Sonos gatecrashed a lot of barbecues to build its Move speaker

Turns out, it's not easy building a speaker for the outdoors

Why Sonos gatecrashed BBQs for the Move
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Sonos has just taken the wraps off its first Bluetooth speaker, the Sonos Move, which also marks the company's first outdoors speaker. Yes Ok, Sonos does technically have its Architecture speaker range built with Sonance, but the Move is entirely its own project, designed to be used inside the house and out.

But heading outdoors opened up a massive can of worms for Sonos, acoustically speaking. "When we started this project we thought acoustically, the outdoors is the outdoors – trees and cows, cows and trees, and that’s it," said Hilmar Lenhert, Sonos' audio technology manager, "but that’s actually not the case at all... There’s significant variability between different outdoor scenarios. It’s really quite startling, unexpected to us, and it caused a problem for us."

Hands on: Sonos Move review

So for its field testing, Sonos dispatched employees to gatecrash strangers' barbecues. "We would interview whoever the host was and tell them a little bit about what we were trying to do. And we would take a proxy player – or later some actual prototypes – and we just them run things without influencing them," said Ian Popken, product creation lead on Sonos Move.

Sonos discovered several things. First, it needed more gas in the tank. While an indoor space has walls and furniture to bounce sound off, outdoors that noise is dispersed quickly. If someone has a big lawn, it will simply eat up the sound. So, more volume was added. The other realization was how people actually placed their speakers when outdoors.

"We let them place the speaker where they wanted to, and we listened to their concerns," said Popken. "There were a lot of concerns about not wanting it to take up space – that was valuable real estate... People were not really considering sound where they placed it, they were just trying to get it in a convenient location out of the way of the party.

"We've all been to maybe a good food BBQ but a bad sound BBQ where there’s a speaker and it’s very loud where you’re standing, and then when you go off to the sides all the vocals and high frequencies fall off. It’s not a great experience."

Popken also said that some people didn't want to participate for fear of disturbing their neighbors. "That was another telltale," he added. "Both of these things led to the auto Trueplay and the wide-dispersion sound – and not having sound come directly out of the back."

There were other discoveries along the way, some of which Popken said Sonos hadn't considered before. For example, while doing research in London it also came to the realization that in places like the UK the outdoor space is, well... wetter. "People don't want to have things plugged in outside."

TAGGED    smart speakers    sonos

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