Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

Aug 28

Written by: Todd Anthony Puma
8/28/2013 1:48 PM  RssIcon

One of the first things that I am often asked on walk-throughs with potential new clients is whether or not I will install a streaming music system or “something like Sonos” in their home. They (and I) want it to be dead simple, integrate with the rest of the system, and give them a lot of musical options. My initial response to integrating Sonos is almost always “no,” but lately some of my techs and Home Theater Rebuild partners have been trying to persuade me otherwise. So I wanted to take some time to tell you have I’ve heard, what I’ve learned, and where I currently stand.

First we’ll start with my perspective, then we’ll move on to what my colleagues have been saying. While Sonos has created a great product that works in many situations, particularly retrofits, it does have its drawbacks.
1. Since its API is closed off, Sonos cannot be easily or smoothly integrated into a control system. I do understand there are some Extra Vegetables drivers for Control4 and a couple of other systems, but I have heard mixed reviews about reliability and ease of use.
2. On large, custom projects, I want my clients to have a ‘Wow’ factor and I don’t want their friends, family, and colleagues to say “you paid HOW much? I could have set up Sonos for you at a fraction of that.” While our costs for the audio are in line with off-the-shelf solutions, as you all know, there are many other aspects and components to the system that the average customer doesn’t think about and therefore becomes part of the, “I could have done it for less” math.
3. Sonos relies on the client’s network to function, and if the network goes down Sonos is dead in the water. With a hardwired system, at least the client can use a wall keypad and still access songs stored in a local device–iPod dock, tuner, CD player, etc.
4. Sonos has been having issues lately with locking customers out of the system and requiring software updates, necessitating a service call.
5. Sonos does not store any content locally, so the client’s main computer has to be on, or a NAS drive has to be installed. Most integrated systems have a hard drive that syncs up with the client’s iTunes library.
6. Margins are extraordinarily slim.
Now, here are the reasons my Home Theater Rebuild colleagues give me for carrying Sonos
1. It’s easy to install. It takes literally just a few minutes to plug in a Sonos device and add it to the system.
2. Mesh Network. Adding more devices makes the network stronger and allows you to increase range without having to run additional wires.
3. Expandability. Because you don’t need to homerun wires, additional devices can easily be added at a later date. This allows clients to scale back projects today to meet budgetary needs, but still have options in the future
4. It Just Works. While this runs counterpoint to #4 above, it seems that the issue I have seen once or twice are actually quite rare. Time will tell.
5. No need to overcome the, “Well Sonos can do that, why can’t your system?”
6. I plan to visit the Sonos booth at CEDIA next month to have a serious discussion with them about my objections and see if they can persuade me. It will be a tough sell; let’s see how if they can pull it off!

For my business, I prefer to use NuVo, Crestron or another high-end distributed audio solutions. Are many of you using Sonos and having success? If so, how do you overcome the objections I have raised? For those of you not using Sonos, what do you have to say to my techs and Home Theater Rebuild partners?
+Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.

18 comment(s) so far...


Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

I agree with everything you have pointed out in your objections. Sonos is for the DIY guy and not for a true integrator. If it doesn't integrate, how can you install it and still call yourself an "Integrator".

I think you'll find some that say they install it successfully but I think it boils down to what you call success. Personally it would never put enough money in my pocket for my definition of success. I like expensive toys and Sonos would never support my car & motorcycle collection!

By DC on   8/28/2013 3:55 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

While SONOS has a significant following and place in the custom integration world, it contradicts what we as custom integrators are all about. These are cookie-cutting systems that require absolutely no imagination, creativity and design principles that we train and base our expertise on. SONOS has given us no way to take their system and make it into something of our own. I understand why, but I have to always ask myself, if SONOS is so great and does "everything" why am I always looking for something better?

By Vincent Bova on   8/28/2013 4:03 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

Long time reader, first time commenter. I, too, held a reserved position regarding Sonos for sometime, primarily because of the "closed" nature of the API. Ultimately, I was forced into a "trial run" by a client who, after experiencing Control4 in a Media Room overhaul, wanted to incorporate this UI scheme into their House Audio, which contained more than one existing Sonos device. The integration of these two, in conjunction with the EV driver, has been very positive, and led us to include and offer Sonos more frequently. Where an integrator needs to pay close attention in this mix of products is in labor hours, as both the Sonos devices and EV driver need to be configured separately and accordingly, to ensure the appropriate experience. We mark up the driver as well within a bundled "Sonos Control4 Package" in D-Tools, to create the margins necessary to fall in line with those expected of Control4. While we prefer to use Autonomic's MMS, the combo of Sonos/C4/EV items with a good NAS offers a robust, competitive, and ultimately profitable solution, when managed correctly. In many cases we'll still deploy a C4 iPod Dock and/or AM/FM Multi Tuner, to offset potential WAN failures, and make sure to set expectations correctly regarding the availability of streaming media on a properly configured and managed LAN deployment. Remember: Own The Network, Own The Home!

By Shawn Downs on   8/28/2013 4:17 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

Yes and no. It depends on the application as it always should in our business. The biggest downside with the system is their closed api, but there are customers who aren't concerned with that.

There is something to be said for the systems simplicity over other products. And to be perfectly honest, there isn't a system on the market that can be deployed as quickly as sonos.

By Matt on   8/28/2013 5:52 PM

Owner - in business since 1988

Sonos is not for me. Margins weak - tried of competing with Best Buy type customers - and even though it has ease of install and use it's not real Audio in my opinion. Don't let your customers settle for product that doesn't enhance their need for us and for future opportunities. Easy does not mean better.

By Bob Borwick on   8/28/2013 6:08 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

We have always used Crestron for true distributed audio system. For music storage it was either ReQuest and more recently Autonomic. Did Sonos when they first came out and out of the 2 systems that were done they turned into nothing more than headaches. We refused to do them up until just recently when we had a 10K sq. ft. house that was already wired but had 3 rooms that were setup up as standalone rooms. Client wasn't looking to tear the house apart but was also hesitant on using Sonos as he came out of a previous Crestron house. After getting the system deployed and the client playing with it for an hour or so he was ecstatic on the user experience. The first phase was a mere 10 zones and will be returning for an additional 5 zones. All music is stored on a ReQuest server so no need for a dedicated computer always on. The only downfall is that he has Crestron running his entire house for Lighting, HVAC and theater room so not being able to incorporate the 2 systems is an issue we are trying to work on but the client is alright with jumping between apps which is not a truly integrated and meshed system in my own eyes.

Would I do Sonos again maybe if it goes as smoothly as this last install. Is it ideal for a true Audiophile system? No. I would probably look into using a setup using an AudioControl Rialto amp with either an Autonomic MMS unit driving it.

By Pat M on   8/28/2013 10:28 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

If a customer does not value true home automation and is just looking to integrate music into their home, Sonos is perfect. Not ever job will be a $100,000 home automation installation, just like every "home theater" is not a dedicated home theater. Maybe just a modest surround sound. Give the customer what they want, make them happy and get refered to a bigger job. Over sell them and put a bad taste in their mouth and get negative feedback. Your choice.

By Ken Sheaffer on   8/29/2013 8:06 AM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

Although I believe that SONOS' business model is antithetical to our industry, they create a real problem for us - Duplicating the reliability and user experience for music distribution. I hope that the custom product manufacturers that are providing real solutions for our market are considering that they need to make most robust/reliable product for us so we don't have to tell our customers the following:
"well mr. client, our custom solution is not as good as SONOS...but it IS more expensive!!!.....:) "

By Chris Kangis on   8/29/2013 8:39 AM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?


I am a rep of several brands sold to the AV integrator community. I do not represent Sonos, but a large majority of some of the most elite dealers in the area use Sonos often. They have figured out a way to make it a part of their business model, and how to make money in the process via speakers, DACs, etc...I will say that I know other integrators that base their business on Sonos, and they are not doing as well. It is a balancing act for sure, but a great "accessory" to offer as a solution.

By D on   8/29/2013 12:10 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

The 'problem' integrators have with Sonos is that it is the best audio distribution platform at any price. No other dist. audio system is as intuitive to use as Sonos or has the depth and breath of local and streaming services. Updates can be a pain but those updates almost always add functionality and services and they aren't about bug fixes and patches.

The 'problem' for dealers boils down to margin and the dealer's perceived need for integration with a larger control system. We all have really rich customers who would gladly pay more money for a higher functioning system that gives them an improved experience but I've yet to find it.

Also, I've never had a single Sonos customer complain to me about Sonos not being able to work within their larger control system. If this 'problem' isn't recognized by the people using Sonos then is it really a problem?

I feel bad for customers who get sold a bunch of high margin integration products when all they want/need is a Sonos system. Eventually those customers will get wise to the fact they were sold an inflated bill of goods and not use us anymore. If you don't believe that then I have some undercoating to sell you for your car.

By LarryFromAccounting on   8/29/2013 2:36 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

There are other options that offer the features and simplicity of Sonos but also support CI channel margins and provide real integration capabilities. Check out the TiO StealthStreamer at Cedia.

By Mike on   8/29/2013 3:58 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

Have to agree with LarryfromAccounting, the dislike of sonos has more to do with margins and less to do with its abilities.

I'm a user and and integrator and after trying Autonomic, Fusion, and Sonos I decided to stick with Sonos. It's simple and it works. Sure others have harddrives, but these often fall short on size. These days 1tb does not cut it and clients end up needing a NAS anyway.

If it streams it needs a network, so the argument that it needs to be on the network is silly. The vast majority of these systems run on simple and inexpensive home networking gear. The network becomes an issue when the CI comes in who generally knows little to nothing about networks. Sonos really doesn't have an issue until you centralize them and have over 7 on a switch. This can easy be fixed with an unmanaged switch or some programming an use of STP if you have a managed switch. Do you know what STP is, if you don't stop putting in managed switches and stop telling clients you know networks, because you don't. Being able to buy pre configured networks does not make you knowledgeable about networks.

I've been using the EV sonos driver for some time and it simply works and works well. Is it as flashy as the sonos app? No... But not much in the automation market is, especially C4.

Install sonos save yourself time and headaches.. Make money on other stuff...

By Cdepaola on   8/30/2013 10:11 AM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

Not only are there no margins but when the network is down, the Sonos is down. Plus, they offer no user interfaces. Sure, it's great to grab your phone and control the least until it rings and you can't control the volume so you can hear the person you're trying to talk to. "I'm sorry, can you hang on a minute so I can open my app to turn down the music?"

If your business model is center around Sonos, there's a good chance you won't be around in years to come.

By Dave on   8/30/2013 11:39 AM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

To me the biggest shortcoming of Sonos is the lack of bookmarking. Listening to lengthy spoken word podcasts, your place is lost if you navigate to another selection. Another nuisance is the overly simplified user interface of the PC file management program. Three button clicks instead of one to refresh the library is downright annoying.

By Dennis Lipter on   8/30/2013 12:01 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

While every response to this makes a good point, I agree with Matt in that using Sonos is on a case by case basis. There are lots of ways to make up profits where the hardware leaves off. Companies like EV have done a great job of cracking the code and creating new opportunities, providing you happen to be using C4 or URC. Since the API is the issue, consider using a different one! Got 5 dollars to try out a better app? Stefan Hansel in Germany has created (IMO) an improved app for Sonos. As this gains steam in the community it will likely put pressure on Sonos to finally open up their API, and there is already chatter about some Sonos announcement at Expo 13. Stefan's URL Scheme has a return from Sonos as well as launch into a specific Sonos zone. As they say, don't hate the player, hate the game.

By Terry Morton on   8/30/2013 3:26 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

I havent used a Sonos system but have looked at the UI and its awesome. A few issues as Ive read are integrating with Crestron?,no regular handheld remote, switching between apps, API issues etc.

Another system extremely similar to Sonos is VOCO. VOCO also streams video as well as audio. I had a chance to play with a VOCO system with our local rep and its pretty intuitive and has Youtube integration, and music server built in. Same quick deployment as Sonos, wireless room speakers nearly identical to sonos, plus video.

A customer may say "we don't have a problem using multiple apps for our system" at the time you are walking the jobsite,but they will later when they realize it sucks!!

By Stephen on   9/3/2013 7:52 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

We have been in the business for the past 10 years -- Crestron dealer for six and Sonos dealer for 7. As a stand alone product there is no other distributed audio system that can compete -- including SWAMP, Request, Elan, etc. The user interface is almost perfect on an ipad, and it is extremely easy for our customers to use. Our only complaint is that it doesn't integrate with any other control product, but most of our clients have no issue with making audio control a two step process (i.e. select Sonos on their regular remote, then use their ipad to select music). In fact most of our clients are happy to be given the opportunity to consider Sonos for their implementation -- it helps increase their trust factor that we are trying to develop solutions that fit their needs and budget, even if they opt for other audio solutions at the end of the day.

With regards to margin -- so what? There's practically no margin left on other big ticket items (TVs, receivers, etc), and the margins on other hardware is declining rapidly. I have a hard time convincing a client to pony up 3K for a Crestron touchscreen when they can get a better looking and performing ipad for 70% less. FIOS, DTV, AppleTV, Lutron, etc. the list goes on and on for hardware manufacturers coming out with increasingly sophisticated control software they provide for free. The iOS interface has made most customers very comfortable with the "single purpose" apps they can use to manage each subsystem in their house, and in the very near future I wouldn't be surprised to see control apps that take advantage of this.

The money to be made in our business is increasingly in systems design and hosted services; not in slinging boxes.

By Jeff Colen on   9/4/2013 8:07 PM

Re: Does Sonos Fit into the Custom Integration Business Model?

This discussion raises the larger question of when/if new products are required to develop an integration module for universal remotes and panels. Our product was recently released and we are standing at this very crossroad right now. Any suggestions on which vendor(s) to target in phase 1 of our control system integration strategy? Also, what's the minimum functionality we should consider providing in order to be able to claim "integration"? (Sookbox distributes audio, video, and web content to multiple wired zones throughout the home, so what subset in these areas do we need?).

By Jim Lespasio on   9/5/2013 9:09 AM

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