How Sonos is getting better, year over year

by Volker Weber


I have been around since the first Sonos products. And I am impressed by two things: how the products improve year over year. And how the company keeps improving products that are already in customers' hands. Let me explain.

It all started with a product called ZonePlayer ZP100. What is called rooms today was zones way back when. The ZP100 could do everything. Connect your existing speakers, connect to your existing amp, connect to a separate subwoofer, connect to your CD player. And it was all wires. It even had a four port Ethernet hub. But it was also wireless in that it created SonosNet, a mesh network based on 802.11b/g technology. In order to control your music, you had to buy a piece of hardware from Sonos. I dubbed it the Russian iPod and that name stuck with Sonos. I believe the CEO calls it by that name until today.

Then Sonos started adding a new product: ZonePlayer ZP80. It was a bit cheaper, it did not have an amp so you had to connect to your existing amp. It went from 4 to 2 port Ethernet, so you could wire "through". ZP80 was later replaced by ZP90 with improved wireless technology based on 802.11n. ZP90 was rebranded as CONNECT and is still available today.

Then Sonos refreshed ZP100 with the ZP120. It had digital amps and dropped line-out. ZP120 was meant to drive your speakers while ZP80/90 was meant to drive a full stereo. ZP120 was later rebranded as CONNECT:AMP and you can still buy it today.

Then two important things happened: Sonos started making software controllers available as apps. And they created the S5 which was later rebranded as the PLAY:5. S5 had five digital amplifiers for five drivers: two tweeters, two midrange, one bass. The importance of this speaker cannot be overstated. You could tune the speaker with a software update. After a long beta phase it finally rolled out, not before beta testers were asked to let it run at 100 percent volume for hours on end.

The Soviet iPod (CR100) was replaced with a touch screen controller (CR200). Sonos had scrapped one project before it came to market, just because it wasn't deemed good enough. So it took many years until CR200 was released. By the time it came out, the iPod touch was cheaper and did the job well enough. Now we have controllers on iOS and Android but sadly not on Windows Phone/Mobile. Microsoft has Phish Alpha, which is actually good enough to ship, but it hasn't.

When the PLAY:3 came out, the speaker "below" the S5, the whole rebranding exercise happened. S5 became PLAY:5, ZP90 became CONNECT, ZP120 became CONNECT:AMP. PLAY:3 had only three drivers but it added 5 GHZ wireless and an orientation sensor. Standing on its side, it became a mono speaker with a different sound characteristic. And you could pair two of them to form a stereo pair. The deluxe version of that stereo pair was two PLAY:5.

And then Sonos went on a new trajectory. It came out with four products, each one more impressive than the other. SUB, PLAYBAR, PLAY:1 and finally a new PLAY:5. I still cannot wrap my head around how the company was able to improve so much year over year. And to top it off, they just introduced Trueplay Tuning, which will improve your listening experience with all the gear that came out starting with the first PLAY:5. Safe for the PLAYBAR for now, but that will come as well.

Best of all, you can still use that old ZP100 and the Soviet iPod. They don't have all the latest features, but they show up in your controller and will play your music just fine.

If you don't have any Sonos speakers yet, get a pair of PLAY:1. You'll be amazed. Or buy a new PLAY:5 and it will blow you away.

I will be visiting Sonos in two weeks. And I can't wait to see what they are working on. Unfortunately that means I will have to guard a few secrets. But I am really good at that.

Further reading: 5 Levels of SONOS addiction


Great summary, thanks!
Do you think there gonna be any Sonos deals in the next weeks for christmas?

Ben Weber, 2015-11-26

Deal like in "pay less"? There is currently a promotion for 2xPLAY:1. Other than that, no.

Volker Weber, 2015-11-26

Enjoy your visit at Sonos! I'am curious about the Apple (Music) integration, hope to read an article here as soon as the information is released.

Thomas Schmutz, 2015-11-27

you forgot to mention where to buy sonos in Germany :-)

Stephan Bohr, 2015-11-27

Getting a solid Windows 10 (Phone) app/controller is all I want for Christmas.

Nils Heuer, 2015-11-27

Phonos is a very good controller for sonos on windows phone. For my usecase some features work better then on the original sonos app for android.

Ralf M Petter, 2015-11-27

Years ago, I was smiling if not laughing about articles like this... gosh! Thanks! :)

Ingo Seifert, 2015-11-27

Nils, the Windows Phone/Mobile controller is a mystery to me. Sonos has been working with Microsoft for years. I expected it to ship in the spring of 2014, after a very long project called Phish. Well, it didn't. Early this year Microsoft restarted the effort and published a version on the Windows Phone Store, only to be tested by Microsoft employees. That app was named Phish Alpha, although it was technically a beta, because it was feature complete. It has since been revved at least once, and I know that it does work very well. I have no idea what the hold-up is. Technically, Microsoft could just set it to release status and be done with it.

Volker Weber, 2015-11-27

Falls es interessiert, bei gibt es die PLAYBAR gerade für 623,22, Play:1 für 178,62 und Play:3 für 272,22 Euro.

Thomas Meyer, 2015-11-27


I'm still smiling :-)

Karl Heindel, 2015-11-27

Only ignoramus are still smiling ;)...

Ingo Seifert, 2015-11-27

Volker, do you know anything about the roadmap for Apple Music on Sonos? If not please ask when you visit them :-)

Christian Gut, 2015-11-27

Hi Volker, let me know if you're stopping by the Sonos offices in Cambridge, MA, we could meet for coffee or other activities. :-) Gruss, Ulli

Ulli Mueller, 2015-11-27

Ulli, thanks for the offer. But I am going to prefer Santa Barbara this time. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2015-11-27

Christian, they are working with Apple and want to ship before the end of the year. I assume it will be "beta" at first. But that should not make much of a difference.

Volker Weber, 2015-11-27

@Ralf: Completely agree about Phonos - works very well for me too, and I don't miss a Sonos-produced app at all.

John Keys, 2015-11-28

Quick question to the experts:

Amazon Prime Music is yet not available on SONOS users in Germany (except for with a cable), right?

Amazon writes somewhat confusing:

"Amazon Music app for Sonos has now been updated to include Prime Music"

Sounds like non-sense because there is no ""Amazon Music app for Sonos".

Felix Binsack, 2015-11-28

Well, yes and no. The Amazon Music app is part of the Sonos controller. When you check for updates, it does get updated from Sonos.

The tricky part is that not all of those extensions are the same all over the world. US customers get a different extension from those in Germany. Prime Music was first available in the US (and not in Germany). That situation has changed and I _believe_ that Sonos has to change something in their backend to provide the correct extension to German customers.

That's just a theory of course. I don't really know how this works.

I suggest you ask with a "when" and not a "why" question.

Volker Weber, 2015-11-28

If you want to say hello, and perhaps tell me about the latest Sonos things for my home Sonos system while you are in Santa Barbara, email me and we can arrange a time to say hello. I live very close to Sonos headquarters.

Frank Paolino, 2015-11-30

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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