How IKEA and Sonos roped me into their sound system

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I didn’t grow up with money. I didn’t even get my driver’s license until I was nearly 18 years old because I had to save up for the classes myself. We didn’t have the “latest and greatest” anything. Our house didn’t have air conditioning. I drove my parents’ cars until I saved up all the money myself to buy one.

My buddy, on the other hand, lived in an expensive suburb of Milwaukee. Visiting his house was like a dream: the in-ground pool, the indoor hot tub, the music room full of expensive instruments that they never played, like his top-of-the-line electric guitar.

Now, my friend was not someone who had a lick of ego. He was definitely spoiled, but his parents raised him with an excellent attitude about life and money.

Regardless, from his huge screen TV to his upstairs game room, he had it all when it came to possessions.

But my brain was only truly jealous of three things: the pool, the indoor hot tub, and the home audio system.

The central “command center” in the kitchen

To me, it was the HEIGHT OF LUXURY.

Installed in one wall of the house, just off the kitchen, was a tape deck, CD player, and intercom system.

Every room in the house had speakers built in, usually above the light switches. Outside by the pool were more speakers. All of them were wired to this command center in the kitchen.

You could play music in any room of the house. At parties, all the rooms could have music flowing through them. And of course, the intercom system ensured they could communicate with any room of the house with a push of a button.

I wanted this for years

We’re a big music house today.

I love music. My wife loves music. Our kids love to dance. It’s a given that I would want something like this speaker system in my house.

On a whim, back when smart speakers first came out, I grabbed a Google Home Mini. Soon, I grabbed more of them, realizing that we could sync them together in groups and play music on all of them at once.

After racking up some credits from a phone purchase, I grabbed a Google Home Hub with a display for the kitchen.

We could play music in any room. And the display acted as something of a “command center”.

It was glorious, and we used it incessantly.

But it was not without its drawbacks.

The problems with using Google Home for a whole-house speaker system

  • Not all music services are supported. We’re Amazon Prime members. There are some good playlists and radio stations on Prime. Can’t play any of them on Google Home, though.
  • We use Plex for our music library, and Plex is not supported by voice. We would have to cast our music all the time (see below).
  • Google Cast remains buggy as crap. I love the concept of Google Cast. Love it. I wanted to use it for everything. Initially, we did. But over time, it became buggier and buggier – and more cumbersome. Even with the latest Google Pixel phones, our cast controls would drop intermittently. Casting also took a few extra steps, which was resistance that we butted up against repeatedly. We couldn’t directly switch from playing on one speaker to playing in a group – we had to disconnect and then reconnect. Sometimes casting speakers would disappear from the list for no reason. Controlling music became difficult the longer you used it.
  • Sound quality was grating after a while. Yes, there are upgrades to Google speakers that we didn’t try. But even in the kitchen, with a full-size Home, the music would start to hurt your ears after playing for a bit. With kids running around the house, my wife often had to just stop the music after dinner because she was so overwhelmed.
  • Voice controlling music is great in theory, but cumbersome in execution. The great part about internet radio is that there are so many options. The bad part is that you really need to browse those options if you want to find something new. “Hey Google, play some country music” brings up the same station all the time, for example. And browsing all the different music stations you have access to is tough. So we wound up listening to the same music over and over again.

Most of these drawbacks, we were willing to live with.

Then, one visit to IKEA changed everything.

When toy organization led to an audio transformation

Our local IKEA is about a 40-minute drive, so we don’t spend much time there.

When our kids’ toys started to become a bit overwhelming, however, my wife and I dropped the kids off with their grandparents and spent a “day date” at the store, snatching up some new bins to reorganize the craziness.

She turned to me after a few minutes in the store and said, “Hey, while we’re here, if there’s anything you want to look at, now’s the time.”

My mind flashed to the new speaker line at IKEA. “Oh, they partnered with Sonos to make some affordable speakers that are supposed to be pretty good. Can we check them out?”

The line is called SYMFONISK. And it’s incredible.

My wife took one look at them, listened to the speakers, and said, “Let’s get whatever we need.”

We walked out with a shelf speaker for the kitchen and an artwork speaker for the living room (it hangs on the wall like a piece of art).

After using it 2-3 times, we were 100% in love with Sonos.

What we love about the Sonos system

Within days, my wife was sending me texts about how much she loves the Sonos system.

This is high praise from a woman who doesn’t really care that much about tech. She just wants things to work in a logical way.

Fact is, as we reflected on the Sonos system, there were a bunch of really big advantages that this system had over our previous Google Home-based system:

  • Speed. When you’re in the mood for music, you just want to get it going. From search to playback to linking up speakers and everything in between, the Sonos system works when you want it to. Compare that to the clunky “Cast” interface, where you have to open a (supported) app and then pick your speaker and then connect it – if the speaker even shows up in the list the first time you pull it up – and then wait for it to announce that it’s connected, then start the music. It’s just clunky.
  • All music services are supported. This is the second most important feature that I love. When I open up my Sonos app, they are all there: Spotify (free), Plex, Amazon Prime, iHeartRadio, TuneInRadio, and so on. Google Home doesn’t support everything, and you can’t play Spotify Free on speakers or even use Amazon Prime. Sonos does.
  • All those music services are integrated together. This is the first most important feature. Sonos ropes all those services in together. That means music switching is much more efficient. But also… search. Search is absolutely killer, and it amuses me that Google, a company built on search, doesn’t really have this going for it in any meaningful or user-friendly way. I’m in a country mood, but I don’t want to pick artists? I open the Sonos app, tap “Search”, tap “Stations”, and punch in “Country”. I now have a list of country music radio stations available and can start any of them with one tap. My kids want to listen to “Dance Monkey”? We don’t have it on the Plex server. I search for “Songs” and “Dance Monkey” and I see it’s on Amazon Prime. Boom!
  • Interactivity among speakers is smooth as heck. Often, I would listen to oldies or something family-friendly in the kitchen while making dinner. My kids, playing in the living room, would often ask me to put the music on in the living room too. With Cast, that meant stopping playback, disconnecting from the kitchen speaker, then casting to the main level speaker group, then restarting playback. If I tried it any other way, the system would get borked. With Sonos? I can just walk over to the speaker in the living room and hold the play button on the side for a couple seconds. Now everybody is listening.
  • The app is truly a remote control, not a casting thing. Want to control the music on Google Home? You’d better open the right app and connect, and then hope it doesn’t disconnect anything else. My wife would just give up and say, “Can you stop the music?” since it would be started from my phone. With Sonos, we can open the app on either phone and it’s already running – can control the music immediately and quickly (or just hit the pause button on the speaker!). And speaking of buttons…
  • The buttons work! This one is more specific to our scenario than most. Google Home Hub does have a button on the screen for skipping tracks, pausing, etc. But if I am using it with Plex, the buttons don’t work. I have to pull out my phone to do anything. The Sonos speakers have a play/pause/skip button and volume control buttons. And wouldn’t you know it? They fully support anything you throw at it. Small things make a big difference.
  • The sound quality is incredible. Even though two of our three speakers are entry-level IKEA versions of the Sonos experience, the quality is still there. When you have three young children, evenings can be overwhelmed with noise in a hurry. It wasn’t uncommon for my wife to start doing dishes after dinner and stop the music playback because it was just too harsh for her ears. With the Sonos setup, that happens far less frequently. The speakers are there to play music, first and foremost, so the quality is warmer and less rough on the ears. It’s a much more pleasant experience overall.

I feel like a rich man!

I never thought I would have a sound system like this. It’s even better than the one my buddy had growing up!

I needed to replace my portable Bluetooth speaker soon after we set up this system, and I ponied up for the Sonos Roam instead of another $25 speaker off of Amazon.

Why? Because the Roam works as a Bluetooth speaker, but also as a Wi-Fi speaker like the rest of the Sonos sound system when at home. It’s still seamless and has the added benefit of being portable.

Mainly, I use it in my office or in the shower.

We’re just a few speakers away from having whole-home audio completely installed, which we will likely do when we buy a house in the next year or two. If so desired, we can even incorporate Google or Amazon’s voice assistants into the existing speakers.

We could then grab another speaker or two to install in the back yard – one for the patio, maybe one for the pool (provided we have one). I’m also looking at their sound bars, which can double as a part of the whole-home audio experience as well as provide sound for the home theater.

Everything is wireless, sounds great, looks great, and is a joy to use.

It’s been an incredible investment, and we couldn’t be happier.

Is this a paid ad for Sonos? No. I am just that passionate about stuff when I write about them. I love the Sonos system, and I’m thrilled to have it installed in our house.

Click below to check out our setup:

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Written by Tom Meitner, your favorite author. That's why you're here, right?
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