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Sonos Debuts New Internet-Connected Loudspeaker, Adds Smart Tuning

Sonos is updating its flagship speaker just in time for the holiday shopping season: The company officially introduced its new Play:5 internet-connected speaker Monday, which is going to start selling in the U.S. for $499 later this year. Sonos is also adding a tweak to its software that optimizes the sound of its speakers in rooms with challenging conditions.

The new Sonos Play:5 is $100 more expensive that its predecessor, but the company has also added a number of new bells and whistles to future-proof its flagship product: The speaker now contains three mid-woofers and three tweeters for full sound across the entire spectrum, and sounded great when demoed during a recent press briefing.

The Play:5 also has a new interface, which is a first for Sonos: Instead of relying on traditional buttons for volume and playback control, it uses a touch interface that automatically adjusts based on the orientation of the speaker.

Sonos also added two microphones to the speaker, which aren’t enabled at launch. Sonos representatives were coy about what exactly the company is going to do with these microphones, only saying that they were not meant to be used for voice control — and then quickly adding that Sonos could nonetheless, possibly, one day, venture into voice control as well.

However, it’s more likely that the Play:5 will use its microphones to survey the acoustics of a space, and maybe even the volume of conversations. Imagine a speaker that automatically lowers the volume as users start shouting over the music, or raises it as the gardener starts blowing leafs outside.

Like all Sonos speakers, the Play:5 is connecting directly to the internet, allowing consumers to play music from services like Spotify and Pandora, and control playback from their phone or iPad. But once you add smarts to a speaker, there’s a lot more you can do.

Sonos is starting to roll out an additional feature called TruePlay for new and existing speakers this fall that will help consumers to make the best out of the sound of their speakers, no matter the placement.

Sonos engineers worked two years on TruePlay, visiting lots of homes of Sonos owners in the process. Often, there were surprised to see where people put their speakers, and which obstacles that provided for good sound. Going through this process also helped them to realize that it wouldn’t make sense to just add a “kitchen” or a “bathroom” preset. “Every kitchen is different, every bathroom is different,” said Sonos senior product marketing manager Kevin Kaul during a recent demo.

The result of this work is a new tuning feature within the Sonos iOS app. The tuning process looks a bit odd, requiring users to walk around the room and wave their iPhone or iPad for a minute or so while the speaker emits strange test sounds. But the results are notable, particularly if the speaker was previously tucked away in a corner or in a cabinet where it just didn’t sound right. The following promo video shows off the difference, while conveniently leaving out the awkward tuning process:

TruePlay will only be able for iOS for now, thanks to the consistency of the platform: Apple uses the same microphones and sound processing chips in its phones, which makes it possible to accurately measure the sound of a room. In the Android world, there are thousands of different handsets, and manufacturers like Samsung switch up the configuration of their phones with little or no notice.

Interesting about TruePlay isn’t just that it makes speakers sound better. It’s also a great example of how an internet-connected speaker is more than just a stereo system: It’s an evolving device, with services launching and disappearing, consumption patterns shifting, and now acoustics adjusting as well.

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