Sonos has released the Sub, a smart subwoofer that works with the Sonos family of wireless speakers. The team took a unique approach to research and design and the results sound great. I got to spend about an hour discussing and listening to the Sub at Sonos offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While your wallet might reflexively tighten at the US$699 price tag, your ears will be glad you spent the money. Here's my look at the new Sonos Sub.
When the team at Sonos decided to create a sub, they visited music lovers with existing subwoofers in their homes, across several countries. "The chief complaint we got," said Craig Wisneski, product manager at Sonos, "is that users didn't like how their subwoofers looked." Craig noted that people tried several solutions to get their subwoofers out of sight, including hiding it behind, along side and sometimes even under furniture.
The Sonos team addressed this concern by creating several large, foam geometric shapes: a cone, a cube, a sphere and so on. They then asked the users to select the shape they found most appealing, and imagine were it could live in their home. The vast majority chose the box shape represented by the Sonos Sub today.
As you could imagine, the engineering team was then handed a unique challenge: design a fantastic subwoofer that would fit inside the customer's choice of case. "There was an uncomfortable silence at that first meeting," Craig told me. I bet.
The result looks great. The sleek, glossy Sub (a matte finish model will be available late this year) is pretty enough to leave out in the open. The two custom-designed, oval speakers face each other in the center of the cabinet (if the Sub were a donut, the speakers would be in the hole), allowing you to position it however you want. Even under the furniture.
The Sub sounds great. Rib-rattling great. But before I get to that, let me talk about setup and integration with other Sonos products. The demo unit I heard was paired with two Play:3 speakers, each on a riser about 5' off the ground. The Play:3s were in portrait orientation. I mention this because the Sonos speakers are clever enough to note how they're oriented and adjust their output accordingly. In portrait mode, the two drivers and one tweeter are in a column, and the Sonos software fiddles with the EQ to optimize that setup.
The Sub likewise recognizes that it's got two Play:3s available to it and adjusts its own EQ settings accordingly. If a Play:5 was in the mix, it would react to that, too. Of course, you can fiddle with basic EQ settings manually if you like, but I suspect most people won't (and won't need to).
Setup is so basic I hesitate to even mention it. On the bottom you'll find a power port and an ethernet port. That's it. Once turned on, the it recognizes other devices and is pretty much ready to go.
I sent music to the Sonos setup from several streaming services via the iPad app, including Spotify, Rdio and Pandora. The app is great and allows you go create playlists on the fly and even interject music from several sources into a single playlist. iTunes music stored on a computer and a slew of Internet radio stations are also available.
The first track we listened to was a bit of reggae and the bass shook my sternum. But don't get the wrong impression. The Sub provides much more than volume. Next we listened to Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. Thriller is a master class in pop music production, and the Sub does justice to Quincy Jones's work. As the song transitioned from the first verse to the refrain, I turned to Craig and said, "I've never heard this song like that." And I meant it. The "shh-shh" of the hi-hat was razor sharp while the Sub accentuated the punch of each snare drum stroke with an appropriately solid shot. We turned it up loud and the case never rattled.
Finally, the guys indulged me and let me blast a little Van Halen (the poor Sonons office workers!). "Drop Dead Legs" sounded as if we were in Eddie's 5150 studio.
Here's a very nice solution for serious music lovers. You'll spend a grand on the setup Sonos showed me: two Play:3s and a Sub. That's no impulse buy. But the results are really tremendous (and, honestly, less expensive that several other high-end setups). The Sub competently adds a welcome bottom-end to the Sonos setup and looks great. If you can swing it, definitely pick it up.