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Being Bathed in Sound: Sonic Architecture and the Sonos Amp

Mar 07, 2019
Mid century timber shelf with vinyl albums, record player, Sonos amplifier and indoor plants

Guest blog contribution by Sonos

“There’s something really powerful about being bathed in sound all the time from all directions...Our ears were designed to filter all the different layers.”

—Benji Rappaport (Principal Product Manager Sonos)

Architecture and interior design are valued as visual mediums, but we have multi-sensory experiences of our surroundings. Much like home furnishings, sound influences the mood of a space, but too often it’s overlooked. What if we thought of sound in our homes the way we thought of flooring or paint colours — something that brings every room together and makes them part of a cohesive whole? That’s the idea behind what Sonos callssonic architecture.

“You know when you’re walking around a store or hotel and there’s music on but you don’t have to see the source or think about where the sound is coming from? We want to be able to bring that experience into people’s homes” explains Product Manager Benji Rappoport. For a long time, the audio industry told people that if they wanted a great listening experience all over their homes, they would have to do thisand that, which is how the creators of Sonos found themselves running wires all over their homes and trying to make space for big, boxy speakers.

Retrofitting their homes for sound was too expen­sive, difficult, and niche. “Sonic architecture is really just about actively con­sidering how to incorporate sound into the spaces where people live and meeting them where they are, not where we think they should be,” explains Sonos VP of Design Tad Toulis. In other words, Sonos wanted to make playing any song in any room easy. Connect:Amp—the first product Sonos created and first digital streaming amplifier on the market—made it possible for listeners to wirelessly connect audio equipment and easily transform rooms into listening spaces optimized for sound. Since its release Sonos has become an entire system that includes its own speakers.

All of these make great sound more approachable to a broader audience. “But there’s always more work to do,” says Toulis.In order to realize the future of sonic architec­ture, the team had to look back. After nearly a decade, it was time to upgrade Connect:Amp, which had become the Sonos solution for in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. Rappoport and the team connected with Sonos customers, partners, and installed solutions (IS) professionals to see how Connect:Amp was being used and identify oppor­tunities for development of the all-new Sonos Amp. “We were shocked to learn that so many people had Connect:Amp set up with home theater. It’s not designed for that experience, so we knew that our next component would have to include a TV input,” he explains. “We also learned that a lot of Sonos systems start with outdoor speakers.”

To handle those kinds of uses, Sonos’s next amplifier would need more power. With more than twice the power of its predecessor, Amp can handle the demands of a 5.1 surround system, power-hungry vintage speakers, and outdoor speakers. “It quite literally expands the Sonos listening experience to your backyard,” Rappoport explains. Delivering this much power, though a challenge, proved that much harder by the team’s ambition to make Amp compact to fit in standard racks. “Early reactions from IS professionals and integra­tors were like ‘Woah. You’ve really been listening to us,’” says Rappaport. “And we were. They were our sounding board. We’d ask for input and test ideas with them.”

But Amp wasn’t just made for racks. Inspired by the earliest shapes of sound—a round record on a turntable, a CD in its square case—the design celebrates the history of sound while maintaining a very modern aesthetic. “It fits easily into spaces that are sonically relevant, like the credenza with the turntable because it just looks like the kind of thing you want to show off,” explains Rappaport. “In a way, Amp is the poster child of sonic architecture because of the outcomes it enables,” says Toulis. “It can live out of sight, powering listening experiences. It can be out in the open, converting those classic speakers you inherited for streaming or integrating a record player into your modern setup.”

Plus, Amp powers a new manifestation of sonic architecture: the smart home. “Amp becomes a piece of infrastructure that ties all the technology in your home together,” explains Rappaport. Through integrations with partners, such as Lutron, and Amazon Alexa, Amp supports services such as voice assistants and security systems, in addition to entertainment. “Investing in Sonos for sound is actually an investment in your ability to live ‘smarter’ in the future. We’re not a speaker company. We’re a software company that creates experiences for speakers.”

But for Sonos, listening is always at the heart of these experiences, whether it’s streaming a song, watching a movie, listening to the daily weather report from Alexa, or hearing your doorbell in crystal clear detail from built-in speakers all over your home. “There’s something really powerful about being bathed in sound all the time from all directions,” Rappaport says. “Even before civilization, humans would be surrounded by the sounds of the natural world. Our ears were designed to filter all the different layers. Architectural sound expands on that.”

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