Sonos Amp Streaming Amplifier Review


Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive versatility
Easy integration
Designed for shelf or rack mounting
Minus
EQ limited to bass and treble adjustments
Noticeably bright sound with some speakers

THE VERDICT
The new Sonos Amp is a marvel of simplicity and versatility that will enhance and expand any Sonos multiroom audio system in ways that are worth far more than its $599 price tag.

“All good things,” goes the proverb, “must come to an end.” As if to prove the veracity of that old saying, Sonos announced in early 2018 that the company was pulling the plug on a piece of gear that's been in its lineup for so long that most Sonos employees probably thought it was (metaphorically speaking) part of the building.

The doleful demise of the Sonos Connect:Amp is even more lamentable considering that it—after a few small tweaks (mostly involving amplification) and a couple of name changes—is essentially a cloned design of the first product Sonos shipped to customers back in 2005: the ZP100. Although the Connect:Amp wasn't the first wireless streaming audio amp, it was on the cutting edge of the paradigm shift in the way we “consume” (I hate that term) music.

What Defunct?
Why the sudden decision to dump the Connect:Amp? For one, it wasn't sudden. For two, it's because consumer preferences and the industry itself are evolving. Generally speaking, many Sonos customers, especially the ones who are install-it-themselvers, have gravitated to the company's self-contained wireless speaker systems, such as the Play:1, Play:5, and Beam. On the other hand, custom integrators were starting to use the Connect:Amp in a variety of interesting and creative ways—some of which even took the folks at Sonos by surprise.

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So, after many years of what politely could be called benign neglect on the part of Sonos, the company's honchos felt it was well-nigh time to embrace the custom integration industry. Approximately two years ago, they embarked on an intense R&D project where they interviewed a hundred or so integrators and personally visited dozens of dealers and showrooms around the world. This research was then used to design and engineer a new streaming amplifier incorporating the most-requested features. By the way, although many of the capabilities of the new model were asked for by integrators, the freshly minted Sonos Amp (congrats on the imaginative name there, guys) works on the same phenomenal platform that all other Sonos speakers do. All of which means that the new Amp is just as relevant to the more experienced DIY-er as it is to the custom integrator.

According to Benji Rappaport, Principal Hardware Product Manager at Sonos, the install community was not shy about recommending changes. To begin with, they wanted a beefier amplifier with more “oomph” (a technical term not on the spec sheet) so there wouldn't be limitations on the speakers that could be used. Along the same lines, they suggested that the new amp should be able to drive more than a single pair of speakers in mono for installations in great rooms or outdoor areas where sound coverage is more important than stereo imaging.

That wasn't all, though. Benji told me that his team quickly found that professional integrators view the appearance of the equipment rack they leave behind in the client's home as the ultimate expression of their craftsmanship and technical capabilities—literally as works of art. Thus, the new amp had to not only fit in a rack, it also had to look like it belonged there—from the front and the back. (The spring-loaded speaker binding posts on the back of the retiring Connect:Amp are so 2005….) Finally, since integrators often used the Connect:Amp to power speakers for better TV sound, they wanted the new piece of gear to be simpler to operate when connected to a TV.

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A Pack-in-the-Box
Here is what the Amp hardware team at Sonos did in a nutshell. They replaced the old Connect:Amp's friendly, stubby-footed, white-and-silver case with a sleek, all-black chassis that's shorter—it now fits in a 1 1/2 U space—but a bit wider and deeper. Gone are the Connect:Amp's pegboard-style top and bottom panels. Instead, the top of the Amp sports a convex depression that passively (read: no fan noise) allows heat to flow out through the curved edge of the indentation. The capacitance-touch controls for volume up/down and play/pause are indicated by minimalist icons on the front panel, whereas the Connect:Amp had rubberized button caps (again, so 2005…) for the same controls. When sitting on a tabletop or shelf, the Amp's industrial design is visually striking enough to be a conversation starter. When mounted in a rack, either singly or paired side-by-side with other Amps, its uncluttered front panel gives the impression of a mysterious piece of advanced technology.

To get the amount of oomph they wanted, Sonos developed its own output stage, power supply, and other components. The result is a class-D amp that Sonos says outputs 2 x 125 watts at 8 ohms and can also easily handle 4 ohm loads and even (dynamically) 2 ohms. Peak output current is rated at a whopping 31 amps. Amazingly, all of the amplification parts and pieces—along with DSP, Wi-Fi, HDMI, and streaming circuitry—are stuffed inside a chassis that's only 2.5-inches tall, 8.5-inches wide, and 8.5-inches deep. Earlier this year, I saw a version of the Amp with a clear Plexiglass case. It was so densely packed that no one should dare take the cover off, or it would fly apart like some self-destructing jack-in-the-box.

COMPANY INFO
Sonos
800 680-2345
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COMMENTS
palpatine's picture

Have you heard anything about Google Assistant integration? This has become even more important now that Chromecast Audio has been discontinued.

Darryl Wilkinson's picture
I haven't heard anything official from Sonos about when they might roll out the integration of Google Assistant, but I do know that they're working on it.
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