For the uninitiated, Sonos systems are made up of one or more speakers or amplifiers that connect to your home network and provide audio content over the internet. Using the Sonos app you can connect to more than 100 services, meaning all the music you own or subscribe to through Spotify, Apple Music or dozens of others is available. But while getting your own music and podcasts is fairly easy through Sonos, things haven’t always been as simple if you want the traditional curation, discovery and linear entertainment of radio.
Inside Sonos Radio, which appears along with your services in the Sonos app, there are a number of distinct sections.
First, a dial offers radio stations based on your location, including your local ABC and commercial broadcasts. Then, a browse tab allows you to tune in to any of more than 60,000 global stations. You can search by genre or location. These stations are served via TuneIn and iHeartRadio, meaning they were already available in Sonos, but Sonos Radio makes them a little friendlier to get to.
Then there’s Sonos’ own content — which is divided into genre stations, artist stations and the flagship “Sonos Sound System” station — which Beck says is programmed by Sonos’ team of DJs and tastemakers, and by some of the industry’s most well-respected musicians.
“Across all our original content, we’re offering Sonos customers a new way to explore radio fuelled by music discovery,” Beck said.
“We will continue to evolve the lineup of stations over time. New programming and artist features will be added to Sonos Radio regularly.”
The Sonos channels are not live stations, so you’ll never come in halfway through a song, but you also can’t skip tracks if something obnoxious comes on.
The 31 genre stations, from Hip-Hop Classics to Early Classic Rock and from Alternative & Grunge to “Yacht Rock”, feature the occasional ad. It’s worth noting that the terms of service do state your general location (i.e. postcode) is passed to advertisers when you use this service.
Your enjoyment of the genre stations may be limited depending on whether you can find one suited to your tastes, and in general the mixes blend familiar tracks with B-sides from popular artists and the occasional deep cut.
Beyond genre channels, the rotating artist stations offer more esoteric mixes programmed by musicians. Currently on offer are mixes from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and the folks at Jack White’s Third Man Records. These are all impressively extensive, and ad-free.
Lastly the flagship station, Sonos Sound System, is a diverse mix skewed towards new music that features behind-the-scenes stories and is also ad-free. The mix of music and spoken content is very reminiscent of community or enthusiast radio. Every Wednesday your stream of Sound System begins with an hour of music chosen by a guest artist, which so far has included Jarvis Cocker of Pulp and Nancy Whang of LCD Soundsystem. There’s also a show hosted by Talking Heads’ David Byrne, appearing on the first of every month.
Overall I very much enjoyed being able to hit a button and get an endless stream of music that I didn’t have to hunt for, and I found the mixes wider and more varied than what I’d get from Apple or YouTube Music. I also appreciate that if you hear something you like, it’s easy to hit a search button and add the artist to your library in whichever streaming service you prefer.
One downside is that as it’s tied to Sonos hardware, you can’t listen to the large bulk of the Radio content when you leave the house, though that’s largely true of traditional radio too. The shows and artist hours from Sound System are eventually posted to Mixcloud, which you can access through the app or at mixcloud.com/sonos, whether or not you own any Sonos gear.
Beck said that despite launching its own radio service, Sonos would continue supporting as many different and potentially competing services as possible, though he wouldn’t comment on whether the company might introduce additional paid Radio tiers in the future.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.