Sonos + AirPlay, a Love Story (Premium)

I purchased my first Sonos wireless smart speaker, a Play:1, several years ago when we were still living in Massachusetts. I was happy enough with the sound quality and performance that I later purchased a second Play:1, creating a stereo pair in our living room. I even installed corner shelves for them, drilling a hole in the back of each so that the speakers’ cables could reach the power receptacles more elegantly.

And that’s how it starts with this kind of thing, isn’t it? I did a bit of research and was intrigued by Sonos but alarmed by the high prices of their initial speaker offerings, the ZonePlayer S5/Play:5 and the Play:3. But over time, Sonos augmented its product line with the less expensive Play:1 and so I took a shot. Today, we own over a dozen Sonos products, and at a heady cost: we have $2000 of Sonos equipment in our sunroom alone, between a pair of Play Fives, a Sub, and a Boost, though our out-of-pocket expenses were only $1500 because we got the Play Fives used.

I’ve written about my Sonos usage before, of course. In early 2020, I moved from Google Cast/Chromecast to Sonos for whole-house audio after Google killed off the Chromecast Audio, which was a terrific little device (and still would be today). You can read about that in Rethinking Whole-House Audio: Sonos (Premium). And a year later, in The Lure of Sonos (Premium), I wrote about why premium products like Sonos are often worth the cost, and not just in an attempt to justify my Sonos speaker purchases.

To me, the cost of Sonos isn’t the issue. We use most of our Sonos speakers regularly: we have a Sonos Beam soundbar and a Sonos Move that are used daily, for example, a pair of IKEA Symfonisk bookshelf speakers that are used near-daily, and we listen to music in the sunroom at least once a week. And those original Play:1s? My daughter uses them every day, now from her dorm room in North Carolina.

Instead, my issue with Sonos is related to its ecosystem and its place in the broader market for audio and entertainment. As we’ve discussed in the past, ecosystems matter. And I mean that broadly: you need to understand what you’re getting into when you adopt this kind of thing. Apple is perhaps a classic example: its products and services tend to work really well together and many of its users love that. But Apple also engages in anticompetitive practices that, among other things, sometimes make it harder for its users to effectively use competing products and services on Apple devices.

This is well understood. But it is perhaps less well-understood that other, smaller, tech companies, like Sonos, create ecosystems that have their own challenges. Both generally and for their users. And looking at Sonos specifically, I think it’s fair to say that its legal battles with Google have had a negative effect on those customers who use products and services from both companies.

To be clear, I support Sonos in its fight with Google because the his...

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