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THE SPEED OF SOUND

01.03.19

Wireless speakers and home sound systems have been around for so many years now, that the memory of what life was like before is becoming progressively hazier. In this blog, I share my thoughts on the latest listening landscape and my soft spot for one brand, in particular.

For the youth of today – my children included – the sight of a cassette tape and a pencil is meaningless. An everyday struggle for pre-00s kids, now condemned to the annals of history (except for, perhaps, a small army of East London hipsters threatening a revival). 

 

Conversely, vinyl – an even older music medium than cassettes – has already enjoyed such a renaissance. The remaining HMV stores are lined end-to-end with record shelves, seamlessly displaying classics from Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles alongside the latest chart arts who have cottoned on to demand for an unparalleled audiophile experience. 

 

The functional set-up, on the other hand, has moved very much into the digital age. Wires are so twentieth century. If we can’t sync our smartphone devices wirelessly, Bluetooth or otherwise, then we don’t want to know.

 

Whilst it is possible to connect analogue speakers to your phone, laptop or MP3 player using smart devices, I prefer the simplicity of the Sonos system. 

Their marketing spiel certainly worked on me – “Sonos is the ultimate home sound system: a WiFi-enabled wireless network that fills your whole home with pure, immersive sound, room by room.”

 

But for all the emotive, alluring words within that sentence, it was the reference to “network” that drew me in.

Gone are the days of delayed gratification; the hollow hours spent rewinding tapes to listen to your favourite B-side again. The meteoric rise of streaming services from Spotify, Apple and Amazon have made engaging with, and discovering, music quicker than ever before. Couple that with the blissful ease of connecting to the Sonos system to listen anywhere in your home, and my music-mad teenage dreams have been realised. 

 

The Sonos gadgets are a good-looking bunch that give Apple products a run for their money. With smooth lines and monochrome colourings, they’d be a welcome aesthetic addition to any space – whether it be an office, kitchen or living room. 

 

Interestingly, the fruits of a much-touted collaboration between Scandi giants IKEA and Sonos are expected later in 2019.  

 

Björn Block, Business Leader for IKEA Home Smart, stated in an IKEA blog: “Together with Sonos we want to democratise music and sound in the home, and we want to create products designed for how people listen together at home. By teaming up with Sonos we want to combine IKEA home furnishing knowledge with Sonos’ expertise within great home sound.”

 

He continues, “Our goal is for our collective work to save space, get rid of cables, make clutter invisible, and bring sound and music into the home in a more beautiful way.”

There is certainly an element of logical, natural progression about the partnership. Fewer wires equate to more space, and more space equates to a healthier, happier lifestyle (or so Instagram or Netflix’s Marie Kondo would have us believe).

 

I, for one though, love my gadgets. Their design is part of the appeal. Yes, I could have a thermostat fitted in the future that controls my heating and hot water “behind-the-scenes”, so-to-speak, but the Nest thermostat looks cool. I wouldn’t want to give it up. At least not for anything short of a fully interactive holographic experience. 

 

Likewise, the Sonos system suits my taste. 

 

There are plenty of worthy alternatives on the market from the likes of Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Bowers & Wilkins, JBL, Ultimate Ears; all offering a different aesthetic, different sound and different set-up. You only need look at B&W’s latest Zeppelin offering (retailing at £499+) to see there is big money in well-designed, nay beautiful, speaker outfits.

In the Zeppelin’s case, size really does matter. The speaker is considered a work of art in itself. The expectations for a £500 speaker aren’t met by sound alone. Bowie was on to something, waiting for the gift of sound AND vision.

And it’s not just about music. If, like me, you are a big fan of podcasts, then the Sonos system makes for a perfect companion. I can start listening to Ted Talks whilst shaving in the bathroom, then in the kitchen whilst eating my breakfast before moving to my home office for the remainder of the morning. The synchronicity between speakers can be as effective as having the presenter right there in the house with me, following me from room to room.

 

Undoubtedly key to the appeal of Sonos is its simple your-grandma-could-do-it-with-her-eyes-closed set-up process. Using the Sonos Controller app, you need do little more than press the sync button on the speaker, locate the corresponding device within the app and enter WiFi credentials, et voilà!

 

The app recognises which speaker you’re using at any given time, and in which room you’re using it, allowing you to programme the network to alter volume levels as appropriate. 

 

The guys at What Hi-Fi? say it best in their January 2019 review of the Sonos ecosystem – “It's still the smoothest multi-room set-up going.”

For those of you interested in my

bespoke set-up, here are the details:

Lounge - PlayBar, Sub, Play 1 (Alexa) x 2

Kitchen - Play 5 (Gen 1)

Dining Room - Play 3

Study - Play 1 

Kids' Playroom - Beam

Front Garden - Play 1 

Back Garden - AMP + Bose Environmental Speakers

Master Bedroom - Beam

Bathroom - Play 1 (Alexa)

Kids' Bedrooms - Play 1, Play 3

Spare Room - Play 1 

Office - PlayBar, Sub, Play 5 (Gen 2) x 2

Shed - Play 1 (Alexa)

Kids' Playhouse - Play 5 (Gen 1)

The reason I have so many? I love Sonos devices because they make things so incredibly easy!

 

When my kids are playing in the garden, I can put their favourite songs on (currently a hot contest between A Millions Dreams and Come Alive from The Greatest Showman!) with a quick tap of my phone. No need to go in to the house, switching inputs, Bluetooth pairing, no loss of connection when I move my phone - It just works. 

 

So, in an age where images of car cigarette lighters and coiled wires evoke a peculiar nostalgia for the days of yesteryear, the Sonos serves as a daily reminder to me of how lucky we are that wireless sound systems hit the fast lane!

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