WHAT does a good set of outdoor speakers need?
Obviously it needs to sound good, but it also needs to be portable, and it needs to handle whatever conditions it finds itself in – and if it can do a good job indoors too, then even better.
Speaker company Sonos may have developed something which ticks all those boxes, in the form of the Sonos Move – a wireless speaker designed to work equally well in your home or at the beach, or in the forest, or at the park, or wherever you are.
The Move is being released in Australia on September 24 with an RRP of $649 and was unveiled at a special invite-only media event in New York recently, where a select group of technology journalists were able to get up close with the unit and see it in operation for the first time, along with learning more about the testing process it had been put through to ensure it would handle everything the outdoors had to throw at it.
Weighing 3kg, he Move speaker unit can also reportedly play audio at temperatures of up to 55 degrees Celsius and withstand temperatures of up to 70 degrees Celsius in storage, and have undergone a rigorous testing program encompassing everything from prolonged exposure to UV rays to having tomato sauce spilt on them to being blasted with sand and deluged with water – it has an IP56 rating as a result.
Product marketing lead Allen Mask said Sonos were maniacal about quality and ran “the most ridiculous scenarios that you could think of, even in our products in the home”, adding the Move (designed to go beyond the home) required testing taken to the next level.
“We put this thing up to everything. We’ve thrown it in dust, we’ve dropped it from six feet – it actually broke a piece of concrete in one of the drop tests,” he said.
“We find all sorts of different liquids to test it in, even above and beyond. We actually have a synthetic sweat that we developed just to test in the product. Red wine, mustard, lotion, anything you can think of.
“We tested it even in a myriad of ways beyond what you’ve seen in there [the press event]… We’re super confident that it’s going to stand any and all elements that someone could throw into it – within reason.”
Mr Mask said the Move was a step into new territory for Sonos, but the team were proud of what they had created and were expecting a positive reception, describing the unit as “a best in class product”.
“You can imagine someone’s internal monologue being like, ‘Oh, they’re great in the home but how are they outside the home?’,” he said.
“Then, toss this thing around, see how it stands up. We’re pretty proud of it. I think our customers will be, too.”
Being a truly portable speaker, the Move is designed to be equally at home in the living room as it is outside, and functions with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections.
Architectural category hardware product manager Benji Rappoport said switching between wireless and Bluetooth modes was literally as simple as pressing a button, at least once the phone or smart device was paired with the Move.
“There’s a button on the back of Move. A simple button press will pop it out of Wi-Fi mode and into Bluetooth mode. Once you’ve paired [the devices], every time you hit that button and pop out of Bluetooth mode, if the device you paired it with is close to [the Move speaker], it will find it and just keep playing,” he said.
The unit has a battery life of about 10 hours and I was impressed by the sound quality as demonstrated – Sonos’ engineers have put a lot of work into making sure the speaker and the downward-firing tweeter fit into the compact space the unit required to remain portable while still offering top-quality sound.
In addition to having a good sound, there’s a special auto-EQ setting feature whereby the Move uses its inbuilt microphones to listen to itself and adjust the output quality accordingly. For example, when sitting on a table it was playing songs happily until moved into a bookshelf, where the acoustics and changed, leading to muffling and distortion – but a few seconds later, the unit auto-adjusted and was playing at much better quality.
“There were a lot of different types of research, from gathering around in different outdoor environments, to testing weights, like, what is the maximum weight that we could have that you could still carry it around? How does it feel in your hand? You know, all of that kind of fun stuff, that just constantly kept chipping away and chipping away and getting us to the experience we have today,” Mr Rappoport said.
“The biggest challenge was the tension between the form that’s necessary to make the product portable and the sound experience that we want to deliver.
“It became evident really early on that we needed an ultra wide dispersion for our sound experience based on the testing we had done – people picked it up, they wanted to set it kind of at the side of their gathering. When it came indoors, they kind of wanted to set it close to a wall. And so the sound we want is always huge, and the form we want is always smaller than that.”
Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support feature in the Move as well, making it more than just a portable speaker – and I can see their inclusion being helpful at parties when the inevitable “Who was that actor in that movie?” or “What year did that song come out?” questions come up, too.
Based on what I saw and heard at the press event in New York, the Move has a lot of potential and I will be very interested to see how it performs under Australian conditions – it certainly seemed like a versatile and solid unit and one that should certainly have plenty of appeal Down Under as a result.
Royce Wilson travelled to New York as a guest of Sonos