Ever used a Sonos wireless audio system? They’re really pretty cool: Easy to set up, fun to use, and capable of zapping high-quality audio around your home in myriad ways. Want the same track streamed from your iTunes or NAS drive to every zone in your house? Done. Want different tunes from different online music services played across the zones? Done. Want to use two S5 boxes to create a stereo image powered by ten separate drivers? Done. Want to control it all via your iOS or Android device? Yep, done.
Thing is, Sonos ain’t cheap. I only know how cool their systems are because they decided to send me an S5-based setup to check out. Starting at $399 per unit ($349 if you use your own speakers), plus extra for a wireless bridge and remote control (if you don’t have a compatible smartphone to use instead) adds up quick, and not all of us have a few grand handy to dedicate to the pursuit of audio awesomeness. Especially since that four hundred dollar S5 only pumps out mono audio. It’s good mono, mind you, but it ain’t true stereo, let alone 7.2 surround sound.
The high cost of entry to the Sonos club might be getting knocked down a peg or two, however, if leaked photos and FCC testing documents are to be believed. First outed on ZatzNotFunny, the Sonos Play:3, also called S3 in said FCC filings, is a new addition to the company’s line of wireless audio gear that looks to offer their trademark wireless mesh networking (and Ethernet-based wired networking) in a smaller – and, one would think, less expensive – form factor than the five driver, nine pound entry level S5.
Dave Zatz thinks we’re looking at a “nightstand speaker” most likely comprised of three drivers given its name (S5 = five drivers, therefore S3 = three drivers). Engadget takes things a step further, positing/hoping that S3/Play:3 will be launched in conjunction with a software update offering 5.1 surround sound using an array of S3s and/or other Sonos gear. While Sonos doesn’t currently offer support for any sort of multichannel audio beyond stereo, as Engadget rightly points out, their core value proposition – fast and easy wireless music across multiple rooms – is facing a huge challenge in the way of Apple AirPlay certified gear set to launch from a slew of home audio companies. If Denon, et al, are readying surround sound amps that double as AirPlay wireless audio receivers, it would makes sense that Sonos might want to add surround sound decoding to their wireless audio gear.
Assuming S3 is priced around $200, it might make more sense as a relatively low-cost addition to an existing Sonos system than as one of five or six parts of a surround sound set up. If Sonos sees fit to throw some rechargeable batteries into the mix, I could see a ton of S3s finding homes in bathrooms, bedrooms, and backyard patios where wireless music has before not dared to tread. Then again, (Wi-Fi) plus (batteries) equalling (great sound) would be one mean feat of engineering to pull off.
Whatever S3/Play:3 is, we know one thing about it from those FCC filings. It’ll come in black and white just like the S5. Really, now that we know that, things like price, functionality, and ship date don’t seem so important anymore, now do they?