Meet Sonos Mechanical Engineer Camille Zaba, one of the engineers who helped design and test Sonos Move, and see the rigorous testing process her team put the speaker through to ensure its durability for life outside the lab.
Seeing a speaker soaked with water, heated in an oven, chilled in a freezer, zapped with a shock gun, and dropped from tables is enough to surprise almost anyone. But it’s an entirely different experience for someone who helped make Move a reality.
Meet Camille Zaba, the face and voice of the video series highlighting the rigorous testing Move endured and an integral member of the mechanical engineering team that worked on Move.
Before she found herself in the laboratories of Sonos, Zaba was a student caught between two of her greatest passions: music and taking things apart. Eventually she decided to pursue mechanical engineering. After years of working in telecommunications, she found a job at Sonos, where she could pursue both interests.
To most people, there’s a kind of mysticism surrounding mechanical engineering, perhaps a side effect of the name. But Zaba insists that this discipline is everywhere, from the packaging of everyday items to the materials that compose our appliances. And it’s not the profession of a singular genius’s mind; it takes many heads working together—and compromising.
“If the acoustics team could purely have its way, Move would probably be too big for the industrial design team,” Zaba explains. “If the mechanical engineering team could have its way, Move would probably look like a fortified, rugged box, which would be awesome in all of our testing, but the design team would be horrified. So you have all these teams collaborating and keeping each other in check.”
For Zaba’s team, there’s more to the work than methodical experimentation and meticulously recorded results in spreadsheets. Not every contingency is planned out. In fact, Zaba values her job in mechanical engineering precisely because it allows her to be creative, adapting to new findings and technical challenges that arise out of the development process. Case in point: her chief accomplishment of Move’s design, one that helps it excel in the drop test.
In the early days of the development, Zaba’s team had been testing the durability of existing Play:5 woofers through extensive drop testing and simulation to evaluate whether the traditional, separate steel woofer basket design would survive the requirements for Move. They discovered that the steel basket around the Play:5 woofer (the part of a speaker that produces the bass) warped during most drops due to the sheer weight of the internal magnet.
Following this discovery, the mechanical engineering team systematically redesigned Move’s woofer basket, integrating it into Move’s cabinet as a single piece. (Traditionally the basket is a separate component.)
After running through dozens of 3D models and just as many proposals, prints, and prototypes, they created a woofer basket with wide ribs and 40 percent glass composition that could withstand an impressive increase in force.
“No matter how much force we applied, we couldn’t break the new woofer basket.”
“We have the Instron, which is a machine that measures force-over-displacement,” Zaba adds. “Essentially, it assesses how much it takes to break something, and no matter how much force we applied, we couldn’t break the new woofer basket.”
The team later discovered that the original basket they had tested was an anomaly, featuring an entirely different material composition, but the newly-designed prototype for Move proved so durable that there was no question as to whether or not to include it in the final product.
“An engineer could look at this and be like, ‘Wow, that’s over-designed.’ But we knew that what we were doing was right,” explains Zaba. “I’ve never seen it break under any circumstances. Ever.”
Fast forward to the present, with Move ready for listeners to bring home and take anywhere. It’s not only as durable as Zaba and the team imagined, but also weather-resistant and impervious to dust, as put on display in the Check 1,2 video series. And on top of all these features, Move balances the demands of the acoustic team with an ultra-wide and richly-detailed soundscape, all whilst passing the criteria set by the industrial design team.
Creating a brilliant-sounding speaker is never as easy as it sounds—here, literally. Behind each high-definition 15-second snapshot is a world of design and testing, plus a dedicated team.
“We work together for months, tinkering with different parts and trying to harmonise across design, acoustics, software, and even packaging.”
“The five of us mechanical engineers worked with all the cross-functional teams to take Move from a filled-in shell to this incredible-sounding and durable speaker,” Zaba says, praising her collaborators. “Not only that, but we actually designed its parts. We needed an enclosure that didn’t exist. And so we made sure it did.”
For Zaba, helping engineer a speaker that endures life’s surprises as incredibly as it sounds was almost surreal. “Not everyone gets to combine their greatest passions,” she says, beaming with gratitude. “Creating Move was almost like writing a song. We work together for months, tinkering with different parts and trying to harmonise across design, acoustics, software, and even packaging. And when it all comes together, it’s music.”