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Gadget of the Week

Gadget of the week: All about the bass

The Sonos Sub Mini brings out the best in the bass for home sound systems, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

What is it?

Most people setting up a sound system for home entertainment tend to be satisfied with a basic surround sound set-up known as 5.1. It typically comprises a center speaker, a left and right speaker in the front of a room, and left and right speaker behind the listening area. The 1 after the dot usually refers to a subwoofer, a speaker that produces bass and sub-bass sounds.

These systems can cost under R10,000 for the full array of speakers, but that provides average quality for those who just want decent sound without the frills. The cheaper systems also tend to create a clutter of wires. At the high end of the market, a serious system can cost several hundred thousand rands. Aside from pristine sound quality, they also give the owner bragging rights as an “audiophile”.

However, there is a middle road, although not necessarily a low-cost one. Around 17 years ago, Sonos entered the market to provide a wireless solution that delivered both high sound quality and elegance.

During this time, it’s become the global market leader in wireless audio, soundbars, subwoofers, and floor-standing loudspeakers. Its speakers typically cost around the R10,000 mark, meaning they are an investment in sound quality. Its product line is led by the Beam 2, a  soundbar that looks good in front of a TV, and delivers superb sound that covers all bases that the usual center, right and left speakers in a room would serve. All the bases, that is, but the bass.

For that, an investment is needed in a subwoofer. At least, if one wants to experience the fully immersive experience of advanced sound production now going into streaming moves, games, and music.

Last week, Sonos doubled down on its subwoofer range, announcing a compact alternative to its Sub, which is showing its age, or rather size, a decade after being launched in its original design. Now in its 3rd generation, the Sub remains the subwoofer that anchors Sonos domination of this market segment, but the anchor is also the appropriate word for its weight.

Enter the Sub Mini, almost half the size and half the price of the Sub.

My first thought when I saw early images of the device was that Sonos had developed the same design ethos as Apple. When we got to take the speaker itself out of its box this week, the elegance of the device was matched by that of the packaging.

Setup was straightforward, via the Sonos app, which allows one to add products seamlessly – as long as they are connected to the same Wi-Fi network, and an existing Sonos product is already set up.

We paired it with the Beam soundbar and were immediately blown away by the depth and range of sound that it added to our viewing and gaming experience.

The most remarkable aspect of the Sub is its implementation of the Sonos Trueplay technology, which measures how sound reflects off walls and other surfaces in a room, and fine-tunes the speaker accordingly. However, we had to use an iPhone to try this functionality via the app – it is not supported on Android devices.

The bottom line was a stunning bass experience. The usual kinds of vibration that spoil the low-frequency sounds of cheaper speakers were non-existent. Sonos says that this is made possible by an acoustically sealed cabinet, with dual woofers that face inward to create a force-canceling effect that neutralises distortion.

What does it cost?

Recommended retail price is R10,999. It will be available from selected retailers from the first week of October.

Why does it matter?

While Sonos leads the subwoofer market, it has been largely thanks to a single model, the Sub, launched in 2012. A second generation model came out in 2016 and the third generation in 20202. Meanwhile, high-end brands like Bowers and Wilkin and JL Audio have been making strong gains in the segment, suggesting it was time for Sonos to reinvigorate its range and expand its appeal. As a result, a compact subwoofer that costs substantially less than its current offering can be seen as a highly strategic move from Sonos.

What are the biggest negatives?

·         It is expensive for someone merely wanting to add better bass to surround sound, but then “merely” is a relative term for audio enthusiasts.

·         Only works with Wi-Fi, as opposed to most wireless speakers using Bluetooth.

·         Trueplay can’t be controlled from an Android device.

What are the biggest positives?

·         Looks great on the floor or shelf.

·         Enhances high-frequency as well as low-frequency audio.

·         Stunning bass, with minimal vibration.

* Arthur Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter at @art2gee

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