Dean Clough

May 22, 2024

Portico Darwin: Oh, Sonos!



3 Minute Read

Wow, am I glad to no longer be in the residential A/V game.  Or a Sonos customer.

As I've mentioned once or twice endlessly, I owned an integration firm that designed and installed the technology in fine homes for almost 17 years.  Now, a company that was initially a savior and then a no-brainer go-to for years in the sector has become . . . the most hated firm in consumer electronics?


Shocker, but I have a brief story that serves as an introduction.  Because, you see, Sonos and I go way back.

When I started Casa Integration in late 2001, and as I've mentioned before, I was ignorant.  About just about everything regarding the business I was starting, from scratch.  That included the best products for a given job, so for the first few years, I struggled to identify a modern solution for playing music throughout the home.

Mind you, there were plenty of products, yet even in the best homes, you'd still find these.

That is a "speaker selector," and the less time spent on it the better; suffice it to say it was of a different time.  But while companies like Russound, Elan, and others offered more sophisticated solutions, they were not fully digital, not Internet-oriented, and my God (this is the mid-00's), certainly not wireless. 

And the user interface to access and control music?  Well, let us just say Jony Ive and Steve Jobs weren't involved.

Sonos fixed all of that.  For example, Sonos was controlled from the start wirelessly - that's their CR100 pictured at the top, and in 2005, it was a big f'ing deal.   

A customer (thank you, Neeraj Hora) insisted I use their products in his home, so I did, and I never looked back.  Yes, I did a few more traditional installations, mostly for projects where the design had occurred before its advent, but going forward, when a client said "music," I said Sonos.

Boy, was I glad, because from around then (2007), I knew the music would not be a problem in my clients' homes.  Combine Sonos with some nice amplifiers and speakers, and even the finest home's music was done, and done right.  

Indeed, I don't know how many times I sat with a millionaire or billionaire, looked them straight in the eye, and said:

There is nothing you reasonably will ever want to do with music in your home that Sonos can't handle.

That was true, and it was true for a very long time.  In fact, after the seamless integration of TV sound with the introduction of their Playbar in 2013, I refused to use much else on our projects. 

I don't know how many Sonos products I installed during this period, but it easily runs into the hundreds.  Heck, even after I left the industry in 2018, I would still recommend and use their products for the occasional install I'd do for friends and family (here's looking at you, Lauren and Max "Madras" Ryder, Dr. Shelly Murphy, and Ol' Purple Label).

For the record, we even own a few thousand dollars in Sonos stock.

Why the adoration?  Well, like Apple's used to, the Sonos ecosystem just worked.

But that's all over now. 

Well, we still own the stock, and no doubt a LOT of the Sonos I installed is still out there, but I bet it's probably fucked-up right about now.  The sentiment expressed here at the Sonos sub-Reddit is widespread.

The problem is simple:  Sonos exploded a nuclear device on their foot and released an upgrade to their iOS and Android apps that, by many accounts, barely works, if it works at all.  Worse, Sonos eliminated already-existing features

That's strange enough, except they dumped things fundamental to any music playback system - things like timers and the ability to adjust the now-playing queue.  And removing the ability to play local music files is an affront to humanity - that was a key Sonos feature from the get-go, FFS.

This is all from a well-established and publicly traded company.

I must ask:  Who the heck is running software dev at Sonos? 

I mean, hello:  Methodology?  Unit test?  Integration test?  User acceptance test?  Alpha and beta programs?  UX/UI fundamentals?  These are well-established techniques and disciplines within the software world, to say the least.

Yet, somehow, Sonos missed that day at school.  Stunning.

Me?  I use Roon, and have for years

But that doesn't mean I don't care.  My advice?

First, know that the upgrade has reportedly gone smoothly for some, and not everyone hates the new interface.  So there's that, and maybe you will be or have been lucky.

Otherwise, avoid the upgrade if you can, and if it's too late, read books and do something else for a month while Sonos unwinds this fiasco.  I'm not being flip:  From what I've read, this is a real mess, and it's doubtful it will be completely rectified for a while, despite an update as recent as yesterday.

Of course, I wouldn't stand for that, and neither would my clients, back in the day.  So I suggest visits to the aforementioned Reddit forum, as well as Sonos's own, to see what others are doing and what's working.   The only good thing about all of this is they certainly know they have a problem.  A big one.

And this just in:  Sonos's new headphones, the unfortunately-named Ace, reportedly WON'T support grouping with other Sonos zones/rooms/speakers.  Are we witnessing the worst product management decisions in recent history?

Oh, Sonos!


Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


This will soothe, both those with - and without - Sonos problems to deal with.  Here is Khruangbin and their Killer new album, A LA SALA.

As in:  If you're a Sonos customer, here's hoping you can go To The Room, and hear music.

About Dean Clough