I'm a big fan of Sonos, thanks in part to the loaner Play:5 in my kitchen. I use it more than the beautiful Marantz receiver and classic Tannoy speakers in my living room, not just because it's in a more convenient location, but because it gives access to much more music. My Sonos plays my music library from a networked hard disk, as well as Spotify, Pandora, and local and global radio stations. It's really a fantastic audio device.
With the introduction of the lower-end Play:3, it appears that Sonos is steadily moving down the market. Perhaps, I thought, the company is going to lower its prices even more, so I could afford put a Sonos box of some sort in my living room. Perhaps, even, when it's time to upgrade my receiver, I'll be able to get one with Sonos built in. I called Sonos co-founder Tom Cullen to ask when that would be.
The answer was not what I wanted, but it led to an interesting look at Sonos' and home audio in general. In short, according to Cullen, "We don't believe receivers are long for this world."
Cullen says that audio receivers made sense "before the digital world," when you needed a box for big amps and for switching between a lot of sources. As more entertainment comes over the Net, Cullen says, "We think the notion of switching between physical sources will be seen as quaint. Instead of putting Sonos into receivers, we're going to make receivers unnecessary."
He adds, "We play in a market full of companies that haven't made meaningful changes to how they do sound in 20 years."
This Sonos vision certainly makes sense, as a vision. At the moment, home audio (and video) users do have to deal with multiple hardware sources: DVD players, game consoles, television or satellite or cable signals, and so on. Granted, more of the content is going to the Internet, to both remote cloud services like Spotify, Pandora, and Netflix, and to local network storage. But you can't yet run a full entertainment system without having some way of switching between physical signals in addition to your IP streams.
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