Bad streaming and good streaming

by Volker Weber


When Apple started AirPlay, it would stream everything three times across the network. From your library or music service through your access point to the app on your device, then back to the access point, then to your speaker. When you stream to a Bluetooth connected speaker, you are also streaming everything to your app and then via Bluetooth to the speaker. That's bad streaming.

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What Spotify Connect does is good streaming. You start streaming to your app, but then you tell it to cast to your speaker instead. A Spotify Connect enabled speaker knows how to pull your music from the service, without going through your phone. There are plenty of Spotify Connect certified speakers and amps on the market, and Sonos only entered this game in 2017. The downside of Spotify Connect is that it only works with Spotify, not with anything else. If you want to switch to Apple Music, you are locked in.

Sonos is agnostic to streaming services. When you add them to your household, they will all use good streaming. Your controller tells your players what to pull from where, and the music traverses your network only once. If you stream to multiple rooms, the music is pulled from the service only once and then distributed inside your local network from Sonos speaker to Sonos speaker. You will also notice that you can play multiple different streams from Spotify and it only counts as one user. The downside is that you have to use the Sonos controller plugin to select your music and fill your queue. That plugin is often less capable than the native app.

How do you know you are using good streaming? Take your device off the network by going into flight mode. If the music stops, you are using bad streaming. Sonos calls this the beer test. Can you leave the party to get more beer without the music stopping?

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Spotify is not the only service that can cast to your Sonos speaker directly from the native app using good streaming. On Android you can also use Google Play Music and then cast to your Sonos speaker, at which point it will pull directly from Google without going through your device. If you try the same on iOS, you will find that Google Play Music has no mechanism to cast to Sonos.

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What is badly missing is a way to tell Apple Music to play to Sonos from its native app. That is going to become very obvious when Apple HomePod ships. iOS users are likely to be Apple Music subscribers and Sonos speakers will be at a terrible disadvantage. If a customer buys a HomePod instead of a PLAY:1 he is unlikely to buy a PLAY:5 or other Sonos speakers later. And if an existing Sonos customer with Apple Music buys a HomePod, he may be using his Sonos speakers a lot less.

When AirPlay launched you needed to buy a piece of silicon from Apple to enable your speaker to receivce the encrypted stream. That is no longer the case and you can build an AirPlay-compatible device in software. I always thought that Apple was hard to work with but I have learned they are actually pushing vendors to support their architecture.

Now would be a good time for Sonos customers to convince their vendor to support AirPlay.


Honest. And true.
Like every time.

Stefan Dorscht, 2017-07-23

So Sonos should support bad streaming now. Interesting.
Maybe it's because i'm not in the target audience, as i would even stick with Spotify if i had an iPhone (Galaxy S7 is the only non Apple device at the moment).

And btw: i guess with Apple HomeBase you mean the Apple HomePod ;-)
I can't get used to this name either...

Manfred Wiktorin, 2017-07-23

You should try casting Apple Music to the Apple TV. It pulls directly from the service. Since Sonos knows how to do the same, you need to organize the handover.

If you don't have Apple Music, try Youtube and then go into Flight Mode to see that your device isn't in the loop.

Volker Weber, 2017-07-23

OK, i wasn't aware of that. So Airplay is not necessarily bad streaming.
And yes, Airplaying Youtube from iPad to AppleTV is one of the most used features ;-)

Manfred Wiktorin, 2017-07-23

Dear Sonos,

please, please support AirPlay.

Sven Bühler, 2017-07-23

Nice try. No, you need to step up this game. Get on the forum, write email, send them a letter.

Volker Weber, 2017-07-23

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