Science and art come together to bring the true sound of the recording studio into your home.
The entire history of recorded music is at our fingertips and playing all around us. We hear it in the gym, in the pub, on the TV, in our earbuds. But if you’re doing something else and not really listening, music is just so much noise in the background.
Which is fine as far as it goes. But when you are listening—really listening—to music, you should be able to hear everything inside it. Every nuance and emotion, every drumbeat and slide scratch. Great sound opens your ears and hits you right in the heart. Great sound makes you feel something. And only then are you truly connected to the music you love.
The mission at Sonos is to fill every home with music. But of course it’s not enough simply to put speakers everywhere if the music doesn’t sound good. From my own experience I can tell you that everyone in the recording studio has worked incredibly hard to create sound that is just right, with the hope that you’ll hear that and only that when you listen at home. Pure, unadulterated, fresh—no matter how old the song is itself. Speakers aren’t meant to be part of the performance, but they sometimes take center stage because of a long-standing gap between speaker makers and artists.
About two years ago, I was introduced to Sonos CEO John MacFarlane, who asked me to listen to some new speakers the company was developing. John and his team had a vision: to make sure that the efforts the acoustics team were making reflected the vision of the community that creates the music. They wanted to make a speaker in which the sound would be just as good coming out as the material that goes in, and that the artists themselves would be a part of that creation process. Sonos understood the gap, and wanted to fill it with creators.
“…they weren’t looking for an endorsement from me. They actually wanted input and feedback.”
A couple of weeks later, Sonos’ leading acoustic engineer Hilmar Lehnert came to visit me at Abbey Road Studios and brought a pair of the then-new PLAY:1 speakers to try out in my home. I struggled to find fault with them, I really did, as though my reputation depended on it! The sound they put out for such a small speaker is fantastic. What struck me about Sonos during that meeting, and that was so different from any other company I’d been introduced to, was that they weren’t looking for an endorsement from me. They actually wanted input and feedback. The people at Sonos are never satisfied with what they have made. They want to keep making it better in any way they can. They are so keen to listen, as opposed to just making sound.
The audio world is filled with phrases like “artist intent,” “pure musical truth,” “clarity,” “space,” “soul.” It’s an unavoidably subjective space open to myriad interpretations. Who really knows what the artist intends, apart from the people in the studio when the record was being made?
“The way I describe our approach as a home speaker company is like being a clear window from the studio to your home.”
It’s perhaps a clumsy simile, but the way I describe our approach as a home speaker company is like being a clear window from the studio to your home. Our job, and the job of the speaker, is to deliver music to your home with the same clarity and meaning as was heard in the studio when the artists and producers completed the master. Not to color it, or fix it or pump it up. The challenge is: what happens to the music after it’s left the studio? Historically, the artists and producers have had zero control over your experience at home. But with software innovations and an incredibly talented team of engineers, we’re able to deliver the sound as it was intended to be heard, without any compromise for you listening at home.
Working with Sonos on the new PLAY:5 and TRUEPLAY has been fascinating because, not only do these projects fulfill the artist’s ambition of getting the sound into the home in the best way possible, completing the last mile between the artist and the listener, but also because it’s given us an insight into how homes really sound. For the first time, we can see how people really listen to music at home, and it’s not at all like our socks-and-sandals world of acoustically optimised listening rooms and perfect listening positions. The implications of that and the resulting opportunities for artists, producers and speaker-makers are incredible.
Don’t let anything get in the way of the music.
My role at Sonos is really that of a middleman or translator, bridging the gap between the artist, the listener and the people who make the speakers. We do our best work when there is a forced tension – in the studio, the hottest arguments between band members or producer and artist can result in the most powerful music. It’s the same in the speaker world. When science meets art, both win.
Acoustic engineers are masters of measurement, acoustic savants; they look for a flat frequency response and distortion-free sound reproduction. Hilmar holds a PHD in psychoacoustics. He loves music and plays a mean bass, but his work is based on physics. It has to be–acoustics is vastly complicated. Record producers and artists, on the other hand, judge sound on instinct and emotion – the pure, visceral feeling of a kick drum or a soaring vocal. The meeting of these two very different mindsets comes in the end goal: we both want the music to sound as good as it possibly can.
“It’s a privilege to call artists such as Rick Rubin, Hans Zimmer and Q-Tip collaborators.”
That is why we at Sonos work with so many great artists and producers. It’s a privilege to call artists such as Rick Rubin, Hans Zimmer and Q-Tip collaborators. Our job is to better the bond between the music and the listener in the home by providing a link between the artists and the scientists.
From the moment we opened the doors to collaboration, it’s been extraordinary how enthusiastic the artist community is about making music sound great in your home. They care deeply about the music they have made, and it is fantastic to be involved with something that is helping us and music lovers to turn their backs on bad quality listening and return to music as it should be.
Come listen with us. I think you’ll like what you hear.