Sonos 2.0 Dispenses with the PC

On September 14, Sonos, Inc., the company whose well-designed wireless Controller adorns the cover of our October issue, announced the release of its Sonos System Software 2.0. John Atkinson and I rode to the 11th floor of Manhattan's glitzy Trump International Hotel and Tower, overlooking Central Park's brilliant canopy of green trees, to meet with Sonos co-founder Thomas Cullen and CEO John MacFarlane for a brief demonstration.

"We're very excited," said Cullen. "We truly believe that [Sonos 2.0] is the biggest thing to happen to music at home since the introduction of the CD player."

Through partnership with RealNetworks' Rhapsody music service, this one-button software update lets you instantly access over two million songs and thousands of Internet radio stations without installing an application or having to turn on a computer—all you need is a broadband connection. The new software is targeted at those who don't already own a large digital music collection but still want the convenience and functionality of Sonos' Digital Music System.

"Digital music can seem kind of weird," said Cullen. "Weird stuff scares our customers. This is for the 40–60 year-old music lover who's chronically short of time and wants to use the bare minimum level of technology."

The one potential problem, if you can call it that, would be sifting through all this new music. For instance, a brief scroll through Rhapsody's offerings via the Sonos Controller showed no fewer than 20 rock bands whose names begin with "Mother," and another 800 beginning with "The." Fortunately, in addition to immediate access to Rhapsody's music collection, the Sonos 2.0 update lets users customize their own radio stations and create instant music libraries. "When you hear a song you like," Cullen explained, "you can add it to your library just by pushing a button." Rhapsody will play songs by any particular artist, as well as similar artists—or you can build your collection album by album, a song at a time. "Two-channel stereo is going to go through a great revitalization," said CEO MacFarlane, "and we see our product as being the stereo of the future."

As for that weird digital music: "In the near future, the term digital music isn't going to exist," said MacFarlane. "It's all going to be 'digital music,' so we won't have to make the distinction. It'll just be 'music' again." We like the sound of that.

Sonos 2.0 also includes an alarm clock function and improves the Controller's touch-wheel responsiveness. For more on Sonos, see Jon Iverson's June 2006 report.