Sonos is betting on spatial audio as a brand differentiator
Sonos is betting on spatial audio as a brand differentiator
Spatial Audio has been thrilling the audio market ever since Apple announced Movie and TV content supporting it in iOS 14 at the WWDC event in June 2020. Spatial Audio essentially provides sound surround sound and 3D sound through headphones via dynamic head tracking. Typically, this is not a feature found in traditional audio speakers.
Over the past two decades since its inception in 2002, Sonos has built an enviable premium audio brand for multi-room audio products. Although the smart speaker market is crowded – even at the high end – Sonos has achieved something few brands haven’t with solutions that customers are willing to pay a premium for and fierce loyalty. to the brand.
With that as a backdrop, Sonos has primarily focused its efforts on two product categories over the past few years: portable speakers like the Move and Roam; and more expensive home theater products like the Atmos-enabled Arc and Ray soundbars. Sonos One and Sonos Five, the company’s main set of music-focused speakers, still sound great but are starting to show their age.
Spatial Audio Capability
The Era 100 and Era 300, Sonos’ two new “better and better” offerings, change that dynamic. Priced at $450, the Era 300 is the first Sonos speaker capable of playing spatial audio. By comparison, the $250 Era 100 is a completely rebuilt successor to the Sonos One with several upgrades over its predecessor.
You can use a pair of any of these in stereo or as surround back speakers in a home theater setup, just as you can with other Sonos speakers. If you have a Sonos Arc or gen-2 Beam and Sub, you can have an outrageous Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 experience by adding a pair of Era 300s as your back surround – that is, as long as you’re ready to cough up $2,600 for this setup.
Era 300 – Judge Aaron of the home audio market
The Era 300, pictured above, looks unique compared to other Sonos speakers, but sticks to the brand’s signature minimalist aesthetic.
Its slightly peculiar upturned hourglass design serves a practical purpose in that it allows the upward-firing tweeter to fire at a slight but precise angle, which the manufacturer claims will provide more room-filling reflections for spatial audio.
There are three other tweeters: two pointing left and right, one pointing forward and neutral. Finally, the speaker has two woofers on either side, which deliver plenty of bass.
Era 100 – A more affordable alternative to Apple’s new HomePod
The Sonos One is acoustically identical to the Sonos Play:1 which was announced in 2013. The Era 100, on the other hand, has more tangible updates.
With its $250 price tag, the Era 100 is an affordable alternative to Apple’s latest HomePod, and it’s a significant upgrade over the Sonos Play:1. The Era 100 features a 25% larger woofer than the One and a pair of tweeters providing left and right stereo channels in a single speaker.
Era 100 speaker (Image credit: Sonos)
Although it lacks the spatial audio capabilities of the Era 300, it is a significant improvement over the previous model.
Despite their extensive features and prices, these speakers have a lot in common. With an optional line-in adapter, you can connect a turntable or other audio gear to both via their USB-C connections. This capability is a significant advantage over Apple’s HomePods (both the latest model and the HomePod Mini) since the Era 100 and Era 300 can also double as external PC speakers. However, this usage pattern is clearly narrow.
Notably, in the Era 100 and Era 300, Sonos, for the first time, included Bluetooth in a non-portable speaker, which is essential. These speakers also include newly revised touch controls on the top, so now you can slide your finger over a small ridge in addition to dedicated forward and back buttons to change the volume instead of tapping either side of the play button. /break.
Additionally, Sonos provided a physical switch to turn off the microphone instead of just muting the mic through software. This welcome approach actively shuts down the connection for added security.
The Era 100 and Era 300’s distinctive Trueplay Tuning feature, which measures how sound reflects off walls, furniture and other surfaces, can also use these mics to enhance sound based on where you place the speakers in your home. Trueplay was announced by Sonos in 2015, signaling the company’s desire to optimize audio quality in different home environments.
As a mobile phone app, Trueplay previously required an iOS device for setup. Android users were out of luck because although Sonos had installed built-in microphones in its speakers for many years, Trueplay was incompatible with Android devices.
Trueplay makes a significant difference, and this new feature means a lot more people, especially Android users, are likely to use it.
Summing up the speakers of the Sonos era
Competitors aside, Sonos strongly believes that spatial audio is how music playback will thrive in the future. Company management asserted that a) the Era 300 will be the definitive way to hear the intricacies of spatial audio mixes without requiring a room full of audio equipment and b) that artists and producers are highly interested in the format.
A single speaker can’t offer so much, no matter how sophisticated its driver array. Looking at the streaming audio landscape at a high level, it’s likely that the big hitters — Spotify, YouTube Music, and other services — would likely start supporting spatial audio sooner rather than later. However, Amazon and Apple are now the only two services compatible with the Era 300 for space music.
Even when playing stereo mixes, the Era 300 should be an exceptional loudspeaker. The 300 will likely be a more niche offering in the company’s lineup, similar to the excellent Sonos Five speaker, but at a premium price. Still, it makes sense that Sonos would be ready for the growing spatial audio market trend rather than playing catch-up if the spatial audio wave is about to take off.
Early media reports of Era 300 indicate that it generates a distinctive sound. Given my experience with Sonos products, I expect the audio quality to be superb, although I reserve judgment until I have a chance to use them.
It’s worth pointing out that Sonos has proven itself by reproducing standard audio first, and compared to the Era 100, the 300 has a lot more volume, bass and presence. Considering it costs $200 more and has twice the drivers, expect the audio quality to be second to none.
The main reason Sonos has succeeded in the highly competitive home entertainment speaker market is that it has taken a no-compromise approach to speaker development.
As the speaker space has become muddled with sub-$100 solutions that are often designed to control the smart home, Sonos has spent its resources avoiding this quagmire to differentiate itself. In that sense, it’s unfair to compare the new Era 100 and 300 to the Apple HomePod, as Sonos’ products are unabashedly focused on delivering a world-class audio experience, although both new Sonos speakers have integrated support for Amazon Alexa.
That said, embracing spatial audio is a leadership opportunity for the company. The Era 300 can be considered the first salvo in its efforts to raise the bar in the high-end audio space.
The Era 100 and Era 300 have black or white color options. Both are slated to ship on March 28 and are available to pre-order now from the Sonos Store.