Unlocking Sonos

by Volker Weber


I had a very interesting face-to-face meeting (over Facetime) with a Sonos manager yesterday, and that helped clear up some of the misunderstandings. I can't tell you what we talked about in detail, but I can help you understand what happened recently and you may also be able to help Sonos understand. This is going to be a bit longer than usual.

Let me start with a why. Why Sonos? What makes them so interesting?

When I tried my first Sonos player, I wasn't immediately convinced. It took a few weeks, and some phone calls all the way from Santa Barbara to get me sorted. At the time there was only a ZP100, a player that would connect to your stereo like today's CONNECT and to speakers like the CONNECT:AMP. The amp wasn't very strong and it had difficulties driving my floor standing BRAUN speakers. I did not really know what to do with a second player but Sonos insisted I needed to learn about multi-room.

This very Sonos player lives on until today. It not only plays my collection of MP3 files, but it supports all the other services that came later. Streaming radio, cloud services from Google to Microsoft, music services like Apple Music and Spotify. Basically all of them. And I can still use that Russian iPod, a term that is still being used within the company.

Upgrading existing products in the field, for free and for ten years, that is unheard of in this industry. Nobody does that. And yes, that ZP100 will eventually be left behind. It's impossible to pile on more services forever without upgrading CPU and storage. The Russian iPod hasn't been updated for a long time, neither has the follow-up touch controller, in my view the only bad product Sonos ever made. The world has moved on, today we have software controllers on iPhones or Androids.

But there is something else. Sonos is often defined by what they don't do. It would be easy to take the brand and create a new category of products, like expensive headphones for instance. There is a ton of money to be made there. Apple did that when they bought Beats. Making a Beats headset costs probably less than making the box it ships in, but it sells for hundreds of dollars. Easy money. Sonos did not do that. They stayed with their mission to fill your house with music.

There are very few companies that I am so drawn to like Sonos. Over the years I convinced quite a few people to follow me and there is not a single week I am not being asked about advice concerning the purchase of a Sonos setup. And as we all know these things spread like the flu. People will buy more, and their friends will buy some, and on and on.

Sonos knows about what I did here. But I am also difficult for them. While the company grows from a startup into a large company, it becomes difficult to explain what is so special about me that I defy many of their rules. They don't really know where to put me. I am not a journalist (although I am), I am not a partner (although I am registered as one), I am not a promoter or a consultant (since I don't accept payment).

This became perfectly clear when I was challenged yesterday. I said, by the time you hand out press releases, I should already know. The Sonos manager asked, why?

I did not have a good answer.

Everything I thought of was water under the bridge. Yes, I had been involved in many product developments. I have tested quite a few of them in alpha and beta stage. I have provided good feedback. I did not spill any secrets ever. And yet I was able to provide you with some guidance to make better decisions. And when the product finally launched, I was able to explain it in simple terms. I have probably influenced tens of thousands of purchases.

As the company is growing up from a startup, maybe it no longer needs me. I don't want to be viewed as that diva from Darmstadt who kicks up dirt when he is unhappy. It's not what I want to be, it's not what I want to be seen as. If I were to define my role, I would call me a ... friend. Supportive, but also brutally honest.

Sonos knows what I want. They know where I am. But it's their ball. I am not going to be mad if they take it elsewhere.

What do you think?


Hi Volker,

danke, dass Du mich damals mit dem Sonos Virus infiziert hast!

Auch bei mir: 10 Jahre und keinerlei Ausfälle oder wesentliche Probleme.
Playbase oder Play 5 2Gen sind momentan nicht wirklich nötig und es sind nur noch Garage und Waschküche ohne Sonos ;-)

Speziell meine Kids nutzen Sonos sehr intensiv auch im Zusammenspiel mit Spotify.
Was Du mir an Sonos "beigebracht" hast, versuche ich teilweise im Sonos.de Community Forum weiterzugeben.

Somit bist Du auch auf der Ebene ein "Verstärker" für Sonos. Ich wünsche Dir (und mir), dass die "neuen Jungs" bei Sonos das verstehen.

Ich brauche ggf. demnächst Deine Hilfe beim "Umzug" eines Plays nach Schweden....
Melde mich dazu dann direkt.

Mach bitte weiter so!

Thank you: vowe is a good mother!!

Beste Grüße!

Heiko Müller, 2017-06-08 21:04

I think Sonos would be real stupid if they cut you off. It costs them (next to) nothing (i.e. some postage) to have you in the loop. Even if vowe.net with respect to Sonos might be seen as an echo chamber (we are all convinced of Sonos' products) it's clearly not: we keep buying stuff, we recommend this stuff to our friends and family as well. I have a shootout coming up in July: I bring the Sonos guns, my ex-neighbor the 2000+ EUR speaker system he laid his eyes on. I can't wait to see which system comes out first in his home. As you stated so many times: you help people not wasting money by buying one product only to find out to have been better of with another one. I said it my self so many times: money spend on a Sonos system is money well spend. I'm so sick and tired of reading over and over that a sonos Play:1 speaker is expensive. Same resentment you find in many US pod casts. I don't get it. These are the very people that have no trouble spending a ton of money on some shabby headphones/boom box. Sorry for this rant ;-)
Let's see what happens with you and Sonos. I for one am looking forward to any upcoming insides - even the 'I cannot spill the beans' ones. I think you are the most trustworthy journalist/educator Sonos has. Let's see if they screw it up. What I cannot stand are the Engadgets and TheVerges of the world. They add zero value to the conversation! Cheers!

Markus Dierker, 2017-06-08 22:18

To be fair, it does cost them a box of electronics once in a while. I think it is money well spent though.

Volker Weber, 2017-06-08 22:22

Absolutely! That's what I meant by "postage" ;-)

Markus Dierker, 2017-06-08 22:29

Feel free to link in my earlier post about this topic here. You are an amplifier / multiplicator and in many cases catalyst to them. They are free to do whatever they think, of course. To me, the better way is clear.

Hubert Stettner, 2017-06-08 22:38

Ich verstehe den Wandel zu großen Firmen nicht. Dabei wird oft alles über Bord geworfen, was ein Unternehmen einst sympathisch und erfolgreich machte. Es muss doch möglich sein, dieses sympathische Unternehmen zu bleiben, selbst wenn man Erfolg hat?
Meine Antwort wäre gewesen "it's who you are, where you came from". Aber vielleicht bin ich auch nur ein naiver Idealist.

Kai Schmalenbach, 2017-06-08 22:47

Ich glaube, Du musst das mal lesen: https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=42103

Volker Weber, 2017-06-08 22:57

ich wurde überzeugt Sonos 5 und 1 zu kaufen und bereue es nicht OBWOHL ich Windows phone und Infrastruktur habe. Gerade mit Kindern ist es schön ihr Hörbuch von Spotify umzuleitung und fortzusetzen wo man will (Küche, Kinderzimmer, Schlafzimmer). Oder ich kann reinhören/sehen wie weit sie gerade sind.

Solche Sozialen-Themen sind auch in Zukunft interessant und Sonos täte gut daran nicht zu konservativ mehr der PR zu werden. Sonst werden sie austauschbar.

Es schadet nicht konstruktive Kritiker unter den "Testern" zu haben anstatt Jubelperser oder Berichterstatter mit eigener Agenda...

Lukas Gerlich, 2017-06-09 00:08

I mean, for you I hope and wish they build upon the relationship you guys have. On the other hand I think that companies are just not made to have real relationships like these by design. Most companies, and by that I mean like 99,9%, obviously only care about profit and shareholder value and blabla money. It always comes down to it. And even by talking to a lot of companies myself every now and then it becomes clear that it and will for a long time be the only thing. And sure, you will say that is what they are there for, make money. The people working for them and with them will have all the arguments for it etc., but there are different companies. mostly smaller ones, like for example (and completely non-tech offtopic) Huy Fong Foods, the company that makes Sriracha (the hotsauce). Fun fact, besides liking their Product, they are a good company. To their customers, to their employees and their fans. They for example allow anyone to make any kind of Merchandise with their Logo and Brand. And there is a lot of it. They will even sell all that stuff in their factory shop without making a profit. That is a mentality, and I know it is a bit far off maybe, but I love how the owner runs his company. With humility and humanity. He cares about selling his hotsauce, being able to provide all of his employees healthcare and thats it. Pretty cool.

Which brings me to relationships like these, companies at the moment want INFLUENCERS and more than ever only care about numbers, even if those don't mean shit, but it is for them to get to the realisation that those relationships are quite shallow and people like you bring real value to a brand. If they don't see that, they don't, their loss.

I for myself I am more and more not giving a rats ass about brands. it is just not worth it anymore nowadays. especially for working with them is just a pain. They want everything for free, they aren't willing to do anything for it and expect a lot from you. Just have that with a couple of Camera companies. Eff them, I buy what I need and and just have my peace.

Sonos is growing and evolving... who knows if they will be on the market in five years, and actually I don't care, maybe you shouldn't either IF they are not interested in working with you. And I am saying that a an owner of a lot of Sonos stuff by now, thanks to you. Companies come and go, good human interaction is worth so much more.

Teymur Madjderey, 2017-06-09 00:13

So I would first ask if the people you used to deal with left and are you dealing with new folks? It seems like that is the case.

My guess is that they are putting you into the 'influencer' bucket, because that is what you are. But you don't meet the mold of today's influencer - the folks who use snapchat and Instagram and have multiples of 100k followers watching what they do. Maybe Sonos isn't like the travel or fashion brands, but maybe they are. Today's marketers seem to care about how many views you get on a post far more than any relationship they have with the person. It might be that they don't understand how to handle a 'friend' vs. a modern day influencer.

John Head, 2017-06-09 02:24

John, modern day "influencers" are coin-operated. You pay them to tweet or Instagram. That is the most shallow relation there is. I haven't seen them do that outside of bigger industry relations like Rick Rubin or Giles Martin. That is a completely different game.

Volker Weber, 2017-06-09 03:18

I think you have chosen good and honest words. As in any friendship, the involved may move on, and nobody is wrong.

Of course it would be great to still have you as a source of information and consulting with regard to Sonos, as all who speak here really appreciate the honesty and clearness that goes into your reviews.

But friendships can only follow processes up to a point. I assume that Sonos' userbase is now a lot bigger than Volker's follower-base, then from a utilitarian perspective what should a big company do?

You can be happy of some fond and precious memories but my guess is that this is a past and not a future arrangement.

Frank Quednau , 2017-06-09 04:10

Our home currently contains 4 Play:1's, 2 Play:5's, a SUB, & a Playbar… $3000 worth of Sonos products and all because of the articles you've written about their products. I'm certainly not going to walk away from Sonos if they cut you out of the loop but I will definitely be less likely to purchase new products in the future without your reviews and endorsement.

If that Sonos manager you spoke to happens to read this the answer to your question is that a press release is worthless… a review by someone whose opinion and judgement I trust is priceless.

Kirk Kuykendall, 2017-06-09 05:16

My setup is 2 Play:3's, 3 Play:1s 1 Play:5 and a Playbar, and I plan to buy even more. Without I would be stuck with mediocre sound system, not Wife compatible.

But more important, with your help, with the way you described the system, regularly, I have also been able to simply explain to lots of my friend the true advantages of Sonos, why they should also care, with simple word, and actual real life situation.

Every friend I recommended Sonos to is now an addict, and the root cause is you.

While we must admit that maybe Sonos doesn't really need your fuel as much as 5 years ago, I feel that they should value you as a long term friend, that will get them straight if needed.

Thanks Vowe,

Gaston Annebicque, 2017-06-09 09:35

I have Sonos here. Because of you.

I have friends who bought Sonos. After they heard mine. Because of you.

And we all keep adding and building.

And more friends, and friends of friends, hear and then want Sonos too.

And the cycle continues.

Sonos people, if you are reading, take note. Volker is more than your Friend; he is your Ambassador.

Christopher Linfoot, 2017-06-09 10:48

Well, to me it looks like, that you are an influencer - one of the good sort that has (had?) influence on the company and the product. Someone who wants the best for the company and the product, because he has some kind of empathy - as you wrote "a friend".
Sometimes friends can be cumbersome, because they strongly believe that they need to tell you the truth, then it is your turn to accept (and appreciate) that or walk away. The friend - if he is one - will not change telling you the truth, just because you don't like to hear it.
So I'd say, stay as you are, Volker!

Mike Hartmann, 2017-06-09 11:48

I agree with Volker, "influencer" doesn't fit. The better fit is "amplifier", including the implicit pun in the context of Sonos. "Signal/Noise separator" would fit too, but is less catchy

Stephan H. Wissel, 2017-06-09 15:35

vowe, you are offering friendship. I'm impressed, and not surprised because we know that you like great products.

Sonos, your are being offered friendship by somebody who has qualities even better than your products. Wake-up. Don't forget where you are coming from and benfit from somebody who is trusful, honest and competent.

thx to vowe there is 3-4 k€ in my household.

Stephan Bohr, 2017-06-10 12:56

Similar range as Stephan and similar sentiment. I wouldn't have put so much money into a topic without somebody I trust vouching for it.

Mariano Kamp, 2017-06-10 15:41

If SONOS wants to know how big your influence is only in Germany, they just need to check my numbers. It's all because of you. I really can't imagine that there is another single person with that impact.

Thanks for everything!

Thomas Lang, 2017-06-11 10:47

Sonos is an American company. A very low percentage of Americans think that somebody with such an impact like vowe would do that for free. This is something they do not understand, in managers brains is no part to handle such a “problem”, and therefore they got no solution only one answer, this can´t be right, so we better stop that.

Wolfram Votteler, 2017-06-11 11:52

I would not say that. Many years ago, when Sonos was small, the head of design drove all the way from Santa Barbara to San Jose to show me a yet unreleased product. She is still with the company but there are new managers who call the shots. I have to respect them. When I suggested that I don't belong in the journalist bucket ("take this press release, would you like a review unit for two weeks?") that meant now I would no longer receive press releases or invites to press conferences. Actually, that was not what I asked for. :-)

The difference is not American vs others. It is small (shoot from the hip) vs large (artillery). I am too small a target to even turn the turret.

Volker Weber, 2017-06-11 12:32

I have 2* Play5, 2* Play1, 1* CONNECT:AMP and 2* CONNECT.

If I hadn't heard about Sonos from Volker, I would still be using Logitech Soundbridges.

I have also recommended Sonos to others (who have also bought Sonos as a result) on the basis of information and recommendations from Volker.

John Keys, 2017-06-12 01:22

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