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Sonos takes aim at Apple Music and Spotify with ad-free, original radio stations

Sonos is a company best-known for its popular line of wireless home speakers, but today, with the global launch of Sonos Radio, it makes its first foray into creating the content that those speakers play. The new feature will be rolling out via a software update throughout the day.

Sonos Radio is a new music source within the Sonos app that acts as a central curation point for the company’s original radio programming as well as many of the local radio stations that you’d normally access via TuneIn. Sonos’ own content will be a mix of ad-free and ad-supported stations that appear to be designed to compete with both Apple Music and Spotify’s biggest curated features.

Sonos Radio Sound System
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The original programming is headlined by Sonos Sound System, an ad-free station created and hosted by Sonos, featuring “new and well-known music, behind-the-scenes stories, and guest artist radio hours.” The station is recorded in a radio studio situated in Sonos’ flagship store in New York City.

The artist-hosted radio hours will be released every Wednesday and they’ll kick off each new stream of Sonos Sound System. These are 60-minute radio shows that combine music with commentary about inspiring artists, releases, as well as the host’s own latest work. At launch, hosts will include Angel Olsen, JPEGMAFIA, Phoebe Bridgers, Jeff Parker (Tortoise), Vagabon, and others.

Sonos Radio - David Byrne
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Complementing Sonos Sound System is a series of individual, ad-free artist-curated stations that feature a regularly updated stream of hundreds of songs chosen by well-known names like Thom Yorke, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, and David Byrne. Yorke’s station is the debut offering, with the others slated to appear in the coming weeks. Sonos plans to regularly launch new artist stations, but a spokesperson told Digital Trends that certain artist stations may also disappear over time too.

Artist stations should be a compelling experience for fans: Music selections are interspersed with podcast-style thoughts from the hosts, making them far more personal than simply having a playlist assembled by these individuals. Artist stations won’t necessarily be limited to big names. One of the planned stations will be produced by Third Man Records, Jack White’s label, but Sonos did not confirm if it will be White himself picking songs and hosting commentary.

Sonos Radio - Reggae Roots
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The third leg to Sonos’ original radio content is a collection of over 30 ad-supported Sonos Stations “inspired by Sonos owner’s favorite genres.” Each Sonos Station will feature a mix of tracks that are hand-picked by Sonos staff and include genre titles such as Concert Hall, Country Outlaws, HipHop Archive, and Kids Rock. The company says theses mixes will be regularly refreshed.

Finally, Sonos is positioning Sonos Radio as a one-stop-shop for all of your local internet radio stations too. These will be aggregated from existing services like TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and as well as others from around the globe. Sonos Radio organizes them by genre, but also helps you find your nearest terrestrial sources through your zip code.

If it sounds like Sonos Radio has a lot in common with radio-like features from Apple Music (think Beats 1) and Spotify (Discover Weekly), you’re right. However, there are two big differences at launch. First, Sonos Radio only works when you’re listening to a Sonos system. Just like the Sonos app can’t be used to access its hundreds of other music sources when you’re away from home, Sonos Radio is tethered to your Sonos wireless music speakers.

Second, all Sonos Radio streams are limited to just 128 kbps. For those who don’t pay much attention to digital audio bitrates, this is a low-bandwidth stream that will not sound as good as streaming from sources like Apple Music, Spotify Premium, or Tidal, or even your private collection of songs.

Sonos claims the decision to use 128 kbps for the Radio service is that this is more or less the standard for streaming radio stations. And while that is certainly true of a lot of the local radio streams you’ll find on TuneIn, virtually all streaming platforms use a higher quality. Granted, Sonos Radio is free for all Sonos customers, however, even Spotify’s free tier offers 160 kbps as the maximum quality for non-mobile apps.

Perhaps Sonos will offer higher-quality streams in the future as a paid option. We know from previous statements that the upcoming S2 release of the Sonos software will enable “higher resolution audio,” so a premium Sonos Radio tier certainly seems like a good bet.

Another possible future development to keep an eye open for is a full-fledged subscription streaming service from Sonos. The company tells us that the tracks used to populate its Sonos Stations are sourced from the Rhapsody-owned “Powered by Napster,” a complete music and audio platform service. Could a broader partnership with Rhapsody be in the works? Never say never.

For now, Sonos Radio’s catalog of global internet radio stations will be available for all customers worldwide, while its original programming will be available in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia starting today, with support for additional countries to follow.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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