Sonos: Whats the Big Deal Anyhow?

I love my Sonos. I. Love. It.

Every now and then a company comes along and invents a transformative product that changes the status-quo. Founded in 2002, Sonos is an American company that brought “wireless audio” to the mass market. In 2005, two years before the first iPhone came out, Sonos introduced the ZP100, an amplifier that could play digital music files from a computer or networked hard drive. After changing the game, Sonos has helped lead the digital audio streaming revolution with its wireless speaker system. The company just went public, and I’m sure some people just became kazillionaires.

Many other companies have come to market with their own excellent wireless speaker solutions. Thirteen years after Sonos released its first product  Apple released its Home Pod. Amazon’s Alexa “smart speakers” have now surpassed Sonos in speaker sales, but that is not comparing apples to apples. Alexa, like Google speakers, is more of a “smart speaker” rather than a full-bodied audio solution. Besides, Alexa is now built in to the newer Sonos speakers, and Google will be baked right into Sonos in the near future. Anyhow, this is a growing space and now, more than ever, we consumers have plenty of exciting options to enjoy our music… with or without speaker wires.

A quick refresher: a “wireless speaker” isn’t completely wireless.

Speakers need power so most wireless speakers (except the few that offer battery power) actually do have a wire for power; all of Sonos’ speakers need to be plugged into an outlet. But a “wireless speaker” does not require a speaker wire as the amp and speaker are built into the same chassis (as opposed to the amp connected to speakers via speaker wires). This is handy because if running wire isn’t an option, we can now stream our music to multiple zones in the house – all you need to listen to “All the music on earth” (Sonos’ tagline) is a power outlet.

I love Sonos for the same reasons I love Apple. I like clean lines. It works reliably and is relatively simple and intuitive to use. Relative is the operative word here. Although Sonos is by no means as full-featured as many of its competitors, it does what it does very well. Other companies want their products to work with Sonos, so there is value-add in terms of functionality with other products. Sonos was the first to support Apple Music. It now supports Apple’s AirPlay and Alexa, and Google Assistant functionality is forthcoming. IFTT (If This Then That) now works with Sonos, Lutron, Logitech, Iport, 3rd party apps, etc. And even as Sonos innovates on the software side and it develops new hardware, its older hardware continues to last the test of time. Your Sonos will get better and work for the long haul.

Sonos also has one very important trick up its sleeve that, to my knowledge, no competitor does: Sonosnet.

Sonosnet is the dedicated and proprietary wireless mesh network that Sonos creates for its speakers. This means its speakers work wirelessly outside of the range of traditional Wifi. And, the more speakers you add, the better it gets. Think flexible placement. Think reliability.

We’re partnering with Sonos to bring you some great deals this giving season. CLICK HERE to be directed to our ongoing specials and promotions!

How to Find the Audio Sweet Spot

Linear frequency. Signal-to-Noise Ratio. Total Harmonic Distortion. Bit Depth. Sample Rate.

There a plenty of objective scientific ways to measure just how well an audio source and device can work together in a space to replicate the sound that was produced in a recording studio. Ultimately, the sound we hear is the result of several factors that can include the quality of the recording itself, the quality of the music source (ie. mp3 vs CD, tape vs vinyl, etc), the quality of the audio gear (ie. speakers, amps,etc) and the actual audio properties of the space you are in (i.e. living room or gymnasium). Luckily, we can control most of these factors to maximize our listening pleasure.

Home audio solutions for every room in your home.

For audio, controlling the variables is generally pretty straight forward.

A high-resolution audio stream versus a low-resolution will always sound better. Properly pairing a high-quality amp with quality speakers to best your space is not always as straight forward as it may seem, but doing it is a no brainer. If you want better sound, get better gear. This said, in my opinion, it is also true that there is diminishing return on value once you get to high quality; there are some people who see the point in breaking the bank for a marginal subjective gain in audio, and who are willing to pay a lot of money for it – I am not one of those people.

I am the same way about a lot of things actually. My wife and I will be shopping for winter tires soon and will be looking for the best reasonably priced high-quality tires that I can trust to keep my family as safe as possible. We refuse to buy crap and don’t just want good tires – we want excellent tires. We also don’t want the most expensive tires in the world, though I get that some people do. To me a $20-$30 dollar bottle of wine tastes way better than the $10 bottle of wine and while I suppose the $2,000 bottle may taste marginally better, there are a lot of other things I could do with my money. My sweet spot hovers in that space where high quality meets high value.

So what’s my point? There is an objective difference between good sound and bad sound and it is relatively easy to control for this. But the value we get from things and experiences are necessarily subjective. If you just listen to the news, go ahead and get the cheap stuff. If you are an obsessed audiophile, go ahead and put a second mortgage on your home.

But, let’s assume that great minds think alike. Here are some things to consider when finding the audio sweet spot:

· Find a knowledgeable professional like myself to consult with. Luckily there are countless audio solutions on the market but finding the perfect solution can be daunting. A non-commissioned professional will take the time to consider your budget, your space and how you actually listen to music to help you make the perfect purchase. A professional with help you deploy a properly designed solution.

· Get a subwoofer. I am not necessarily talking about pissing off your neighbours, but rather about filling in the low end of the audio spectrum that makes music feel real.

· Spend the extra pocket change required each month to subscribe to a high-quality streaming music service. The audio source matters. If you actually like listening to music but are streaming the free version of TuneIn Radio to save money… get a life.

· Do not listen to music through your television’s built-in speaker. Ever.

Here’s the thing: If enjoy listening to music, not only will you enjoy it more when it sounds good, but you will listen more often; bad sound creates ear fatigue. So find the sweet spot and get the gear that sounds good and is easy to use… then get on with your life and start listening to more music.

I’m always up for questions – call me today for a chat!

Until next time friends,

Jess

So, What is a Smart Home Exactly?

By Jess Rothenburger

There is a lot of talk about the ‘Smart Home’ these days. The term is thrown around loosely, and I am not sure a textbook definition even exists. Other terms, such as ‘Integrated Home’ or ‘Automated Home’, also exist, to further complicate the matter. 

 

In my opinion, at its root, a Smart Home is one that leverages some sort of technology to enhance how someone experiences living in that home. An enhanced experience can make a person feel more secure, or comfortable, or cool – and I don’t just mean temperature. 

 

By the above definition, the truth is you probably already live in a Smart Home and use smart devices every day. Think about it. Do you have a thermostat that keeps your house a set temperature or that can even change the temperature based on a schedule? Do you have an alarm clock? Does your oven beep when the chicken is cooked? Does your toaster pop the bread when it has turned into toast?

 

Our homes are already smart, and thankfully they are getting smarter. Do you remember when power locks and power windows were options in a car? The same thing is happening in the home. Multi-room audio systems, smart locks, smart thermostats, etc. are gradually becoming standard features. I happen to live with these and, frankly, I can’t imagine not having them in my house. This is a good thing. 

 

The Smart Home is here to stay, so it can be helpful to dissect what we actually mean by ‘Smart Home’. Here are some qualities found in today’s Smart Home systems that not only help us understand what we mean by “smart”, but that can help us differentiate among the myriad of offerings: 

 

CONTROL: Smart Homes are almost always controllable via your smart device. Some solutions allow for local control and others allow you to control your home remotely as well. Additionally, there is the option for on-wall control, touchscreen control, universal remote control and voice control. 

 

Ask yourself: What ways of controlling my smart home are important and most convenient for me? 

 

PROGRAMMING: Basic solutions allow you to set schedules and timers. (Turn my lights on ten minutes after the sun sets) Programming is telling your system to trigger an event when something else happens. (When I get home, turn up the thermostat) The more advanced the system, the more intricate and involved and intelligent this programming can be. Traditional smart home solutions can require a trained professional like me to install the system and to implement high level programming, but basic programming can be done by the homeowner across most platforms. 

 

Ask yourself: How ‘smart’ do I want my house to be? Am I prepared to get someone to help me, or would I rather keep it basic and do it myself?

 

AUTOMATION: To my mind, a truly automated system is one that has the capacity to unify a wide variety of sub-systems under one umbrella while having them communicate with each other; the sub-systems in your home can have a two-way dialog and one sub-system’s action can inform another’s. Automation may necessarily involve higher-level programming that works continuously in the background.  So, the lights turning on at sunset is smart.  Automation is when, for example, in the case your system detects C02, it knows to turn on the pathway lights to the nearest exit, turn off your circulating air, unlock the door, open your garage and send you and your loved ones a text message.

 

Ask yourself:  Do I need the convenience of basic programming, or do I need the peace of mind and added functionality that comes from a truly automated house?

 

CLOUD-BASED or LOCAL INTELLIGENCE: Some solutions leverage the power of the internet and the cloud to communicate between the smart devices in your home – this can be cost effective but result in a laggy user experience. And, if your internet is out, you are out of luck. Some products have physical or software attributes built-in so that devices can work together across a certain platform, like Apple’s Homekit.  Other solutions require a “hub” which is a locally connected network device that facilitates the communication between smart devices. Some hubs are application or product specific and others are designed to make several solutions work together. Traditional solutions involve a “controller” which is effectively a computer that can replace a multitude of hubs. Controllers also have more physical connections and attributes to be able to integrate the lights, TV’s, audio, security system, video cameras, intercom, etc. Importantly, a controller has the processing power to reliably control all of this quickly, securely and reliably. 

 

Ask yourself: Do I need my smart home to do a few things pretty well most of the time, or is it crucial that my smart home do many things very well quickly and reliably? 

 

You can accurately guess that there are seemingly countless “smart home” solutions out there. Some are great and others are, frankly, crap. Getting clear on what works with what and which solution makes the most sense for you can be time consuming and frustrating. 

 

The smartest homes are those where the appropriate solutions meet your expectations and budget.  The smart thing for you to do is to consult with a home technologist so he or she can help you achieve the goal of making your home as smart as you want it to be.