New Sonos Subwoofer Boosts Wireless Listening Experience
Sonos promises to turn your living room into a home theater with its expensive line of high-end wireless speakers and amps. Now the company has cranked up the volume with Sonos Sub, a subwoofer that delivers rich, vibration-free bass.
I love my digital music collection, but I’m hardly an audiophile, and on a journalist’s income I’m not about to run out and spend $1,000 on a high-end home music system. But if I could afford it, I’d give serious thought to buying a system from Sonos, a maker of multi-room wireless audio systems.
I first came across Sonos a couple of years ago. The company’s claim to fame is a wireless (except for electric cords) component system that gives you the quality of a built-in home theater setup without drilling holes in the wall and snaking cables around the house. Instead, Sonos uses its own version of W-Fi to send music to speakers in any room of the house. You can control the system with an iPhone, a tablet or your computer.
What brings this to mind is a new product from Sonos, a subwoofer called the Sonos Sub. As you may or may not know, a subwoofer is a speaker designed to handle the low-pitched frequencies of the bass. A decent set of speakers will do a reasonable job, but adding a subwoofer to your system makes a huge difference in the clarity and richness of the bass. In fact, it can be too good. If you’ve heard the — often obnoxious — eardrum-busting bass booming from a car cruising around your neighborhood, you know exactly what I mean.
First of all, the Sonos Sub is flat-out beautiful. It’s a rectangular box, with an opening in the middle, and an eye-catching black lacquer finish, similar to the kind you’d see on a grand piano. According to the Sonos folks who showed me the unit, its two internal speakers face each other, a design that cancels out the vibrations a subwoofer produces, so you could put it on a bookshelf without sending your tchotchkes tumbling to the floor.
Sonos’s regular speakers are quite good, but when I listened to some music with the subwoofer turned on and then off, the difference was striking.
As I mentioned, we’re talking about a component system here, and all the parts are proprietary, so you’ve got to buy a bunch of Sonos products to make it all work — and it’s not cheap. Basically you need: speakers, at $299 or $399 each; a Bridge, a device that plugs into your router or other part of the network at $49 (though Sonos is offering it for free at the moment); and if you want the Sonos Sub it will set you back another $699.
Later in the year, a version that has a matte finish instead of high-gloss, will be available for $599. The system I listened to, which sounded very good, contained two of the less expensive speakers, but nonetheless would cost a total of about $1,350 plus tax and shipping.
Sonos offers other components as well, including an amp, but you don’t have to buy it to work with the subwoofer. However, you must have an Internet connection, so it’s probably not suitable for your vacation cabin in the mountains. And since you’ll be connecting to the Web, you can stream music from services including Pandora, Spotify, Sirius XM, and others, as well as your digital music library. In the wireless audio system space, Sonos faces competition from Bose, Logitech (Squeezebox) and Apple with Apple Airplay.
Like Apple, Sonos pays a lot of attention to detail, even beyond the sound engineering and software development that is at the heart of its products. That glossy finish, for example, has six coats of paint; the speakers contain an accelerometer, which means you can place them vertically or horizontally, and the speakers will compensate for the positioning.
All in all, the Sonos system is a good product for the audiophile who doesn’t mind spending more for the quality and convenience of a high-end, wireless music system.
(Image courtesy of Sonos; thumbnail courtesy of Mashable.com.)
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.