”It’s the next shift in music — similar to how we’ve gone from mono to stereo”
On the future of sound
March 08, 2023
Who are you?
— I am the director for industrial design and CMF (Colours, Materials, Finishes) at Sonos for eight years, based in Santa Barbara, California, where our headquarters are located. I and my team are directly responsible for the look and feel, size, shape, and proportion of all of our hardware, including the coming product family Era, our next generation of smart speakers that are built for the future of immersive listening.
Can you explain immersive listening?
— It’s a listening experience that is more personal and really puts you into the heart of the music. It really envelopes you in sound and hopefully brings back a more focused listening experience as well, Laine explains. So, we now have ’spatial audio’, a new format for premium sound that is really embraced by a lot of artists, creators, sound engineers, and producers — and is quickly becoming the ’next wave’ in audio, music, film, and shows. So, for example, we see Netflix launching over 700 different titles for their Premium subscribers that support Dolby Atmos (a spatial audio technology, Ed’s note) and it’s the same thing with the top 100 Billboard artists, where 85 of them are producing music in Dolby Atmos. It’s very exciting, it’s the next shift in music — similar to how we’ve gone from mono to stereo. Now, we’re going to spatial audio that delivers a more detailed and completely different listening experience.
What is the biggest challenge for you when we see this shift?
— Maybe how the complexity in the underlying acoustic architecture is increasing. In the case of the Era 300 speaker, we started with a blank sheet of paper and with spatial audio as our inspiration. It was obviously also an opportunity to completely reimagine what a smart speaker would be which required a close collaboration with our engineering side. Taking all the technical complexity and this acoustic architecture and wrapping it in something that feels very calm, approachable, and quiet in the context of a home is always the biggest challenge. That product took us over three years and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to develop but we have the listening experience in the core of everything and that’s what spatial audio is improving, so that’s the underlying motivation, says Laine.
What consumer trends do you see for 2023?
— In these times, when there’s more and more background noise, I think listening is becoming more important than ever for people. For us, the design team works in close collaboration with those that are responsible for user research and in fact, our research shows that a lot of people turn to intentional listening as a way to enhance their well-being, relax, and increase their focus. And we see a similar trend with people purchasing more and more vinyl and wanting to enjoy that way of listening to music and the ritual of using turntables. In new homes, people are building listening rooms for that more intentional listening. These are some of the things that are also driving the change and inspiring us to create new products. Very interesting, especially how it can help with well-being and be used to wind back and gain more energy. In that sense, it’s a very powerful medium.
And what will become the big thing for your industry in 2023?
— We believe that the spatial audio will keep on increasing in popularity and there’s gonna be more and more content available, says Laine. So we’re very excited about that and that our listeners can hear the same that the creators listen to in the studio when they’re creating the spatial audio mixes.