EETimes – Not on speaking terms
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I was about to do an interview with some folks at Sonos last week when my Sonos One speaker started playing out of the blue – and loud. I yelled at Alexa to stop, but the “music” – which sounded a bit like a podcast, a bit like music – continued. I walked over to the speaker, yelled on Alexa again, then turned the volume down manually.
This has happened several times – with increasing volume – and I got a picture of the folks at Sonos having fun with me. I don’t know if they appreciated the irony of the situation as much as I did. Let’s just say it’s embarrassing – and weird – having to get up twice from an interview and futz playing with your dishonest Sonos speaker when doing an interview with Sonos.
When I went to the other room after the interview to bemoan my plight, Liz, my partner, showed me the screen of her iPhone with an AirPlay notification. Apparently AirPlay went off when she left the room just as my interview was supposed to start. She had picked up our Mulligan cat, slipped her phone into her back pocket and somehow AirPlay had engaged, playing something neither she, Mulligan nor I would ever choose.
I tried to replicate how this could have happened, and it took me about three clicks through my Spotify app to get to the AirPlay option. Liz doesn’t even use AirPlay, but somehow in the scramble to get Mulligan out before interview time, Spotify and AirPlay had to team up. I guessed that because this was a command initiated by Liz’s iPhone via an Apple communication protocol only, Alexa became FUBAR and did not respond to voice commands.
I pitched my theory to Sonos via email – that maybe AirPlay and Alexa are not on good terms – but a spokesperson for Sonos played down the theory. Alexa should have the ability to stop the music, “even if she started from AirPlay,” she said. All I know is that Alexa comes out of the script here a lot, whether it’s a Sonos speaker or an Echo. Besides, Siri and Google Assistant too.
Adding to the technological heckle, when I looked at Liz’s phone screen, a message popped up saying, âEnter the onscreen code forâ Roku Player. âWe have never used AirPlay with Roku. wanted – which could be fun seeing our photos on TV – what code would we need and where would we find it? Just to top off a weird day the TV turned on and went to the Roku screen .
There’s a lot going on behind our backs in the world of software-driven technology. Devices talk to each other all the time, do handshakes, and cough up bits and bytes while we’re out of the loop. At the same time, AI and machine learning are doing more to give us better functionality without us having to lift a finger. This is often a good thing.
Take the reason for the Sonos call, for example. We were discussing a new speaker coming on October 5th. Describing the innards of the replacement Beam soundbar, Scott Fink, Senior Product Manager, told us that the $ 449 Compact Soundbar, a lowered version of the $ 899 Arc, uses software and â psychoacoustic ‘to create the feeling of immersive sound.
I know in a blind test I would choose dedicated hardware – ascending drivers in the Sonos Arc, or better yet, seven speakers and a subwoofer – rather than software-created sound, but I don’t have that choice in a Manhattan apartment. The beam is just over 25 inches wide compared to the 45 inch wide arch. The Beam might be one of the few good choices I have for Dolby Atmos if I want a more immersive sound experience. And I do.
Atmos is different from previous surround sound formats which were based on sounds in “channels”. Atmos is based on “audio objects” in Dolby-ese. Filmmakers can use Atmos to choose precisely where sounds come from and where they move in a scene, including above you. When playing, Atmos set-top boxes are intended to place these sounds where the filmmakers wanted them to be heard by audiences.
How will it work without dedicated transducers that send sounds to specific locations? Scott Fink, Senior Product Manager at Sonos, described speaker sets in terms I hadn’t envisioned before, calling Sonos’ speaker sets “the software that coordinates all playback and playback. interaction between the speakers inside the sound bar “.
A traditional sound bar has, for example, a left speaker that coordinates the sound with a blast on the left side of the screen. Sonos uses all of its transducers to produce sound, but only the left speakers “develop or build the sound”, while the center and right speakers “cancel the sound in that direction.” This allows the Beam to direct sound more precisely around the room, he said.
As a multiroom music company, Sonos also has a strong interest in Atmos’ role in music. Along with the release of the Dolby Atmos soundbar, Sonos said it plans to offer Amazon’s premium Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos music later this year through the Amazon Music streaming service, “giving listeners the ability to enjoy the highest quality streaming music and immersive audio “.
The future direction is not a surprise. I’ve heard Sonos CEO Patrick Spence say that the company exemplifies âsoftware eating audioâ and that Sonos âincreasingly sees our products as more than hardwareâ.
This angered many customers last year when their Sonos S1 speakers no longer had the processing power to handle software updates for the kinds of Atmos-y features that only the S2 platform could deliver. . But that means moving forward for those who want the newest and the best.
Me? I’ll probably upgrade to the new Beam to get the latest features. Being able to get a surround sound effect from a two foot wide sound bar is pretty cool.
Now, I just hope AirPlay and Alexa learn to play well.