Sonos Amp (New for 2019): Price, Specs, Release Date

Rappoport loved the radical, unique shape of the tall bottle box. It made a statement, he thought, and he was eager for validation from a longtime Sonos dealer. But Arensbach didn’t like it. “He literally pointed at the one that I was savoring and was like, ‘Yeah, not that,'” Rappoport says. The immediate rejection of the Bottle put him on the defense. “I was like, ‘Well why not?’ He said, ‘I can’t imagine that living on a rack.'”

The shoebox design didn’t impress Arensbach either. (Since he was calling it “the shoebox,” Rappoport jokingly wonders, did it ever stand a chance?) The pizza box was the clear winner, not because it was the coolest looking, but because it made the most sense for the installer.

Consumers prefer Sonos’ sleek standalone speakers, but one of the biggest customer bases for the Amp is professional installers. For them, practicality is paramount, and that means the product needs to fit flawlessly into the standard 19-inch audio racks the pros use for their custom multiroom audio installations.

After that meeting, Arensbach took Rappoport and Vossel to see one of Hi-Fi Klubben’s retail stores. It had a room of streaming amplifiers and speakers lined up in neatly organized wooden shelves and cubbyholes. Though the Connect:Amp still sold well, Rappoport noticed it had migrated down into the very bottom corner of the display. Later, he observed many standard rack setups (commonly found in the garages or hall closets of custom home audio installations) also tended to hide the old Connect:Amp when possible. Like a dinosaur that had somehow survived extinction, it looked unwelcome and out of place.

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Dealing in Details

Sonos users may be surprised to learn there’s a thriving market of affluent folks who hire professionals to install Sonos systems in their homes. Sonos doesn’t spend much effort talking about installers, and you could make the argument that Sonos became a household name—and a publicly traded company—in the last decade by selling millions of households on the idea that they don’t need to hire a professional installer to create an amazing multiroom speaker setup.

But from the very start, with 2005’s ZP100 amplifier, professional installers proved to be some of Sonos’ strongest advocates. Sonos systems didn’t always make the installers as much money as large-scale custom builds, but customers liked the features and reliability. If an installer sold a client a Sonos system instead of a more expensive setup with a CD changer and complex amp hardware, it often meant they’d receive fewer angry calls about speakers not working. As time went on, Sonos let its Amps languish and shifted focus to standalone speakers. Yet installers still stuck with the old hardware, working harder and harder to come up with ways to jerry-rig the underpowered Connect:Amp into increasingly complex home networks.

Today, Sonos is debuting a new version of the Amp, and professional installers will get first crack at it. They’ll be able to buy the $599 Sonos Amp starting December 1, months before its February 2019 public launch. In the past year, Sonos has expanded what it now calls its “Installed Solutions” department, launching a freight program and co-op funding for its installation partners. Soon it will treat them to a new web portal offering dedicated support, community features, early info on upcoming products, and promotional help. All Sonos customers will begin to notice additions to Sonos.com that help match them with installers, in case they have grander ambitions for their home speaker network.

Respect the Rack

Everything about the new Sonos Amp should please pro installers. The Amp can connect to four speakers, twice as many as before. The power output has been doubled; the new Amp delivers 125 watts per channel with an impressive signal-to-noise ratio of 116dB and low harmonic distortion measurement of 0.1 percent.

Six of the new Amps in an installation rack.

 

Jeffrey Van Camp

These improvements come in a stackable package that’s about 1.5 rack units (2.5 inches) tall. Rappoport likes to joke that the 60-person product and operations team had a mission to “respect the rack.” The Amp accepts standard banana plugs for speaker connections and can be secured to a rack with standard screws. Even the color is affectionately called “rack black.”

“What became completely apparent was that a rack is a representation of the craft,” Rappoport says. “It’s not just four metal uprights with some shelves and some panels around it. It is an outward expression of the craftsmanship of the installer.”

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