Amplifying the wireless music player and surround sound
This past week I was invited to visit the SONOS Boston Headquarters in anticipation of some potential announcements for our custom integration channel. Well let me tell you, they didn’t disappoint. Now, I know that there are many within our industry who feel that SONOS has not been focused on our channel, that the general consumer is more important to SONOS then our custom integration customers. I’m happy to report that from what I heard and saw, they have seemed to listen and actively working with the community. I’ll outline some of these things more as we go on so let’s jump right in.
Let event kicked off with an announcement of the SONOS AMP! This is a beast of a product and really shows how much they’ve been listening to our community. The AMP will be replacing the 10-year-old Connect: AMP with a bunch of new features. The product manager, Benjamin Rappoport covered all the enhancements and how the product design process started. He and the team spent hours of windshield time all across the US meeting with integrators to hear about what they’d like to see in this new model. They came away with a couple of key points that greatly influenced the final product.
At first glance, the AMP stands out as a sleek black box with the front panel sporting the new touch-sensitive button design found on the Sonos ONE and the recent Sonos BEAM. During Benjamin’s tour, one of the big things they discovered was that integrators lover their racks, that their racks are an expression of their tradecraft, their workmanship. They realized that SONOS had to respect the rack and so this AMP fits in a 1 3/4 RU space, with soon to be available custom rack shelves from third party manufacturers, and can be stacked without the potential for sliding around. Don’t forget the AMP is only available in black and looks pretty awesome in a rack opposed to the previous white Connect:AMP that always seemed to stick out a touch. This is not to say that it looks out of place on a shelf or media console because it does, this unit is pretty slick and looks at home in a rack or on a shelf. It also includes a M5 post on the bottom of the unit and can be mounted horizontally or vertically.
Dealers told them that they wanted more power to drive more speakers, so this AMP sports a brand new DDFA Amplifier capable of 125 watts per channel into 8 Ohm, stable into 4 Ohm and dynamically down to 2 Ohm. It has a Peak Output Current of 31 AMPs and a very impressive Signal to Noise ratio at 116dB, <0.1% Total Harmonic Distortion. Listening to integrators, they also decided to upgrade the previous spring-loaded speaker wire connecter with a proper thumbscrew binding posts that doubles as a banana plugs or you can use your own favorite banana plugs if you so choose. Integrators also told SONOS that they are connecting TVs to Connect:AMPs with speakers and we all know the potential sync issues with that, so the new AMP comes with a HDMI:ARC connector like the one found in the BEAM so that you can connect your TV directly to the AMP and instantly have control of your AMP and speakers directly through the TV. AMP supports multiple configurations from 2.0 to 4.1, including a bridged mono type application where the DSP decodes the centre channel signal and splits it to send it to both the Left and the Right channel to create a VIRTUAL CENTRE. You can also use Play:1’s as rear channels or use another AMP connected via a wired or wireless network connection to add rear speakers to complete the 4.0 upgrade. The existing SUB can be used in any of these configurations to flesh out the system. When using the AMP with in-ceiling speakers or outdoor speakers you can also set the output to Dual Mono for situations where you otherwise can’t maintain decent stereo imaging due to location.
In listening to integrators the SONOS amp also includes an IR window that not only is large but also easily visible when you look for it, you won’t need a flashlight at an angle to find this window if you plan to use IR for control with a system. The design even takes into account a way to wrap the IR bug’s cable around the base out of sight. When you stack multiple units onto of each other they nest nicely allowing you to make a nice stack even when not using a custom rack shelf. The AMP sports the standard duel ethernet jacks and I’m thrilled to say that now as long as a network cable is plugged in, you can now disable wifi from the app on the AMP. This is absolutely huge… oh and you’ll be able to disable wifi on any SONOS product that has a network cable plugged in. This alone is a feature that the integration community has been asking for and it was awesome to see them announce it, I may have applauded!
The last feature which excited me is the introduction of TruPlay for AMP. Now I know exactly what you’re thinking… you need to know the characteristics on the connected speaker to properly utilize any DSP. This won’t be a problem because SONOS announced a partnership with Dana Innovation’s Sonance speaker line to offer a line of “Works with SONOS” speakers covering in-wall, in-ceiling, and outdoor speakers specifically designed to work with AMP and TruPlay. These speakers will be available around the launch of AMP and available directly through SONOS.
I must say, I really like the simplicity of the redesign and it looks cool and modern. It has many of the features that our community has been vocally looking for. In playing with the AMP, it’s a solid piece of engineering that feels great in your hands. It looks and feels like a proper piece of gear. I was fortunate enough to hear a demo with the AMP, it was connected to a pair of B&W 804’s and didn’t disappoint. Listening to a combination of music tracks and a video sample from Game of Thrones and Star Wars respectively, the quality sounded fantastic. Now it wasn’t held back by the speakers in anyway and I’m sure they contributed to clarity and definition that was specifically heard in the GoT clip. Even when configured in a 4.1 configuration with a pair of in-ceiling speakers connected to another AMP, the Star Wars X-Wing battle scene held it’s own quite well. I’d put the performance right up there with a traditional surround sound experience.
The SONOS AMP will be available everywhere February 2019 BUT available to direct dealers December 2019 with a retail price of $599 US / $799 CND.