Sonos has just announced plans to remove one of the major drawbacks of its streaming music system -- the need to buy an extra box -- thus cut around $50 from the cost of a new system.
Sonos has always pushed its unusual wireless technology as a unique selling point. Instead of speakers communicating solely with the router directly, they rely on a peer-to-peer mesh network the company calls SonosNet. Each speaker sends information to others in the network rather than via the central router. That, Sonos claims, means you are less likely to experience audio dropouts and can put the speakers further away from the router than rival systems, something we have generally found to be true when testing its products.
The trade-off is that the first Sonos system you buy has to be wired directly into your router. If that's not possible, you need to buy a Sonos Bridge, a small box that connects to your router and sets up the SonosNet network. That adds around $50 in the US and £40 in the UK to the cost of the system, along with a small amount of inconvenience. The company sometimes runs special promotions bundling a free Bridge when you buy certain speakers.
Today's announcement is that a new "software solution" removes the need to use the Sonos Bridge or hardwire the speaker, while keeping the benefits of the mesh network.
"SonosNet is a Wi-Fi network, but it is one built on our own unique wireless mesh architecture," a Sonos representative told CNET in a statement. "Until now, setting up this network required a first line into the router. Through software, we hope to enable Sonos on an enhanced Wi-Fi connection without the need for a physical first wire... [this involves] layering some of the unique benefits of our mesh networking between Sonos players on top of the standard Wi-Fi connection between the Wi-Fi router and the players themselves."
Nothing changes right away. If you buy a Sonos system today, you will need to set it up with a Bridge. But Sonos is promising to run "the most thorough and extensive real-world testing of this new software functionality that we've ever undertaken" in a beta program, details of which will be announced in a few weeks.
Sonos says the new connection method will work for all its products, although even when it is available for everyone, it will still sell the Bridge for people with large houses or tricky wireless conditions.
This announcement follows news of a couple of other significant upgrades to the Sonos family. Last week it turned on support for music streamed from Google Play, and in March it unveiled a redesigned version of its remote control app, including universal search.
Do you have any questions about this news? Will it make you more likely to buy a Sonos speaker? Let us know in the comments below.