Sonos Challenges Spotify And Apple With New Streaming Music Service

Sonos Challenges Spotify And Apple With New Streaming Music Service
Screenshot: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXdZvYvbElM&feature=youtu.be">Sonos</a>

When you think of Sonos, you think of speakers. But starting today, the company is also a streaming service, launching Sonos Radio, a free, ad-supported service that includes 60,000 stations plus original content.

The service doesn’t require existing users to download another app—it’ll just be part of an automatic software update rolling out today for Sonos owners in Australia, the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland. The service will be available for roughly 10 million homes, supported the same as every other streaming music service that works with the company’s app. Those options include Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer, as well as local radio stations (depending on your where you live), international stations, and internet radio services like TuneIn and iHeartRadio.

The interesting thing about Sonos Radio, however, is that a few of the features feel an awful lot like what you get from Spotify or Apple Music. In addition to the ability to stream radio, the service will feature original and curated content from some of the biggest names in music. There are three types oflistening experiences within Sonos Radio: Sonos Presents, Sonos Stations, and local radio.

There are two experiences under the Sonos Presents banner. Sonos Sound System, which is actually ad-free, looks like it’s the one meant for music discovery. It’s a station curated and hosted by a Sonos team and recorded from a studio in Sonos’ flagship store in New York City (though likely recorded remotely for now). It’ll also feature radio hours every Wednesday, in which guest artists will play an hour-long show of their favourite hits, commentary about artists that inspire them, and the host’s latest work. Impressively, Sonos has managed to get some legit up-and-comers and indie darlings for its radio hours, including Angel Olson, JPEGMAFIA, Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers, and Nancy Whang from LCD Soundsystem. (If this sounds identical to what Apple has done with the Beats 1 radio section of Apple Music, that’s because it is.)

Artist-curated stations are also under the Sonos Presents tab in Sonos Radio. In a briefing, Sonos told Gizmodo that these aren’t one-and-done playlists; rather, artists will continue to update their stations over time. The biggest station queued up for launch is Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, whose station will be called In the absence thereof… (quite possibly the most Thom Yorke title for a station). Yorke himself offers this word-salad description of his station:

“Here in a new form is that ever rolling compilation / office chart habit of mine of putting togetherwhat I have found recently that fascinates or moves me, what obsesses me, challenges me, opens new doors, reminds me of what I might have forgotten, is insanely complex or elegantly simple,violent, funny, messy, heavy or light. Whatever has hit me over the head basically. It may be new or old or just dug up again. With all this time we have behind doors I hope this provides a welcome connection and escape…and perhaps stops the walls closing in quite so quick.” – Thom

Other artist-curated stations include Brittany Howard from the Alabama Shakes, David Byrne of the Talking Heads, and Jack White’s Third Man Records—a decently stacked list.

Meanwhile, the ad-supported Sonos Stations looks and feels like the various genre playlists you’d find on both Spotify and Apple Music. More than 30 stations will be on offer at launch, with names like Concert Hall, Country Outlaws, Indie Gold, Fat City Gumbo (apparently New Orleans-inspired jazz, funk, rock and hip-hop?), and New Lords of Metal.

But as with anything ad-supported, there’s the issue of data privacy and whether what you’re listening to is being harvested for insights. Sonos told me that Sonos Radio is voluntary and comes with a new terms of service agreement. Sonos also clarified that no personally identifiable information is shared for Sonos Radio, but that general location data may be collected. If that’s a no-go, Sonos assured me that users can opt out and that nothing else about the Sonos app experience will change.

It’s not surprising to see Sonos shift toward services. We’ve seen Apple do it, and Sonos’s recent headaches with sunsetting older devices have highlighted the hardware problem facing connected device makers. Only time will tell if Sonos Radio takes off, but don’t be shocked if you start seeing other hardware makers follow suit.