Sonos is finally cutting the cord.
A software update (version 5.1) made available today for the multiroom streaming speaker system will allow customers to connect directly to a Wi-Fi network. That will all but eliminate the major caveat that has dogged Sonos since its debut: the fact that the "wireless hi-fi system" required at least one wired connection to a home router.
That issue largely ends today. Going forward, Sonos speakers can be completely wireless (save, of course, the power cable) so long as they're within range of the home's Wi-Fi router.
The only remaining exception: Sonos setups using the Playbar soundbar in 3.1 or 5.1 configurations will still require a wired connection to guarantee airtight synchronization between the main and surround speakers.
While the Wi-Fi compatibility makes good on a pledge the company made back in April, a Sonos representative told CNET that the company has been working on the solution for "about 2 years" and that Sonos has done interoperability testing on "every router we can find." That said, Sonos is advising that existing customers who are happy with their setup "shouldn't change a thing" -- in other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I put the latest beta software through its paces with a Sonos Play:1 in recent days, and it performed flawlessly at a distance of about 15 feet (4.5 meters) from my Wi-Fi router in the next room. As before, setup can be handled completely through the Sonos smartphone or tablet apps for iOS and Android -- all you need is your Wi-Fi password.
Of course, larger homes may still have spotty wireless coverage, and Sonos still has that covered. In addition to the existing Sonos Bridge ($49 in the US, under £40 in the UK, around AU$75 in Australia), the company is debuting a more powerful wireless peripheral called the Sonos Boost. Available later this year, the $99 Boost aims to deliver "enterprise-grade wireless capabilities to serve even the most challenging home Wi-Fi environments," according to the company. UK and Australian pricing is yet to be announced, but $99 converts to £60 or AU$106.
While the Sonos Wi-Fi upgrade is welcome, it's not happening in a vacuum. The whole-home audio space has become increasingly crowded, as a wide variety of competitors -- including Bose, Samsung, LG, and Play-Fi, to name just a few -- have begun pushing hard to muscle into the territory that Sonos pioneered. And on the low end, the price floor on Bluetooth speakers is plunging, threatening to further commoditize the market.
In other words, Sonos may still be king of the hill, but the hill is getting much more crowded.