In what would be a major departure from its speaker-oriented product lineup, Sonos may be planning to launch its own headphones, according to a Bloomberg report that cites sources who asked not to be identified.
The sources went on to say that they believe Sonos is targeting an approximate $300 price point, which would put it in direct competition with brands like Apple’s Beats, as well as similar models from Sony, Bose, and others.
If true, the move would be consistent with a message Sonos sent to shareholders in its fourth-quarter letter, which outlined the company’s plans for 2019 and specifically referenced Sonos moving outside the home:
Additionally, we realize that while approximately 50 percent of listening happens in the home, the other 50 percent happens outside the home. So, to be the leading sound experience company, we need to continue to offer differentiated listening experiences in the home while extending our platform and products to all the places and spaces our customers listen to the fantastic breadth of audio content available on demand today. In FY2019, we plan to push our boundaries by investing resources to make the experience of Sonos outside the home a reality.
The real question is how will Sonos enable these rumored cans to access the full Sonos experience when customers aren’t at home? Providing access to subscription streaming services should be easy — our smartphones can already do this effortlessly. Getting access to our private music collections, sitting at home on our PCs, or on NAS drives, would be a little harder, though not impossible. Plex and other media server products can already do this, even if it sometimes takes a bit of port tweaking on the part of the user.
Assuming Sonos figures out how to keep its incredibly intuitive and effective user experience consistent both inside and outside the home, this will be a big deal for its customers. Currently, the only way to listen to Sonos-managed music using headphones is to plug in to the headphone jack on an older, first-generation Play:5 speaker (this was removed on the current model), or use the headphone jack on an A/V or hi-fi amplifier that has access to Sonos via a Sonos Connect. If you want that experience without wires, you need to hook up a Bluetooth stereo gateway to one of those headphone ports — hardly the kind of simple and convenient experience the Sonos brand is known for.
Another unknown is connectivity. Sonos has always said it prefers Wi-Fi over Bluetooth for the greater stability, range, and bandwidth that Wi-Fi provides. But would it use Wi-Fi to connect a pair of headphones? Wi-Fi is much hungrier for power that Bluetooth, and it’s worth noting that no Sonos product so far has been made available with a battery pack option. If Bluetooth is used — which just makes sense — it will need to connect to the Sonos network of devices through some kind of Bluetooth gateway. This could easily be a phone or tablet, but Sonos has so far refused to give its app the ability to actually play the music it controls. Using the app as the source of the headphones’ audio would change this model, and potentially open the platform to any other third-party headphones too.
So for now, there are way more questions than answers. Nonetheless, it’s exciting to think that Sonos is beginning to think outside of the boxes that are our homes — it’s always been a little frustrating that there’s no way to keep using the Sonos app once you step outside your front door. We’ll let you know as soon as we find out more.