TapSonos – where next?

As I have written before, the Sonos is a great system for distributing music around your house. The current range consists of three items; The ZP100 player which just requires a pair of loudspeakers to play the music, the ZP80 player if you want to provide your own amplifier and the CR100 controller which is a sophisticated remote control. A weak point from the marketing point of view was that you had to use one of the ZP units (normally the cheaper ZP80) to connect to your computer network even if you didn’t want music in that room. In large houses you might also need one to act as a wireless relay to get the range you needed. This was seen as a waste even though, by buying a bundle, it was actually costing very little (less than £100).

It hasn’t been announced yet but it looks like the gap will be filled with a new bridge device (thought to be called the BR100) which will be a cut down ZP80 (i.e. without the audio output option) and at a much lower item price. To some extent I imagine that it is a bit of a loss-leader, or at least very low margin because there is not a lot to be left out—just the DAC, ADC and some analogue circuitry, but it is possible they will also leave out the local storage of the library index. The price, however, would need to be significantly lower to be seen as a sensible option.

I suspect that the margins on the BU130 bundle were getting to be too low so, together with this release, I would expect to see a new “Starter Bundle” consisting of a BR100, a ZP100 and a controller; a direct entry into the Sonos world for one room priced at about £600; add more rooms for £250–£350 a time.

This is a move in the right direction but still does not address the issue that it is a geek or professional installer system. The reason is that it is not a stand-alone package, it needs a lot of non-Sonos bits and pieces to make it work. As I mentioned in the previous article, it needs a broadband connection, a router with DHCP, some disk storage, a CD ripping mechanism and library management. All of this is computing stuff and puts the layman off. There has been some debate as to whether Sonos could make a box to reduce the geek aspect of the system a bit. opinions vary, as you would expect; the options run up to a fully integrated “library device” which includes router, hard drives, CD player/ripper, integrated auto-tagging (naming of tracks, artists and album cover art) with perhaps a keyboard socket and screen for editing.

There are many issues

  • In the near future, broadband connections will come with a router integrated. This is already the case with the heavy promotion of wireless systems.
  • A disk drive will never be the right size for everyone so do you just provide USB sockets for external drives.
  • With disk drives you have to consider the noise, but integrating with the bridge rather than the player should solve that.
  • Any storage system must have a backup facility as they are not reliable enough.
  • The US people are suggesting that CDs are becoming obsolete and everything is moving to download and Rhapsody-like streaming. In Europe that is not happening quite so fast as it is bogged down with copyright issues.
  • In my opinion, the one task that really needs a computer is library management and tag editing. Having to provide a decent dedicated interface would be a step too far. For the mass market user it won’t be necessary (often) as thy will have mainstream music which will be auto-tagged successfully.

My conclusion is that the best route for Sonos to take would be to work with one of the NAS manufacturers and come up with a re-badged or endorsed product which fits in with the Sonos style, plugs straight into the back of the BR100 and sits on top (or underneath as it is likely to be heavier). Very little development would be needed; it just needs to be a properly conformant CIFS NAS device with provision for two hard drives (perhaps with a range of sizes) and a RAID mirroring capability. Perhaps a little modification of the install procedure would be needed integrating with the Sonos controller to make it easier. Now with joint marketing you can put together a true starter system dedicated to music—just add the music.

I would suggest leaving ripping and library management to the existing software on the home computer. There is a lot of choice and people use a particular one for a variety of reasons; the overlap into other technologies such as portable devices and video is too great. It is true that this will still leave out people that don’t use computers but I am not sure that they would be interested in this type of system anyway. For novice users, all home computers come with suitable software pre-installed and a set of decent beginners guides to the most popular solves most of the problems.

  • One final plea—it is about time the controller came with a free cradle. Even though the cost is a small fraction of the total, it is seen as a rip-off.

One Response to “Sonos – where next?”

^ Top