Beats axed plans for Sonos-esque Wi-Fi speaker system after Apple acquisition

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 2015
A report on Friday claims Beats had plans to build a Wi-Fi-connected speaker system similar to product lines from market leader Sonos, but ultimately killed the project following Apple's purchase of the company.




Sources told Variety the Beats initiative aimed to introduce a Wi-Fi speaker range with onboard hardware capable of streaming music from services like Beats Music without passing through an iOS device or Mac. But the project faced multiple setbacks and delays during development, prompting higher-ups to scrap the program, sources said.

The supposed plan would have seen a large loudspeaker for the living room launch in time for last year's holiday shopping season, with cheaper satellite units made available down the line. Like current products from Sonos, Beats' solution would have offered direct access to Internet-based subscription music services, a component currently missing in Apple's device lineup. Keeping with its premium image, Beats was thinking of selling the main speaker for an above average price of $750, one source said.

To stand out from an already crowded market, Beats reportedly looked into bundling together Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC protocols into an all-inclusive package boasting seamless multi-device music playback. For example, a speaker might be configured to look for a nearby iPhone and automatically pair with it via Bluetooth when a compatible device enters a room, offloading currently playing music without user interaction.

As for NFC, existing products leverage the technology in "tap-to-pair" features that quickly link two devices together without fuss. Although Apple has yet to grant developers access to iPhone's NFC chip, which is currently used solely for Apple Pay, the company could have enabled inter-device communication between first-party products while maintaining similar data protection safeguards.

Engineers who worked on the project have since been shuffled into other Apple product areas, while other employees left the company altogether.

Apple purchased Beats Electronics and Beats Music last May for $3 billion. Apple has not integrated Beats hardware technology into its product lineup, but this week rolled out a subscription streaming music service called Apple Music that borrows heavily from Beats Music.

Along with human content curation and access to more than 30 million tracks, Apple Music boasts a live 24-hour Internet radio station dubbed Beats 1 and the Connect social network for musicians. The service goes live on June 30 with monthly membership fees starting at $10 for single users and $15 for families up to six people.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 902member
    I'm torn on this this news.

    I've spent a bunch of money on a nice Sonos setup around my house. But I'd happily put it all on eBay and replace with an Apple solution that was a real Sonos competitor. I guess Apple has decided that their whole-house streaming solution is AirPlay and there is no room for something as capable as Sonos in their offerings.

    I only wish that Sonos would pay Apple the licensing fees and install any necessary hardware in at least one of their devices to pickup and distribute an audio AirPlay stream on a Sonos system.

    It's theoretically possible to use an optical signal from an AirPort Express into a Sonos Playbar to get a clean digital signal right now, but it's a rather ridiculous hack that prevents you from attaching a TV optical out to the Playbar, which is really what the Playbar is intended to use as a source.
  • Reply 2 of 29
    applesauce007applesauce007 Posts: 1,603member
    The speaker business is tough because there are lots of inexpensive speakers of all sizes that sound pretty good.

    Even if Apple built something like the Paradigm Millenia CT with integrated AirPlay/AppleTV, it would not sell in large enough quantities to make a significant difference. That speaker amongst many others are already designed to connect to an AppleTV.

    Apple can concentrate on speakers for iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches. Leave the larger speakers to the Paradigm's, Harman Kardon's and Jacques Mahul's of the world.
  • Reply 3 of 29
    Maybe they had iPod Hi-Fi flashbacks.
  • Reply 4 of 29
    Saw beats wireless earbuds at the Apple Store today. Checked the price tag, $200. Lol
  • Reply 5 of 29
    zabazaba Posts: 226member
    I think they should seriously take control over the beats hardware and make it worth the high price tag. Or scrap the lot of it.. I'm guessing there won't be any beats products before long except for beats 1 t-shirts.
  • Reply 6 of 29
    19831983 Posts: 1,158member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by polymnia View Post



    I'm torn on this this news.



    I've spent a bunch of money on a nice Sonos setup around my house. But I'd happily put it all on eBay and replace with an Apple solution that was a real Sonos competitor. I guess Apple has decided that their whole-house streaming solution is AirPlay and there is no room for something as capable as Sonos in their offerings.



    I only wish that Sonos would pay Apple the licensing fees and install any necessary hardware in at least one of their devices to pickup and distribute an audio AirPlay stream on a Sonos system.



    It's theoretically possible to use an optical signal from an AirPort Express into a Sonos Playbar to get a clean digital signal right now, but it's a rather ridiculous hack that prevents you from attaching a TV optical out to the Playbar, which is really what the Playbar is intended to use as a source.



    Airplay is in need of an upgrade, sound quality is not great and is beaten by the Bluetooth aptX codec. Which is itself not the best in sound quality terms either. There needs to be a standardised wireless audio format that streams at true CD quality or higher. There is more than enough bandwidth available on current WiFi networks for such an implementation...but then I'm an audiophile while most people aren't, so it probably won't happen, not enough market demand.

  • Reply 7 of 29
    command_fcommand_f Posts: 289member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by 1983 View Post

     



    Airplay is in need of an upgrade, sound quality is not great and is beaten by the Bluetooth aptX codec.


    Third party reverse engineering of Airplay (eg here) suggests that it uses Apple lossless format over the air, transcoding your source music at the sending device for transmission. Assuming this is correct, Airplay offers up to CD quality depending on the encoding of your original music files.

     

    So, in practice, low bit-rate compressed files will sound bad (there's a truism) but if you have ripped a CD to a lossless file then the quality delivered to the playing device will be CD quality. How well the playing device makes it sound will likely depend on how much it cost ;) 

  • Reply 8 of 29
    dv8ordv8or Posts: 24member
    I have a Sonos setup and find it extremely frustrating that Sonos have no native support for the Spotify. You have to go through their app to be able to access a limited set of Spotify functions. I was hoping Apple would develop a speaker system that was Music service Agnostic as I would dump my Sonos stuff in a moment if they did. I now wonder whether Sonos will support Apple's new streaming service...?
  • Reply 9 of 29
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member

    If Apple made a Sonos rival, I would be tempted to switch despite the cost. Somehow I doubt that Apple would make an equivalent of the Sonos CONNECT:AMP that I need for my ceiling speakers though.

     

    Sonos is actually the thing stopping me from swapping from Spotify to Apple Music. Fingers crossed for Sonos support eventually.

  • Reply 10 of 29
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 902member
    dv8or wrote: »
    I have a Sonos setup and find it extremely frustrating that Sonos have no native support for the Spotify. You have to go through their app to be able to access a limited set of Spotify functions. I was hoping Apple would develop a speaker system that was Music service Agnostic as I would dump my Sonos stuff in a moment if they did. I now wonder whether Sonos will support Apple's new streaming service...?

    My bet is that Sonos will support a subset of functions when Apple Music is added. They seem to strip away unique functionality of the various services as needed to make the services fit into its controller app nicely. In a way, I can't totally condemn the strategy. One of the amazing things about sonos is how I can queue up songs from my iTunes library, Beats Music, Amazon Music & Google Play in the same playlist and Sonos just makes it happen seamlessly. That's a pretty neat trick. On the flip side, I'd love to see them update their controller app to be more feature rich, then adopt more 3rd party features natively. Probably a low priority for them. They seem to spend most of their efforts on the underlying technology and making SonosNet the nearly bulletproof system it is.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that an Apple version of Sonos would put little-to-no emphasis on supporting 3rd party services.

    Sonos it is, then!
  • Reply 11 of 29
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 902member
    1983 wrote: »

    Airplay is in need of an upgrade, sound quality is not great and is beaten by the Bluetooth aptX codec. Which is itself not the best in sound quality terms either. There needs to be a standardised wireless audio format that streams at true CD quality or higher. There is more than enough bandwidth available on current WiFi networks for such an implementation...but then I'm an audiophile while most people aren't, so it probably won't happen, not enough market demand.

    As mentioned elsewhere, Sonos is capable of transmitting CD quality digital. Unfortunately, it can't go higher resolution than that. I've also heard that the Sonos Connect has decent DACs built in, though a major audiophile probably has his own outboard unit, for which the connect has a digital output.

    Obviously there are audiophile grade audio distribution systems, but Sonos seems to be at the sweet spot of Quality, Selection & Price. For me at least.

    I'm kind of hopeful that Sonos updates to some kind of SonosNet 2 technology to enable high resolution audio distribution. They are doing so much to maintain backward compatibility with their very first products, which is admirable. Eventually, however, they are going to need to address this issue if they want to be taken seriously by the audiophile community.
  • Reply 12 of 29
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 902member
    dv8or wrote: »
    I have a Sonos setup and find it extremely frustrating that Sonos have no native support for the Spotify. You have to go through their app to be able to access a limited set of Spotify functions. I was hoping Apple would develop a speaker system that was Music service Agnostic as I would dump my Sonos stuff in a moment if they did. I now wonder whether Sonos will support Apple's new streaming service...?

    In its own way, Apple has a service agnostic system now: AirPlay

    Of course it isn't elegantly integrated into a multi-zone controller like Sonos. But you can use all the functions available in your service's native controller and the Mac or iOS device will happily send the audio over AirPlay to any AirPlay receivers you have.

    As I mention in another post, I think apple music will be supported by Sonos similarly to the other services, in other words, limited subset of the services features.
  • Reply 13 of 29
    dv8ordv8or Posts: 24member

    Yeah sadly airplay is not compatible with Sonos except through an apple tv... this is what is frustrating with Sonos. I wish there were better airplay devices out there that would replace Sonos.

  • Reply 14 of 29
    kent909kent909 Posts: 708member

    If the Apple TV is going to be the hub for HomeKit it seems that it would only make sense to allow it to send music to multiple bluetooth or WiFi speakers. This really sounds,technologically wise, a very easy thing to do. My thought is there must be some kind of content rights issues.

  • Reply 15 of 29
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 902member
    kent909 wrote: »
    If the Apple TV is going to be the hub for HomeKit it seems that it would only make sense to allow it to send music to multiple bluetooth or WiFi speakers. This really sounds,technologically wise, a very easy thing to do. My thought is there must be some kind of content rights issues.

    If all you want to do is send music to multiple speakers, yes.

    But what about synchronized playback? This is one of the cores of Sonos' technology.

    I used to use AirPlay to distribute music through my 2 stereo systems and the outside patio. As I'd walk around, there was a conspicuous disconnect between each speaker's timing. This doesn't happen with my sonos gear. All speakers are perfectly locked up. And there are even more speakers than I had in the old AirPlay setup.

    Apple has a lot of work ahead of it if they want to compete with Sonos, though it appears they are not interested in the competition.
  • Reply 16 of 29
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,399member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by RichL View Post

     

    If Apple made a Sonos rival, I would be tempted to switch despite the cost. Somehow I doubt that Apple would make an equivalent of the Sonos CONNECT:AMP that I need for my ceiling speakers though.


    You're talking about running an audio output to an amp that powers the ceiling speakers? Can't you just run that from your AppleTV or Airport Express?

  • Reply 17 of 29
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,244member
    $750 would buy a lot of crack
  • Reply 18 of 29
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Mac_128 View Post

     

    You're talking about running an audio output to an amp that powers the ceiling speakers? Can't you just run that from your AppleTV or Airport Express?


     

    The Sonos CONNECT:AMP acts as an amp (unsurprisingly). If I were to use Apple TV/Airport Express, I'd need to buy a standard stereo amp and leave it powered on permanently. It would be a two box solution, rather than a one box solution, and I'd lose synchronised playback functionality. 

     

    It would be a worse solution for more money.

  • Reply 19 of 29
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    polymnia wrote: »
    I'm torn on this this news.

    I've spent a bunch of money on a nice Sonos setup around my house. But I'd happily put it all on eBay and replace with an Apple solution that was a real Sonos competitor. I guess Apple has decided that their whole-house streaming solution is AirPlay and there is no room for something as capable as Sonos in their offerings.

    I only wish that Sonos would pay Apple the licensing fees and install any necessary hardware in at least one of their devices to pickup and distribute an audio AirPlay stream on a Sonos system.

    It's theoretically possible to use an optical signal from an AirPort Express into a Sonos Playbar to get a clean digital signal right now, but it's a rather ridiculous hack that prevents you from attaching a TV optical out to the Playbar, which is really what the Playbar is intended to use as a source.

    Why would you replace your perfectly working Sonos setup for something from Apple, especially when it's made from Beats, In my opinion their products are highly over rated and very pricey for what your getting. We also use Sonos, we have their theater setup in our bedroom, comes with a SoundBar, Sub and two Play:1's for the rear channels. It's sounds incredible, I couldn't imagine Beats creating a better system. Is it just because Apple's name is behind the product, if so, that's kind of silly to just buy something because it has an Apple logo on it. I would buy from a company that has been doing multi-room speaker setups for years, have you heard of the company called Pure, their also really good and worth a look see.

    This is what's in our theater setup from Sonos.
    home-theater-hero-play1-blk-boost-lg.jpg
  • Reply 20 of 29
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,438member
    relic wrote: »
    ^ post

    He Relic, have you seen this, a cool HW thingy for Midi audio:

    http://9to5mac.com/2015/06/14/logic-pros-how-to-map-midi-controller/

    1000
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