Is your Sonos soundbar looking a little long in the tooth? Ours too, but it still sounds great, and pretty soon, it’ll have a new sibling in the range.
Smart speakers are where all the big action is in the speaker world, and that means older speakers are getting a little, well, old.
Any speaker that you can’t talk to and that you can’t get to control parts of your home is essentially a dumb speaker, no matter how amazing it actually sounds. On the other hand, smart speakers are where the fun is, allowing you to control what they do using your voice, and connecting up with other parts of your home.
Want to control your lighting? Talk to your speaker. Tell the security camera to power on because you’re going to bed? Talk to it. How about controlling music around the house and having it follow you from room to room? Yep, you guessed it, you can talk to it, too.
Sonos has already supported multiroom technology similar to that last example, but it was always handled inside of an app. In fact, the company was practically the inventor of multiroom, and while many have jumped on the bandwagon, it’s one of the only brands that has stayed the course, updating old speakers to support new technologies as time has worn on.
But not every speaker can be upgraded to support the physical changes some speakers need. While Sonos’ older speakers still play nicely with the entire system, you can’t actually talk to them out loud because they lack a microphone. Some of the units have them, such as last year’s Sonos One and the Playbase, but pretty much everything else Sonos has made does not, preventing you from speaking out loud to a Sonos.
And that’s something Sonos is going to change, with the release of a new soundbar that can, adding to its entertainment system line-up with a third sound option, made for big sound for movies, TV shows, and music, but developed in a smaller system that also has the microphone you can talk to.
Beam me up
It’s called the Sonos Beam, and it’s the company’s latest take on a soundbar that is also smart. We don’t really have a category term for this — smartbar? — but it’s technically a smart speaker that is made to be used as a soundbar.
Sonos’ Beam isn’t technically a replacement for the Playbar, which still kicks around. Rather, it’s a new soundbar for the brand, providing a compact approach to soundbar that can be mounted or sit under TVs, and includes five Class-D amplifiers to match the speaker drivers, which itself is made up of four woofers, one tweeter, and three radiators, all built into a small enclosure.
There are also five microphones in the Sonos Beam, one of those things you need if you plan to talk to a smart speaker, which this certainly is, though they’re also here to work out how to best tune the sound for the room, using audio beamforming and echo cancellation to measure and adjust the sound as it plays in your room.
Like the Playbar and Playbase, it will also connect to other Sonos speakers for rear speakers if you want to add a pair of Sonos One speakers to mix, though you don’t have to, and can simply plug an HDMI cable in and you’re good to go.
“In a smart speaker category, increasingly filled with tech clutter, poor audio quality and ulterior motives, Beam is the best example yet of what makes Sonos different,” said Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos.
“Our open approach, obsession with design, meticulous focus on quality and commitment to building a system that’s easy to use and gets better over time, are the heart of everything we do,” he said. “We believe we’ve created the best, most versatile, smart speaker in the world.”
Launch for Australia is pretty clear, with July 17 being the time you can expect it in stores locally, available for $599 at stores across the country.
AirPlay 2, too
You may not want the Beam, and that’s OK. You may already have a house full of Sonos speakers and are keen to give another speaker — say a HomePod — a run instead.
Unfortunately, compatibility has been a bit strained between Apple’s speakers and everything else, but as of last week, things changed, as AirPlay 2 went live for Apple, and now you just had to wait for everything else to go live with it.
Well there’s good news this week, in that it’s good news that you’ll have to wait another month or so for, because Sonos is almost ready with AirPlay 2 support in its speakers, announcing a live day of July 17, the same date for the launch of the Sonos Beam.
There’s a catch, though, because while Sonos can make its speakers constantly compatible with a growing list of services, AirPlay 2 doesn’t quite play as nicely as you might expect.
As such, only the recent Sonos speakers are technically compatible with AirPlay 2, though these can act as a bridge to an entire set of Sonos speakers.
Essentially, if you have a lot of older Sonos speakers and you want HomePod or other AirPlay 2 speakers to play nicely, get a Sonos One, and it will act as the bridge to the rest of them, provided it’s in the same group.
Alternatively, it will also work on the Beam, the Playbase, and the second-generation Play:5 as well, though if you don’t have any of those, well, you now know the shortcut.