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Sonos whole-home audio keeps getting easier, cheaper, and better

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$199 could get you hooked for life

If you've got $199 to burn then you now have everything you need to enter the Sonos ecosystem of whole-home audio. They've essentially obviated their own Bridge product which, for most people, added an additional $50 barrier to entry and complicated first time setup. Sonos accomplished all of this with software.

The Sonos 5.1 update (teased in April) allows the company's range of speakers to operate on your existing Wi-Fi network while promising the same high quality audio performance synonymous with SonosNet — Sonos' bulletproof peer-to-peer wireless mesh network created by wiring the Bridge or a Sonos speaker directly into your router.

SonosNet won't go away entirely: you'll still want a wired connection for demanding 3.1 and 5.1 home theater setups or in homes where your Wi-Fi signal won't reach every room you want to place a speaker. And later this year, Sonos will offer the $99 Boost, an even more powerful and robust version of the Bridge that Sonos claims can "overcome the most challenging home [Wi-Fi] environments."

High-resolution 24-bit streams are next

SonosNet will likely also be needed to support the data rates required to stream future enhancements like high-resolution 24-bit music. "It’s a big technical challenge for us, but it’s one we’ve definitely been working on," explains Sonos executive Patrick Spence to The Guardian. "We’re looking at overcoming the limitations of streaming 24-bit in the home, as there seems to be a lot of momentum around it at the moment, so stay tuned."

Sonos Play:1 bathroom

The version 5.1 update is crucial for Sonos, now facing stiff competition from every angle. Lowering the bar to enter brings people into its ecosystem early, and gradual improvements ensure they'll never leave.

For example, Sonos wants to get students started with a $199 Play:1 in the dorm room, letting them enjoy the speaker as a standalone product that works with their smartphone and just about any music subscription of their choosing. Later, when they move off campus, they might want a second Play:1 for the living room which they'll want to combine with a $699 Sub for their first apartment after graduation. Then, when they buy their first home, they can purchase a $699 SoundBar for the home theater and repurpose the Sub and Play:1s for an impressive 5.1 listening experience, adding $299 Play:3s and $399 Play:5s for additional rooms as their families grow.

It's smart business, and it's the reason SamsungBose, and even DTS are now mimicking Sonos in the marketplace. Streaming music services have won, something Sonos figured out years ago.