In the future, our homes will be filled with more music than ever, Christian Honegger, CEO of audio distributors TC Acoustics, tells a room of journalists during the launch of Sonos in Hong Kong.
We are in a sun-drenched apartment facing the sea in Kennedy Town; stylishly appointed and painfully aspirational, it’s fitted with an entire fleet of Sonos speakers in every corner, yet almost invisibly so thanks to the products’ clean aesthetic. There is a compact black speaker tucked in the corner of the open kitchen and a sleek white sound bar at the TV, almost blended into the console. It pairs with two speakers behind the couch and a subwoofer to provide 5.1 surround sound. In the bedroom, a hi-fi setup flanks a new vinyl player spinning a Pink Floyd record.
Huddled around the living area, we hold our breaths watching a trepid field mouse ruffle through stalks of grass on Planet Earth, the extra bass dramatising Sir David Attenborough’s stern commentary even further. With the tap of the finger on a phone app, the volume fades away and in the distance, Ed Sheeran begins crooning from the kitchen. Another tap, and the speakers sync so the whole flat plays the same track. Eyebrows raise: Sonos is introducing a future we didn’t know we wanted.
Founded in Santa Barbara, California over 17 years ago, Sonos has steadily built a portfolio of sound solutions for the home, ranging from the straightforward smart speaker, Sonos One (HK$1,999), to the Connect (HK$3,299), which brings you music streaming to the audio equipment you already own, or allows you to stream your old CDs and LPs to Sonos speakers in other rooms.
Honegger himself shared his new favourite way to wake up — a gradual fading in of Gregory Porter’s rich baritone, happily leading him from the bedroom to the kitchen in search of coffee. As he fixes his breakfast, the sound follows him with just a swipe on the app — a much more relaxing alternative than snoozing endless iPhone alarms.
What sets Sonos apart from other speakers is that they rely on your home’s WiFi, rather than unreliable (and battery-draining) Bluetooth. Sonos claims that its users have racked up an average of 100,000 minutes of music playing over a year — that’s more than four hours a day.
For homes with spotty WiFi, there’s also the Sonos Boost (HK$999), which bypasses your home’s signal to create a separate high-performance, reliable network just for your music.
With the new launch in Hong Kong, Sonos speakers are compatible with every popular streaming service in Hong Kong, including Spotify, Apple Music, KKbox, QQMusic and Tidal, and you can of course plug in your own aux cord, or link up your other analog devices from vinyl to video games. You can also easily stream your favourite internet radio, podcasts or audiobooks. The smart speakers are also all built-in with Amazon Alexa, and will soon also support Google Assistant, meaning you can play your favourite playlists, ask for the weather, and hear the news, all without needing to fiddle on your app at all.
One of the best things about Sonos is its attention to sleek, timeless design. In the Sonos Play:5 hi-fi system (HK$4,499), you can simply buy one and place it horizontally, or pair two speakers to create amazing stereo sound, tilting each on its side to form left and right speakers that match perfectly thanks to the design of the logo, which can be read the same way upright or upside down. The swiping direction of its touch controls also automatically change so you are always swiping to the right for the next song.
One thing we noticed during the media preview of the Sonos Beam was its incredible crispness, with clear cut sound even as the volume increased (though you might not want to do that with shrill noises, like the sound of rusty violins hitting their high notes for instance). Its powerful bass was surprising given the compact size of the speaker. Features like Night Mode, which tones down the bass especially when you’re watching explosive action movies, or Dialogue Enhancement, which improves vocal clarity, make your TV binging sessions even more rich and emotional. This is just the smart TV sound bar, priced at a relatively modest HK$3,899.
For even more sophisticated, big sound, connoisseurs will want to go for the Playbar or the Playbase (a flat device where you can rest your TV on top), both priced at HK$6,399. With the Trueplay feature available on all Sonos devices, which can be likened to echolocation using your smartphone, you can also tune your device specifically for the shape of the room you are in — the speaker will adjust its sound accordingly.
According to statistics, more than nine in ten of all Sonos products sold since 2005 are still in use, meaning most of its customers are in it for the long haul. The company attributes this loyalty to the way they focus on making their hardware last, with regular software updates to keep the ecosystem thriving. It’s only a matter of time before more Hongkongers join the club of Sonos converts — I know I already have.