Sonos of anarchy: how Rage Against The Machine helped Sonos create its latest smart speaker


The launch of the Play:5 comes at an important time for Sonos as it coincides with the launch of something that may well end up overshadowing its flagship speaker - Trueplay.

This is the name of the company's brand-new tuning software, which it hopes will drastically improve the sound coming from Sonos' speakers as it 'tunes' in accordance to wherever your speaker is in the room.

True detectives

"A lot of people don't realise that where you put your speaker makes a big difference. But the key thing is that people shouldn't have to realise that," says Giles Martin, Grammy award-winning producer and Sonos sound leader.

"I am from a studio background, based in Abbey Road Studios and we position our speakers precisely," he explains. "I know some engineers who measure where their head is according to their speaker setup.

"In the consumer space, you shouldn't expect that to happen. You should be able to put your speakers wherever you want and then listen to them. They should have great music without thinking and this is what Trueplay does."

Sonos Play 5

Martin hopes Trueplay - which takes around 45 seconds of walking around a room while strange sounds are emitted - will enable those in homes that aren't equipped for big speaker setups to be able to listen to better-sounding music.

"The appealing thing for me is to give people a good soundbed, a good sound experience that they don't have to think about. That's the fun stuff, rather than having to explain it to people. Great music should be heard in the home without you thinking about it - we do all the nerdy stuff for you."

Sonos HQ

Great sound in every room has been Sonos' mantra for some time now - a belief that stretches back to the company's creation in 2002. Speaking to techradar at the Sonos' Santa Barbara's offices, CEO and co-founder John MacFarlane explains that 2015 is perhaps the biggest year yet for Sonos for two reasons: the software Sonos is set to release, Trueplay, is now as important as its hardware and that Apple's launch of Apple Music has fundamentally changed the perception of streaming for the mainstream.

Sonos Play 5

CEO John MacFarlane sits central in the Sonos office

"The software is now the dog, not the tail, in Sonos," says MacFarlane. "The psychology of the company is very funny to watch. You would see people out in the field not caring about a launch unless it was a new piece of hardware. Then suddenly with Apple Music and Trueplay this has swapped. After years of telling people that the software makes the product better, they finally see it.

"We also saw it with the iPhone controller app. The amount of people buying into Sonos increased because of that. The psychology just shifted - how you predict that zeitgeist change is not very easy but it is fun watching it."

Democratising music

Co-founder Tom Cullen agrees. Currently Vice President, Product Marketing in the company, he spends his days explaining to the world how Sonos is changing the listening experience.

When we ask him about whether he feels Trueplay would democratise high-quality audio, he just smiles.

"Yes! I fundamentally believe we are democratising great sound," he says.

"Rick Rubin [record producer and ambassador for Sonos] has got these $40,000 speakers - I have heard them and they are beautiful - but what Rick sees us doing is trying to deliver some piece of that greatness to everyone."

Tom Cullen at Sonos HQ

Cullen is such an advocate for what Sonos is doing with Trueplay, he can see it changing how the company makes speakers in the future.

"The future of speaker design is going to be different because of Trueplay," Cullen explains. "We don't completely know how but we have really good minds thinking about.

Cullen believes that while the current iteration of Trueplay is great, we won't fully realise its potential for three years.

"That's how long it takes us to make stuff and we are only just coming to terms with the true implications of Trueplay," he explains. "It means products that come out in the next two years will take advantage of Trueplay, they just won't be designed with it in mind."

Given both MacFarlane and Cullen started together in software (founding, it's clear to see why they are both so excited with Trueplay and the small fact that Apple Music is finally here, the importance of which MacFarlane cannot state enough.

"It feels like a one-time moment in music, the same as when you first heard about the internet. With Apple coming into streaming, more changes have happened in the last 13 weeks than 13 years," says MacFarlane.


While many would assume Spotify was the turning moment for streaming, Tom Cullen believes that it wasn't actually the job of Spotify to educate the world about the benefits of streaming.

"The reason it wasn't Spotify changing streaming behaviour is because they had to make a company out of nothing, make a highly reliable service from nothing, they have to make deals with important labels to make sure they aren't driven out of existence, they have to do advertising. The part beyond that, teaching people what streaming means, is an enormous additional skill," he says.

"Right now, what Spotify is doing is getting everyone to sample through the advertising-based service. Apple isn't in the free sample business. It sells stuff for money. They are in the business of exchanging value for money. They have to figure out how to describe streaming [to the masses] as they have no other way."

MacFarlane agrees, seeing Apple Music as a tipping point: "As you see the number and consumption of users increase, there will be an awareness with streaming music. It's a fantastic time for music that's only going to get better and better. It's once in a lifetime and we have a wonderful role to play, filling people's homes with music."

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.