Sonos has announced a completely redesigned and refreshed Play:5 multi-room speaker, along with a new software feature called Trueplay that will allow you to custom-tune your existing Sonos speakers.
The new Play:5 presents a new direction for the company with capacitive touch buttons and a more refined finish than the current multi-room line up. It has been introduced after three years work and it features six custom-designed drivers comprised of three mid-woofers for the lows and three tweeters for the highs.
You'll be able to position the new Play:5 to work in three orientations - as a horizontal standalone speaker or two paired together vertically or horizontally to deliver stereo sound. The touch buttons feature smart sensors to make them responsive to all orientations by making sure the volume is always facing up.
Trueplay is the second announcement to come from Sonos. It is a new software feature that will allow users of existing Sonos speakers to optimise their sound wherever they are placed by tuning them using an iOS device and the Sonos app. The microphone in your iOS device will be used to analyse how the test sound produced by the app reflects off walls, furnishings, glass and other surfaces. This information is then used to tune the speaker accordingly.
What is next for Sonos though? Well portability isn't off the cards, nor is a redesigned Play:3 eventually, but it seems hi-res compatibility is a no-go for now. You can expect better Spotify integration in the future though, and of course Apple Music has been announced to be coming before the end of the year.
Moveability over portability
In terms of portability, Tom Cullen, vice president of product marketing at Sonos, said: "You can be pretty confident we won't make something that has been designed to take to the beach. It just doesn't make sense for us. Within the home, it is a different question. I agree with you that there is a legitimate need for people to be able to move the music around rather than just say 'hey you know, spend another £170 and buy another Play:1'. That's not a reasonable thing to say to someone.
"If we were to solve a portability problem around the home, moving a speaker from place to place, a battery in it would cost, doing it the high quality way we do it, about £60 at retail."
Cullen adds: "If we really wanted to go after that problem of allowing somebody of lesser means to move it around rather than buy another speaker, I believe that the better answer would be to put, I'm making a guess but I'll be close, around $2 of components in that product that would hold its state for a few minutes while you unplugged it and moved it to another room. We would just pull in a bunch of power into a capacitor and keep it alive.
"Therefore you get the sound quality and moveability, not portability but moveability. That to me would be a great solution to that problem. I have respect for the need to move from place to place. We are thinking about it but we are not working on it."
When asked if there were any plans to refresh the rest of the Play range, Cullen said: "These products are designed to have a five or six-year shelf life and a 10-year home life. That's the way to look at it. The Play:3 has been out for around three-and-a-half years. Could you expect it, yes, but should you expect it in the next year or two? No. Remember we keep improving these products with software."
Better Spotify integration
Talking of software, Spotify integration is set to improve in the coming months. Cullen explains: "We are interested in having the best Spotify experience. Over the last couple of years, I think we can honestly say that we went backwards in that they were improving their experience faster than we were.
"We've gotten together and said we really need to change that. We are working very hard with them first to get whole with their listeners, and then to really advance the experience together. I'll admit it took a while and I think we took each other for granted. We have a good team on it and I think you can expect over the 15 months coming that we will make, from multiple angles, that Spotify experience on Sonos as good as it can be."
Hi-res is just 'a numbers game'
Sonos has designed the new Play:5 to deliver a listening experience "closer than ever to how every track was mastered in the studio", which is what hi-res audio claims to do. Sonos only supports up to CD quality, while others are capable of playing back 24-bit tracks. Giles Martin, sound leader at Sonos, claims this shouldn't make a difference though.
"You can't upscale audio, it doesn't work so it becomes a numbers game…I can make a call to shift us [to 24-bit], it isn't hard, but the problem is on the experiential side, it has to be right. You have to make sure things don't drop out or stop. Even with Tidal we are on the edge right now because the pipe needs to get bigger."
Martin added: "I refuse and the company refuses to play this numbers game where you go 'we're better than you', 'how much better', 'we are 8 better than you'. It doesn't make any sense as far as the consumer stuff goes and I think that's where we are at right now. I think it would be great if people listened to CDs right now and then say 'you know what, we need a bit more' and then they can experience it if they want and decide whether they can hear the difference or not as most people can’t."
So it looks like you can expect some form of moveable speaker sometime in the future, a refreshed Play:3 eventually, better Spotify integration and the addition of Apple Music. You can forget hi-res for now but if Martin is right, that shouldn't matter. The new Play:5 speaker will be available before the end of the year for £429. Trueplay will also come before the end of the year.