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The new Sonos Amp comes to save old speakers

In some ways, the new $ 600 Sonos Amp – like the decade old Connect: Amp is going to replace – one of the company's most vital products. But it is also a device that many typical consumers are not likely to buy. After completing its recent, consumer-focused launches of Sonos One and Sonos Beam, Sonos now draws attention to what it calls the installed solution channel. From top to bottom it's who and what the amplifier is built for. It is shipped globally to consumers in February, but home installation specialists in the US and Canada will be able to get it a few months early from December 1


"Sometimes customers and our channel partners do not think we listen to the feedback we receive, but we are," said Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos. He kicked off a press conference at the company's office in Boston and engineering last week. "We think about what we add to the platform and when. And if we do, we will do it for a long time." Sonos sees the amplifier as the modern descendant of the ZP100, which was one of the first products the company ever gave It was sent back in 2005.

The amp has the same primary purpose as its predecessor. It's designed to connect the advanced wired speakers you already own in Sonos Ecosystem, which seamlessly follow them with Play: 5, Sonos One, Sonos Beam, Playbase, Playbar and other Sonos hardware for multiple room audio playback.

Like all other Sonos gadgets, you can stream music from Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and dozens of other services to Amp. But here's an RCA line that can be used for discs, CD changer and other audio sources you want to play across the Sonos system via the amplifier. AirPlay 2 support is built-in and there is an HDMI ARC input to run the TV's audio through Amp.

Since the amplifier itself is not a speaker, no mics are built-in, but if you have an echo or one of Sono's voice-dependent speakers, Amp will play all your Alexa requests. It has the same capacitive buttons as other recent Sonos speakers for play / pause, volume and skip tracks.

What can you connect to Amp? Any speaker that is not self-powered. I'm talking about passive bookshelf or floor-standing speakers. If you want and have money, you can connect it to the ceiling, wall or outdoor speakers. (Sonos refers to this latter category as architectural sound and it will become a major focus area for the company in the future.) Just remember that if all you're trying to do is connect powered powered speakers to Sonos – or you'll just get one discs that work with your existing setup – this is not for you . The cheaper $ 350 Connect handles both of these jobs just fine.

Amps are more than twice as powerful as Connect: Amp, delivering 125 watts per channel to an 8 ohm load with both channels powered. It can comfortably drive four speakers simultaneously. This was technical possible on the previous model, but you could be in trouble if the speakers were not a good match for Connect: Amp. "It's about the lower impedance – being able to drive a lower impedance," said Benji Rappaport, product manager for Sonos Amp. "We can do it now because we release more than three times the output stream." At peak, the new Sonos Amps can send out 31 amps. "This is a really high quality amplifier that will destroy all the chats we've heard that Connect: Amp is just a toy," he said. "Sonos Amp is a true amplifier and we are very proud of it."

Unlike Connect: Amp, the new amplifier was designed from the outset with TV audio in the mind. Like Sonos Beam, it has an HDMI input with full ARC support. So you can connect your TV to the amplifier and have it send stereo audio to two speakers for a single 2.0 system. Since there is no center channel, the amplifier can use digital signal processing (DSP) to create a phantom center channel through stereo image. A quick demo (albeit with very nice floor speakers) showed that the effect really works, so this could be a great option if you have or plan to install in wall or ceiling speakers near your TV.

In this configuration you can also add two Play: 1s, Sonos Ones or Play: 5s as wireless rear surrounds for the wired speakers. If you want to use another set of wired speakers as the back surround, it will unfortunately require an additional Amp device and another $ 600.

Early prototypes of Sonos Amp are so different from the finished product.

There will surely be consumers who immediately go out and buy the amplifier. But basically, it's going to be a powerful hub for high end audio vendors, installers and integrators. The Connect: Amp was an important set for people who make a career out of upgrading homes to be smarter and more automated. These folks are challenging to exploit each room with the best entertainment and music options money can buy. And then they take orders so that it works under a unified system – such as Crestron or Control4 – to make the technology as practical as possible for a client. They hide the wires and throw all necessary components into a nicely organized rack. Our series Home of the Future looks a little bit about the complexity of all this.

Sonos Connect devices are usually seen in the home A / V rack, but they are not optimized for that environment.
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

For Sonos, catering to these integrators can result in their customers buying thousands of dollars worth of company products and expenses years locked into Sonos ecosystem. The goal is that the amplifier should take Connect: Amps in the brain of a connected home. Because then there is a central luminaire that stays there for who knows how long. It's a valuable business effort – especially when you remember that Sonos and its partners are increasingly trying to sell bundles of more speakers to people with cash that burn holes in their pocket. The office opens up even more lucrative bundle opportunities for Sonos and the many businesses that are part of the installed solution channel.

As it began to approach the development of Amp, Sonos examined 400 of its dealers and integrators, received answers from around 100, and based early concepts of the amplifier around it feedback. Rewind a little, and the company returned with paper prototypes for another round of evaluation and constructive criticism, before breaking up on Amp's latest design. "We got an understanding of how much power was wanted for different types of speakers. We also learned about the prominent and important importance of the rack," said Benji Rappaport, Product Manager for Sonos Amp.

The work was put in an A / V rack and the accuracy that everything fits together is often how installers judge each other's work. "The rack is a physical space. It has physical form factor constraints, but it's much more than that," said Rappaport. "We need to make a product that allows the integrator to express his craftsmanship and do it in a very high quality manner." He described rack as a showcase for "careful crafts." For people who love to make all this technology and audio equipment work together, it's almost an art. A sometimes frustrating art with many metal boxes and even more wires.

Sonos Ampere is designed to fit nicely into the racks used by professional installers. It can be stacked and mounted.

A rear of the amplifier in a rack configuration. It comes with custom-made removable banana plugs with thumb screw that can be replaced if you prefer standard banana plugs.

Sonos Amp measures 8.54 x 8.54 x 2.52 inches and weighs 4.6 pounds. It was designed with standard A / V rack compatibility in mind and can easily be stacked. But the matte black finish is meant to be versatile. You decide to get it open, place it inside a closet, or hide it under a piece of furniture. As for nitty gritty of what's inside …

  • The modulator is a DDFA (Direct Digital Feedback Amplifier) ​​Class D Amplifier.
  • Sonos built its own customized output stage because there was no shelf that could balance efficiency and heat treatment inside the amplifier's tightly packed chassis.
  • Similarly, it uses a custom power adapter designed to fit into the form factor and to provide pure audio output. The amplifier's signal / noise ratio is 116 dB with less than 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion.
  • Rappaport said that Sonos engineers and designers "combined the cooler and chassis functionality, and we ended up installing all electronics on a single hot sink. The digital electronics, analogue electronics, even the antennas are mounted on the perimeter of the perimeter , and then the cabinet comes down. "
  • Speaker connectors are custom-made removable cross-sectional banana plugs that can be replaced if you prefer standard banana plugs. They accept 10-18AWG speaker wire.
  • Instead of forcing people to use their own Sub-speaker, Sonos's sub-output on the amplifier kept for flexibility. "We do not make a ceiling on the substrate. We do not make an in-wall part," confirmed Rappaport. "If we want to make choices to deliver architectural audio experiences, we knew we had to make that provision." An advantage over Connect: Amp is that users can adjust crossover on the new amplifier between 50 and 110 Hz (in 10 Hz increments).
  • There are two ethernet jacks; the other one can be used if you want to connect to another Sonos device. The amp also includes 802.11 b / g / n (but not ac) Wi-Fi if you prefer it over the ethernet.
  • The plastic horizontal strip at the bottom is an IR sensor. Because everything needs an IR sensor.

A transparent look at the rear bumper of the amplifier. Unfortunately, the finished product only comes in black.

Sonos says that it has put Amp through a lithany of durability, electrical, heat and performance tests. "We have poured coke into the case," said Rappaport. The company believes that it has established a reputation for quality and long-term products, and it is serious about carrying it forward.

New Software Features

Together with Sonos Amp launch, Sonos also launches new software features like Mono Mode. This is exclusive to the amplifier, and when enabled, both left and right channels output a mono mix. This can be useful if your speakers are in an open plan solution far apart, if they are in commercial rooms or if they are separated a little outdoors.

Two other software enhancements extend beyond Amp and apply to all current Sonos speakers. First, the volume limitation. You can choose to limit the volume on a zone-by-son or player-by-player basis. When this option is enabled, you get access to a new slider for the second volume that is used to set the maximum volume. Once done, the usual volume control for your Sonos app will reach the top of the selected maximum volume. Secondly, Sonos will let users completely turn off all Wi-Fi activity on the devices when connected to Ethernet. This is something that installers have requested, but it will be available to all end users.

A look at Sonos Amp's internal intestine.

Sonos gives its installed solution channel the first dibs on the amplifier. They can start buying devices in December, while consumers have to wait for February to buy it from Amazon or Best Buy. But installers need to know about these things in advance, and Sonos is good at giving them advance notice about this and also for future products whenever possible. "Often jobs are scheduled for months in advance," Rappaport said. "We know we need to provide really clear communication about when this comes when Connect: Amp is phased out, so nobody gets standing."

As I said earlier, the people (and integrators) who will be quick to place orders for the new Sonos Amp have probably been anticipating it and waiting for a while. It would not surprise me if everyone else just spends and saves their excitement for the next major consumer product from the company. But in the long run, Amp makes a success, is as critical to Sono's future as any Alexa speaker could ever be.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge.

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