Apple Music adds streaming for wireless Sonos speakers

1 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple Music Arrives on Sonos Dec. 15.

Apple is adding a missing element to its streaming music service by making it possible for home listeners to send tunes from Apple Music to Wi-Fi enabled speakers made by Sonos. Sonos, the Santa Barbara-based connected speaker company, has been diligently hammering out its Apple Music integration since the service debuted earlier this year.Streaming music and Sonos speakers go together like peanut butter and jelly, which is why Apple Music’s absence from Sonos’s list of supported streaming services was perplexing. The two companies say Apple Music subscribers who own Sonos sound systems will be able to play a “beta” version of Apple Music through the Sonos app starting December 15.

The company’s iOS application is now ranked as one of the App Store’s Top 10 Grossing apps on iPhone, following the launch of YouTube Red in late October. But Apple Music is joining the roster of supported music services on Dec. 15, so Sonos speaker owners will have another option for streaming songs throughout their homes. Apple, which was eager to launch its music streaming product but slower to forge integrations and data partnerships—potentially costing Drake a #1 hit—now has its service available on the most popular Wi-Fi speaker system on the market. This indicates that a number of users who initially signed up for the free, one-month trial have since converted to paying users, as that trial ended.

Sonos originally said that its speakers would support Apple Music “when [Apple is] ready to focus on the home listening experience,” then confirmed that would happen by the end of the year. However, the question now is how many of those users did so unintentionally – that is, did they forget to cancel their subscription before the monthly fee kicked in?

Sonos, meanwhile, makes its connected speakers that much more attractive to consumers, who can already use the system’s proprietary app to connect a wide array of music services, from Spotify and Deezer to SoundCloud and Bandcamp (and dozens of others). The Sonos Play:5 speaker justifies its very high price by delivering excellent wireless audio in a seamless, simple design that’s expandable to serve every room of your house. Sonos is alive and well in 2015, despite attempts on its life from AirPlay (which has seen better days) and Bluetooth (which is enjoying its best days thus far). Sonos thrives because it doesn’t just make wireless speakers, it makes an entire wireless speaker ecosystem that functions quite well and—most importantly—delivers great sound.

Instead of watching videos peppered with ads, YouTube Red users get ad-free videos, as well as other premium features, like the ability to save videos to watch offline and to play videos in the background. Apple Inc. said last month that it had signed up 6.5 million paying subscribers for its new service, while 7-year-old Spotify claims 20 million subscribers. The $499.95 second-generation Play:5 delivers ferocious power with seriously deep bass (when the mix calls for it) and a solid balance of rich lows and crisp highs. This shift is good news for Sonos, which was wise enough to place its bet on wireless household listening in 2002, when the rubble of Napster was still smoldering, iTunes was barely a year old, and compact disc sales were just going into free fall.

Granted, purchasing this speaker means buying into the Sonos ecosystem, but it’s hard to imagine a better-sounding building block for a wireless multi-room system, and so it earns our Editors’ Choice. Sonos cofounder and CEO John MacFarlane told BuzzFeed that more than 90 percent of music listened to through Sonos speakers comes from streaming services. YouTube splits its Red subscription revenue with creators, paying out 55 percent to those making videos for its service – the same percentage as the ad revenue it shares. However, the company practically forced creators to agree to participate in YouTube Red by requiring them to agree to the updated terms or have their videos pulled from YouTube. Measuring 8 by 14.3 by 6 inches (HWD) and weighing 14 pounds, the Play:5 features a single button for Play/Pause, with volume controls on either side of it—all of which are centrally located on the top panel.

That has impacted some larger channels, like ESPN, which had streaming agreements in place with others which prevented its participation on YouTube Red. But it makes it more complicated for music services as they have to provide APIs, make songs streamable for Sonos and comply with Sonos’ rules in general. Though the subscription option is a bit buried in the settings on both iOS and Android, YouTube has been showing a splash screen encouraging users to try out YouTube Red for free. Some users report they were even offered the option to extend their free trial, indicating that not all of those who agreed to try YouTube Red have had yet to decide whether or not they want to pay. The back panel, where the power cable plugs in, also houses an Ethernet cable connection (to connect to your network directly) and a Join button for connecting the speaker to an already present Sonos system.

Instead, iOS users pay $12.99 per month – a price point high enough (it’s more than Netflix!) that YouTube will have to show there’s significant value in its new premium service in order to keep users from canceling. The Play:5 has another trick up its sleeve: Sonos claims it can analyze the acoustics of the room it’s in and base its audio performance on the results.

There’s undoubtedly some digital signal processing going on here, but it’s subtle enough that purists likely won’t be irked, and it will please everyone else. However, others report that being in the Top Grossing section would mean the app is seeing much more revenue than that – well over $50,000 per day: According to Readdle’s marketing head, Denys Zhadanov, who has a good handle on how the App Store and Mac App Store operate thanks to his work with Readdle, a better estimate would be $70,000 to $90,000 per day. Sonos even claims the speakers are designed to work in relatively heightened humidity, so you can place the Play:5 in a bathroom and not worry about steam ruining it (the speaker is not water- or splash-proof, however).

After Sensor Tower ran the numbers for the app’s current rankings, they found that it would be making $300,000 per day on iPhone, and $50,000 per day on iPad. The Play:5 doesn’t have Bluetooth as an alternative connection method; if you want to use the speaker without relying on the 3.5mm auxiliary input, you’ll need to use the free Sonos app for Android, iOS, OS X, and Windows, and connect the Play:5 to your home Wi-Fi network. All music playback is controlled through the app, which, thanks to Sonos’ constant development now supports a startling number of streaming music services. Another thing that’s interesting about this early data is that the iPhone version of the YouTube app is taking off more than the iPad version, in terms of its Top Grossing rank – especially since the iPad ranks are easier to climb. The speaker also supports playing any of your locally stored music from up to 16 different storage devices on your network, and can access over 100,000 streaming Internet radio stations outside of the different apps.

The app handles all of the aforementioned multi-room and multi-speaker setups, including configuring two Play:5 speakers as a stereo pair or playing music across multiple rooms in the house. In fact, this aligns with the promise YouTube Red holds for creators – that, because of YouTube’s massive size, even if only a handful of users opt-in to pay for an ad-free YouTube, it could still see a sizable new revenue stream. The system’s drivers definitely have the capability to boost the drums to unnaturally hefty levels like some bass-forward systems tend to do, but instead the drums sound full and powerful without getting boosted in the deep lows.

Callahan’s baritone vocals have an excellent rich presence in the low-mids that the Play:5 highlights beautifully, and compliments with a solid presence in the high-mids. On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop’s attack gets plenty of that high-mid treble edge, retaining its sharp contour and allowing it to slice through the mix.

This track highlights what the Play:5 is capable of on deep bass—when the sub-bass synth hits occur, it sounds like there’s a powerful subwoofer in the room. This is significant because on the Bill Callahan track, many powerful, bass-forward speakers would have boosted the drums like crazy and given them a subwoofer-like presence. On orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the higher register strings, brass and vocals own the spotlight—they sound crisp and articulate through the Play:5.

If you’re looking for an excellent wireless speaker, but don’t need the multi-zone capability, consider the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless and the Bang & Olufsen Beolit 15, or the more affordable Marshall Stanmore and Audioengine B2.

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