Recently, we reported on the leak of some new Sonos speakers that will be designed to deliver multi-directional Dolby Atmos sound. They sound like exactly what's needed to help Sonos keep up with the best soundbars, which are using increasingly elaborate rear speakers to deliver amazingly precise directional sound, in a way that Sonos' products can't currently match.
However, looking over the original report from The Verge, it struck me that these speakers look like they're not coming any time soon. They're definitely not the mystery launch Sonos says is coming this year (widely thought to be the Sonos Sub Mini) – and perhaps not until later next year, if they make 2023 at all.
The reason I think this is that I've spoken to Sonos about how their development process works, and my suspicion is that The Verge has seen a design that's right in the middle of it, if not a little earlier than that.
Are the launch of the Sonos Ray, I had a chance to interview Brandon Holley, Product Creation Lead at Sonos, about how products are designed and developed at Sonos, and one thing he told me is that from fairly early on, Sonos works by building rough prototypes that it can actually give to testers to see how they work in terms of acceptable sizes and core design elements.
"We’ll start with literal cardboard box models, and we’ll assemble them … just try to look at the size," said Holley. "So we’ll start from a pure design point of view, and then we’ll also, at the same time, be starting from a pure acoustic point of view. How many drivers can we actually fit in these various different models?"
Here's the really important part from Holley: "From a design point of view, we’ll make very design-focused prototypes that make no audio, but they’re meant to be placed in people’s homes," he said. "Some of our beta folks that are under NDA will actually take these models to their homes. We’ll ask them to take photos of where they would place it in their house."
I think there's a good chance that the pictures The Verge has seen of the product are from around this stage – there's clearly an acoustic design in mind (the angular shape seems very deliberate), but that doesn't mean it's been finalized.
Holley told me in our interview that the Sonos Ray took a couple of years to develop, so I suspect that the new Dolby Atmos speaker – which The Verge says is called 'Optimo 2', though that may just be a code name – is about halfway through that process. When you factor in the need to start manufacturing it too, I don't think a launch can be close at all.
Will they have a heart?
There's another big question here too: will they use the next-gen speaker tech that Sonos recently purchased? Sonos acquired the company Mayht in April 2022, which was looking like a hot property because it had developed a new speaker tech that could fit the same amount of power and audio quality in drivers a fraction of the size.
As a rough way of framing it, the power of a Sonos Five could fit in a Sonos One, and the power of a Sonos One could fit in something like an Amazon Echo Dot.
Will Sonos attempt to use this technology in its next-gen speakers, and if it does, will that slow their development down? It's only owned this new company for a few months, so if there's any chance of these speakers coming out next year, I suspect that they won't be included. It's just not much time to test, understand and design around a whole new technology.
So if Sonos does want to go straight in with this tech (which, to be fair, is absolutely perfect for a Dolby Atmos speaker that fires sound in all directions) we could be waiting even longer than expected for the results.
In the meantime, the likes of the Samsung HW-Q930B are bringing a full and advanced Dolby Atmos surround sound setup that costs the same as the Sonos Arc's soundbar unit alone, so here's hoping that what Sonos eventually pulls out of the bag feels powerful enough to catch up.