SONOS today is launching a 45-second do-it-yourself speaker-tuner system that has the potential to revolutionise how people listen to music in their home.
Called Trueplay, the technology lets people use their Apple iPads or iPhones to map out the acoustics of a room and tweak the software in their Sonos speaker to perfectly match that room.
The technology is based on the professional practice of calibrating speakers by mapping the audio profile of a room using a microphone in various places to build up a digital map of the room’s acoustics.
With the Trueplay system, you slowly walk around the room for 45 seconds waving the iPad or iPhone up and down while it plays a series of sounds that Sonos sound engineers jokingly call a soggy Light Sabre.
It’s a process best done when you’re alone — partly because it works best when there is no external noise and partly because you feel like a goose walking around the room slowly waving your Apple iPhone up and down to the sound of soggy sabres.
Trueplay will soon be a feature of the iOS app used to control the Sonos system of speakers which connect to a wi-fi network and let you play the same music throughout the house, or different music in every room.
Sonos says there is a Google Android app in the works, but the iOS app was much quicker and easier to develop because of the consistency of the microphones in Apple devices compared to the wide range of microphones across the Android system.
Given the way the big-name consumer technology companies have followed Sonos in creating families of wi-fi connected speakers, it seems like only a matter of time before other audio companies come up with their own Trueplay system. Sonos says good luck to it’s competitors — making a hardware-software system that can finetune a speaker in any environment is not easily done.
A dedicated audiophile, someone who has a near obsession with sound quality, will tell you that your speakers should be placed in a certain spot in a room — avoid big glass windows, don’t shove your hi-fi baby in a corner, and don’t prop it near furniture or fittings that can muffle or alter the sound.
To get the best sound, you should sit directly in front of your speakers right in the sweet spot.
But the reality is that people put speakers in their house in a spot where the speakers best physically fit, often with little regard to acoustic principles, and they furnish their room based on a range of decisions in which acoustic principles are probably a long way down the list.
If you happen to place your speakers in the ultimate spot in your room, then you probably won’t notice any difference using the Trueplay tuning software.
But in other cases, when a speaker is tucked into a tight spot on a book shelf or placed in a corner of a room or against a window, the difference is startling.
In a demonstration of the software last week at Sonos headquarters in Santa Barbara, Sonos sound experience leader Giles Martin put one Sonos Play: 1 speaker on a book shelf in the open, and one inside a kitchen cupboard and with the magic of Trueplay you couldn’t pick the difference.
Many people trace their relationship with music to the albums their parents played when we they were young. Martin has a family history with music that is different to most.
Along with being a Grammy-award winning composer and producer in his own right, Martin is also the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin.
And while he understands the principles of acoustics that are central to an audiophile, he also understands that most of us think that speakers should not have to be placed in a shrine-like position in the house to worship music.
While his father was in the music business, Giles says his mother’s business was to make sure his father didn’t fill the living with giant speakers.
“I remembered my dad was making Tug of War with Paul McCartney and he had a Bentley, as you do, and he would sit outside the house in his car listening to mixes,” Martin says.
Advancements in technology, from the Walkman to streaming audio, have changed the way we listen to music.
We can now listen to whatever music we want whenever we want to, although an audiophile will complain that the way we often listen to music, through cheap earbuds or basic Bluetooth speakers, is not the way to properly appreciate the subtleties.
While Trueplay is about ensuring Sonos speakers produce the ultimate sound, Martin says the obsession with “pure” sound can miss the bigger picture of the listening part of the process.
“It’s down to preference and I don’t think I should dictate how people listen to music,” he says.
”We need to tick both of those boxes in what we do. People should have the option.
“It’s just music and how you connect to it is up to the listener, it’s not up to us.”
Martin says there is something pretentious in saying people should not listen to music through basic headphones as they’re walking along but the better the quality of the sound, the more chance of an emotional experience.
“It’s the meeting of convenience and art and trying to get that right.”
Sonos will release Trueplay as part of an updated iOS app, along with a revamped Sonos Play: 5 ($749) as its new flagship speaker, later this year. The existing Play: 5 will be phased out.
The new Play: 5 has three mid-woofers and three tweeters and a sleek design, that comes in white or black, that has been crafted with the sort of attention Apple gives its products. It is designed to be used in one of three ways: placed horizontally to fill a room with sound, paired horizontally to create a wide stereo sound or paired vertically to deliver stereo sound directed at a sweet spot in front of the speakers.
Trueplay will not only tune the new Sonos Play: 5. Sonos plans to roll out the feature so it can improve the performance of every speaker Sonos has made since it launched 12 years ago.
*Rod Chester travelled to Santa Barbara as a guest of Sonos.