Is this the future of home sound systems?
Some 16 years ago, Bianca Benjamin took a paper envelope full of silver coins down to her local Sanity, and bought her very first CD single. “It was ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls,” the 24-year-old says now with a laugh.
“I had to save up for weeks. It was all I wanted. Everyone at school already had it, so I’d borrow someone’s copy at lunchtime and listen to it on my Walkman ’til they inevitably got mad at me and grabbed it back. I drove my parents crazy singing the song around the house; I think they thought when I bought the CD, that was going to make it better. Like, I’d get over the obsession. But it only made it worse. Instead of singing it, I just played it, over and over.”
Needless to say, a lot has changed in the almost two decades since that day – for Benjamin and for the music industry at large. Nowadays, young listeners on the hunt for new music turn to the apps on their phone, not their local shopping centres, and rather than the battered, tinny pink CD player Benjamin used to torment her poor parents, there’s an entire world of state of the art speakers and sound systems available for the discerning music lover to sample.
Watch the Sonos One trailer here:
But also, in a deeper, more significant sense, very little has changed. Benjamin’s tastes are rather less poppy these days – she counts Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, and The War On Drugs as some of her favourite acts – but she’s just as obsessed with hunting down new singles and artists. “I know it’s a cliché to say ‘music is everything to me’, but it really, really is,” Benjamin says. “There’s nothing else that gives me that thrill; that wonderful rush you get when you hear a new band or a new song and go, ‘I’m going to be listening to this for the rest of my life.’”
Benjamin’s newest musical obsession is the Sonos One. The smooth, compact speaker sits on her living room mantlepiece, a few metres away from the record player she inherited from her father. She still has a sentimental attachment to the player, of course, and her vast vinyl collection, but she readily admits that the Sonos One is unmatched in terms of sound quality.
“For ages I used to say that vinyl was unbeatable; I’d ignore anyone who tried to convince me that you could get the same richness of sound from anything digital,” Benjamin laughs. “My housemates knew I was a luddite like that, so they raised their eyebrows when I got the Sonos One. They were like, ‘Oh, look who’s singing a different tune now.’ But it’s just hard to argue with the way the Sonos can fill the room.”
It’s just hard to argue with the way the Sonos can fill the room.
Benjamin controls the Sonos One through a Sonos app she has downloaded onto her phone. The app uses her Apple Music and Spotify accounts, as well as the songs she has downloaded onto her phone, so all her music is in the one place. “It’s really so much easier than having to swap between apps,” Benjamin says. “I used to get so confused; I’d be like, ‘Wait, what do I have on Spotify and what do I have on Apple Music?’ This way I can literally just type what I’m after into the Sonos search bar, and it’ll bring it up for me. It’s great.”
Moreover, Benjamin, who lives with four other dedicated music lovers, thinks the Sonos One is unbeatable as a speaker for sharehouses. Every one of her roommates has the Sonos app downloaded, so DJ duties can be split between them easily.
“We used to have a little speaker that you’d have to plug into your phone,” Benjamin explains. “That meant you’d have to swap over the AUX chord, and when you were DJing, unless you were sitting right next to the speaker, you couldn’t really use your phone. It was just a bit of a pain. Whereas with the Sonos, I’ll say to my roommate, ‘Okay, you take over now’, and they can just do that on their phone straight away.”
Of course, the Sonos One’s capabilities for budding home DJs are only set to increase with the introduction of a new software that activates voice control – users can instruct Alexa to play their favourite song via the device. So, theoretically, Benjamin can ask for ‘Wannabe’ in the living room, while her flatmate asks for Parquet Courts’ ‘Wide Awake’ in the bathroom upstairs.
Watch the Sonos One launch trailer here:
The Sonos One also boasts advanced ‘volume ducking’ technology, as Ryan Taylor, Sonos’ Global Director of Partnerships explains. “A feature that really sets us apart is the ability for Sonos One to hear you over the music,” he says. “This is because the volume intelligently ‘ducks’ while you’re speaking to make the interaction easier. We wrote our own code for the software that runs on the speaker and constantly listens to determine if anyone is talking to it. And it’s pretty smart.
“We used the same Digital Signal Processing engineering team that built Trueplay in order to create ‘echo-cancellation software’ which removes the sound of the music playing on the speaker so it can still hear you. The adaptive noise suppression algorithm lets the six internal mics hear you when you’re in a crowded room with several people speaking.”
Those who have been stung by voice activated software in the past will be pleased to know that the Sonos One has been road tested to be as accessible and intelligent as possible, and unlike other systems, it doesn’t get thrown by accents or unusual voices.
“We tested and refined this wake word detection engine on native speakers all throughout the US, UK, Germany, and Australia to make sure the Sonos One could understand many different accents and dialects,” Taylor explains. “Sonos One isn’t just a clone of an Alexa speaker. It’s a full voice speaker from Sonos that will work with multiple voice providers in the future without the need to buy additional hardware, so in addition to Alexa we announced that we’ll be supporting Google Assistant in 2018.”
Watch a demonstration of the voice control options for the Sonos One:
This also makes the Sonos One a perfect speaker for a house party. “We had a big get together recently,” Benjamin says. “All my friends are music nerds like me, so they wanted to see what the Sonos could do – that’s almost why we had the party.” She laughs. “I think the most impressive thing was the quality of the sound when the Sonos was turned up. Some speakers can get really scratchy; they lose a lot of quality the louder they are. But the Sonos wasn’t like that at all. It just fills the room in this really beautiful way. You never feel like you have to scream over the top of the thing, you know?”
The Sonos One is built from cutting edge, state-of-the-art technology, and Benjamin loves it for that reason. But she also admires its simplicity; the uncomplicated magic of the thing. “I listened to ‘Wannabe’ on it the other day,” she laughs. “It took me back.”
Even as our gadgets get more and more complex, constructed from some of the great achievements in modern science and technology, the best unlock the most uncomplicated kind of joy in us. And in the happiness it brings her, the Sonos One makes Benjamin feels like she’s an eight-year-old again, pushing her coins over the counter with a free hand, never letting the thin CD single out of her grasp.
The Sonos One is priced at $299 and is available at sonos.com and retailers nationwide.
The article was originally published on Brag Magazine