Sonos has announced a new flagship soundbar with the latest surround sound technology.
Sonos Arc is the first model of the company that incorporates Dolby Atmos, which bounces the audio from the ceiling to create the impression that sounds are emitted from different heights.
The launch comes almost five years after Yamaha was the first to introduce an Atmos soundbar to the market.
Sonos can benefit from the coronavirus that caused many cinemas to close.
But company observers have warned that people’s concerns about their jobs and personal finances could deter them from buying such an expensive product right now.
“At the beginning of the freeze period, we saw an increase in demand for products such as televisions,” said David Watkins, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.
But, he added, in April and May, “we have seen that demand is starting to fade and really fade away” as consumers realize how long the impact of the pandemic can last.
Tom Parsons, review editor at the What Hi-Fi specialist publication, said it should be a great time to launch a new home theater product when “nobody is allowed to go to real cinema”.
“Having said that, these are also uncertain times for many people, and shelling out £ 800 on a luxury item like this will take it seriously,” he added.
Last month Goldman Sachs cut its Sonos stock rating from purchase to sale, predicting it would experience a 50% drop in sales year-on-year during the closing months.
The company’s other speakers are facing competition from Google and Amazon, which have launched their own connected wireless ranges sold at lower prices.
Sonos Arc replaces its Playbar, which hadn’t had a hardware update since it launched in 2013.
It will cost £ 799 when it goes on sale on June 10th.
While this represents a £ 100 price increase on the previous model, it is still cheaper than some Atmos-enabled competitors. Sennheiser’s Ambeo soundbar, for example, retails for £ 2,199.
Atmos is already used in cinemas and allows for much more precise positioning of sounds in a three-dimensional space than traditional surround sound, including overload. High-end film productions can use hundreds of speakers and a mixing engineer can accurately “position” the audio in space.
High-end home audio configurations with expensive audio-visual receivers can already use Atmos and the software that powers it is even available on some smartphones. The technology is also used in games, where sound sources are stuck on dynamic moving digital objects.
But Parsons said that such implementations either tend to be “rather complicated” or not to the “real” Atmos experience, for example when played with cheap headphones.
“Sonos is looking to provide the true Atmos experience with a device that anyone can configure and use, using a single HDMI cable,” he said.
“It’s a high order, but you wouldn’t bet against the company, given its track record.”
Out with the old man
There is a downside to providing technology in a new flagship product: it requires new software, which the company said in January would require dropping support for older devices. The new products cannot be used in the same system synchronized with the older ones, for which many users have spent significant sums, causing a furious reaction.
“I think this will be a rather interesting test of loyalty to the Sonos brand from existing customers,” said Watkins.
But he added that the company must remain at the forefront of premium technologies.
“Sonos built its brand around that kind of premium luxury audio,” he added, adding that it had been “under pressure” in the smart speaker market because tech giants sell their products so cheaply.
“Sonos won’t become in my mind … the dominant player in the home audio industry. I think that position really fits with Amazon or maybe Google,” he said.
But Sonos integrates with both and can “continue to dominate the premium category … in particular, if it moves more and more towards home theater and soundbars”.
In addition to the announcement of the Arco, Sonos also announced small updates to its existing Play: 5 speakers, designed for music and its “Sub” Subwoofer product.
These products will be released on June 10 together with the Arco, at £ 499 and £ 699 respectively.