Sonos recently came under fire when news broke that it's permanently bricking perfectly fine devices as part of its trade-up program. This electronic waste issue might be amplified over the next months as Sonos has announced that it's deprecating software support for some of its older products starting in May. The catch is that if your home includes both legacy and modern devices, none will get updates anymore because Sonos products have to share the same software across a network. This forces you to purchase new speakers or amps if you wish to stay up to date with new features.
Affected products have been manufactured between 2005 and 2015, so some of them aren't much older than four years, which is a short life for audio equipment (even Chromebooks now receive longer support). Sonos cites low memory and a lack of processing power as the main culprit that prevents these devices from receiving future software updates. The company says you can continue using your system as is after May, but over time, "this is likely to disrupt access to services and overall functionality." We're not sure if that's referring to upcoming features or if basic functionality might be impacted.
Sonos also offers its trade-up program as another option, which lets you save 30% on a new product when you brick and recycle your old devices. That solution is still far from cheap. For example, the deprecated Connect:Amp used to go for $500 a few years ago while its successor now costs $650. Even with the 30% rebate, you'll end up paying about $450 for it. Considering Sonos is a multi-room system, you might have to get multiple new products.
In a conversation with The Verge, Sonos said it would "introduce a way for customers who want to keep using their legacy hardware to separate those old products from their main Sonos system," but the details are unclear. Will you still be able to switch between these two networks seamlessly, or will this create two walled gardens? The company doesn't even mention this option in its support documents yet.
The legacy Sonos products on the left will stop receiving support while the modern products on the right will continue getting software updates as long as they're not part of a system that includes legacy devices. You can also sign in to your Sonos account to see which of your amps and speakers are affected.
Technological progress is just natural, and older products become obsolete all the time, but you could claim that Sonos gets out of its way to make the process as costly for consumers and the environment as possible. While its speakers and amps do have line-ins and other ports, making it technically possible to use them without an internet connection, you can't adjust any settings like source volume, compression, or EQ — all of these options live in the Sonos app. Hopefully, the two-network solution communicated to The Verge will not be too restrictive and allow owners to continue using their existing hardware if they're content with it.
Apparently if news of Sonos neutering its legacy hardware rubbed you the wrong way, you're not alone — not by a long shot. The backlash against this week's announcement has been swift and brutal, with users everywhere decrying the company's decision.
In response to this reaction, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence has issued a formal statement in which he apologizes for how the company handled sharing this news, and leaving so many users confused and worried about the future of their Sonos devices.
First, rest assured that come May, when we end new software updates for our legacy products, they will continue to work as they do today. We are not bricking them, we are not forcing them into obsolescence, and we are not taking anything away. Many of you have invested heavily in your Sonos systems, and we intend to honor that investment for as long as possible. While legacy Sonos products won’t get new software features, we pledge to keep them updated with bug fixes and security patches for as long as possible. If we run into something core to the experience that can’t be addressed, we’ll work to offer an alternative solution and let you know about any changes you’ll see in your experience.
Secondly, we heard you on the issue of legacy products and modern products not being able to coexist in your home. We are working on a way to split your system so that modern products work together and get the latest features, while legacy products work together and remain in their current state. We’re finalizing details on this plan and will share more in the coming weeks.
While we have a lot of great products and features in the pipeline, we want our customers to upgrade to our latest and greatest products when they’re excited by what the new products offer, not because they feel forced to do so. That’s the intent of the trade up program we launched for our loyal customers.
Thank you for being a Sonos customer. Thank you for taking the time to give us your feedback. I hope that you’ll forgive our misstep, and let us earn back your trust. Without you, Sonos wouldn’t exist and we’ll work harder than ever to earn your loyalty every single day.
If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.
While there's nothing really new in there, Spence does emphasize a couple key points: nothing is being bricked, and both legacy and modern device will continue to interact within their ranks.
What we don't get, though, is any further insight into how that split is going to work, and that's only serving to reinforce our concerns that users with both types of Sonos classes will find themselves operating two fully independent audio networks. That threatens to be a nightmare for anyone who's set up groups that include mixed legacy and modern speakers.
Hopefully whatever implementation Sonos comes up with will find an elegant way to handle the transition, but for the moment the company's response isn't leaving us with a ton of confidence.