Sonos platform viability + comparable options

Asking all A/V + Home Automation people –

I have 12 zones (24 speakers inside & outside of my house), 8 zones of which are driven by separate Sonos Amp products, the other 4 driven by a Nuvo Essentia Audio system, integrated with Sonos using a Sonos Connect unit. The Sonos system has been great as I was able to disable the WiFi radios on each Amp and use only the Ethernet connections (trying to keep any EMR resulting from WiFi down to a minimum). The system is reliable, fast, user-friendly, everything one could ask for. All components in the Sonos system were purchased sometime between 2010 and 2018 at about $700 CAD plus 13% HST each. So yeah, a bit of an investment. Then comes 2020 and Sonos announces a major change in its software platform and support for newer hardware only, forcing customers like me to either upgrade all of my devices to $800 Sonos Amp products, or to stay on a stale version of the software with no more support. Being in the software space myself, I understand technology. What I have a difficult time with is that smart speakers are pretty basic devices and most components should last a lifetime as the end-user requirements don’t change very much. They still do one basic thing, which is to accept a command to stream audio data, amplify it, and output it to the speaker. Unfortunately due to Sonos’ choices, I need to make a decision on how to proceed. I’m really hoping that I don’t need to overhaul my entire audio system every 10 years… Here are the obvious choices to me:

a) Do nothing (don’t upgrade any hardware, will means I’ll be forced to use old Sonos software and likely Vera integration will also break at some point). I think it’s inevitable that eventually this option will expire unto itself.

b) Upgrade each of the Sonos Amp and Sonos Connect devices to the newer generation, which means dishing out $5,000 CAD for newer hardware (it’s actually about $7000, but Sonos is offering a 30% discount on a trade-up program.

c) Switch to another system such as Russound or Nuvo to drive all 24 Zones and abandon Sonos, or consider another similar system.

d) Try to piece together a home grown system of my own using switches and small amps that can be controlled using Ethernet. Find a way to integrate it with Apple Music. This is an option that might not be simple to get going and might create some headaches down the road too.

Seems there is no perfect option. Any thoughts from peeps out there that understand this and/or are facing the same challenges? Which option would you choose? Perhaps you have some better ideas that I haven’t thought of?

My requirements:

  • Good quality audio system that can power 12 zones of hard-wired speakers
  • Audio system must be able to run on Ethernet with WiFi disabled
  • Ideally work with Apple Music as a streaming service (we are an Apple device household)
  • Integrate with Vera (we have over 100 Z-Wave and Ethernet devices in the network)
  • Will to spend $5000 - $10,000 on a system, but not willing to throw it away every 10 years

Thanks in advance for your help!

It still stuns me that I can have sub-$50 Echo Dots all over the house yet still have to jump through hoops to get them to play local LAN media files (I use Plex, but I have to enable remote access for the Alexa skill to work–it’s been a while since I’ve looked to see what alternatives are newly available).

Six years ago, I remodeled the basement of my house, and I made the same decision you are making today: do I buy more Sonos, or do something else? I went with Home Theater Direct Lync6/12, an “old school” whole-house audio system. Since walls and ceilings were open, it was no trouble to run Cat6 for the control panels and good cable for the speakers. I do not regret that choice. Every room can listen to different audio, or same, including my pool/patio. It gives me an intercom that actually works better than making Alexa announcements. The Vera plugin has some issues, but I’ve made changes to it for my own use and it works great (happy to share on request).

Sonos, it seems, continues to get more and more expensive. This latest move to S2 is, I think, going to cost them dearly. I think they don’t realize how much they’ve relied on their legacy customer base adding on, as opposed to acquiring new customers. My first great disappointment was having my $400 dedicated controller reduced to e-cycle waste by their evolution. My second disappointment came when, while researching a new zone player, I discovered the relatively more capable and less expensive Logitech Squeezebox (which has since gone defunct, but still fetch retail price for used units in the aftermarket). S2 is the last straw for me. Even as the current maintainer of the Sonos plugin for Vera, I cannot justify the cost of the hardware. I will carry it as long as I can, but I will not be buying new Sonos gear ever again.

My sense is that this will open a whole in the market that Russound and maybe some newcomers will capitalize on. They all need to be careful of Google Home and Alexa, both of which are easy to integrate into home audio systems like the HTD I use. And of course, those of us willing to find the cheapest technical solution possible will not discount tools like Kodi running on an RPi. Shoot, even my $49 Rokus, connected to the HTD system and central video distribution, can do as good a job playing audio as Sonos–I can play streaming music and/or video from them in every TV in the house*.

I think Sonos overvalues itself, and they’ve made a grave tactical error.

* My whole-house video distribution came from frustration over the cost of my cable operator’s set-top box rental (plus fees for HD, etc.) and the cost of Tivos and subscriptions. I was determined to run every TV in the house from at most two boxes, one for the adults, one for the kids. Worked, and added the benefit of a second path of audio distribution in addition to the HTD Lync. And, my wife can watch her season pass shows anywhere in the house, which earned me a few points I desperately needed after writing the checks.

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