was to allow easy access for their satellite and iDevice music throughout the home.   For this, we employed Sonos Hi-Fi audio components and custom installed in-wall and in-celiling speakers for all the living spaces: living room & kitchen, den, guest bedroom & bath, and master bedroom & bath. The Sonos system not only offered full access to satellite and iPod music, but also Internet radio & streaming services and even their computers.

Next we turned our attention to design their unassuming but entertaining video spaces. In the living room, master bedroom and guest room, we layered Apple TV, cable boxes and high quality AV components with Sonos to allow flexibility and fun. Now the full range of options from broadcast TV to iDevice AirPlay to Netflix to satellite radio is at their finger tips.

Every room had its unique goals and needs, and as with most Vancouver homes, space is a premium. We countered this by designing the solution to tuck away AV amps and gear in a small laundry room cabinet. This not only saved valuable floor space, but also helped maintain living space aesthetics. We also retrofitted a Nexus21 TV lift in the master bedroom that conceals the TV and front speakers to work in conjunction with the master’s in-wall speakers for flexibility for music Connected Home In-Wall iPadand surround sound for movies. The home solution can be controlled using universal remotes and iDevices, including the convenient wall-mounted iPad Mini in the master bedroom. Care was also taken to ensure the wired and Wi-Fi network was solid not only for today’s work and play, but also for whatever tomorrow brings.

Home solutions should be easy to use and match lifestyles.  In the end this great couple got the perfect system they deserved – “Nice and simple!”

Master Bedroom TV Lift