Sonos pioneered the networked, multi-room home audio market 10 years ago. After nearly $400M in venture funding in the past few years, they’ve made big steps to enter the mainstream with a national retail and advertising presence. From what we saw at CES this year, a number of big electronics and tech companies want a piece of this market and Sonos may be in for some serious price competition.
LG Music Flow
LG introduced their Music Flow system at this year’s CES with a variety of Music Flow speakers including soundbars, a subwoofer and a battery-powered mobile speaker, The speakers are controlled via an Android or iOS app, allowing you to stream content from your own library or via Google Cast services like Pandora, iHeart Radio, Deezer, Songza, NPR One, Rhapsody, Napster and TuneIn.
One component that did seem to be missing was a non-speaker version of the device so that you can power existing home stereo or built-in wall of ceiling speakers. Sonos has their Connect:Amp and Connect devices that support these uses, though admittedly are targeting higher-end setups than a mainstream home user.
Our tests on the CES show floor showed a nice, easy-to-use app, somewhat plain speaker design and sound quality that seemed good. Obviously a gigantic trade show isn’t a great environment for testing audio, so we’d love to hear this system at home.
Pricing and an exact release date for the US hasn’t been announced, but reps mentioned they were looking to sell them for half of what the competition is charging. The smallest Sonos speaker, the Play:1, is still a pricey $200, and a Sonos soundbar and subwoofer cost $700 each, so there is certainly room for significant price competition.
Google Cast for audio
Perhaps even more significant than LG’s announcement was Google’s announcement of Google Cast for audio, enabling the able to cast music from mobile devices to speakers via that same technology used in Chromecast. Google Cast for audio supports many popular audio services like Pandora, TuneIn, Songza, NPR One and rdio.
While Sonos already supports the streaming services supported by Google Cast, it does not explicitly offer Google Cast for audio support. In addition to the LG Music Flow speakers, both Sony and Denon are the first manufacturers to announce support for the streaming technology, with more on the way as chip makers enable more TVs, game consoles and set-top boxes with Google Cast capabilities.
Sony was showing off connected speakers like the SRS-X99 wireless speaker and the HT-ST9 and HT-NT3 soundbars that support both Google Cast and Bluetooth streaming capabilities, and also offer multi-room support via the SongPal app.
While their biggest news of the show was the new Sling TV service, DISH Networks also announced a new whole-home audio service that will turn their existing set-top boxes into music streaming zones controllable via an iOS or Android app. Initially the DISH service will support services like Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn, along with personal music libraries. The obvious advantage here is that this setup won’t require separate speakers, as the set-top box is likely already connected to an AV receiver or soundbar.
Let the competition begin
We’ve reached a tipping point for the streaming home audio market with the ever growing popularity of music streaming services and smartphone apps, so it will be no surprise to see much broader adoption of multi-room home audio solutions in 2015.
I was a very early adopter of Sonos, building the system in to my home during a remodel project in 2006. It remains one of my favorite gadgets, and I love to recommend it to other music lovers for its ease-of-use. That said, price matters to reach mainstream adoption, and Sonos may not be able to hold on to its premium pricing model in the face of all of this new competition from deep-pocketed electronics makers.