Walking into the flagship Sonos retail store yesterday I was surprised to find myself confronted by a long series of mini-houses. The store opened Tuesday on Greene Street in Soho, which is definitely not Brooklyn, but their devotion to music and the involvement of people like Thurston Moore and Rick Rubin was enough to get me interested in the space.” Considering the way I feel when I look at a wall of speakers in a store like Best Buy, or the utter confusion of trying to shop for them online, walking into Sonos was a totally different experience–and that’s the whole point. The Soho location is the first-ever physical store for Sonos even though they’ve been around for fourteen years; the brand began making speakers and equipment to connect heritage speakers with digital capabilities back in 2002.
The store highlights the different kinds of own in-home speakers that Sonos makes that can sync to your computer, phone, tablet, or record player, and have capabilities like playing different music in different pods, syncing to all your streaming services in one easy interface, grouping speaker systems together etc. etc. And though the product itself is a cool and useful one–I’ve used them in at least two of the offices I’ve worked in–what was so compelling about visiting the store was the environment they have created for New York music lovers.
A row of six different listening rooms that emulate the home listening experience occupy the top floor of the new Sonos store, and a secluded, seventh listening room that utilizes their vinyl conversion capabilities is tucked down below. Basically, the store is set up to invite you to come into a listening room, close the door behind you, and play music to your heart’s content on their phenomenal speaker systems.
It’s fun as hell–and besides, what other store is there that lets you shut the door on sales people and employees and play with the products all alone? That’s a level of trust they’re extending, but also, it’s a service they’re providing. This store is now the most convenient place to listen to music for free on the highest quality speakers, and this post is service journalism to let you know that when you need to listen to that beloved new album, your own latest mastered recording, or just want to bring your friends visiting New York to a cool music spot, the Sonos store is the place.
Because aside from letting people demo their speaker systems, Sonos also worked to incorporate tokens of New York’s rich musical history into the location. Thurston Moore donated his own personal tape collection to be displayed in the private analogue listening room in the lower level, and a big display upstairs highlights different eras of the punk zine scene courtesy of archivist Arthur Fournier and including iconic out-of-print titles like Arthur, New York Rocker, and East Village Eye. Plus, each listening room incorporates artwork and decor from local artists, showcasing current talent and reflecting back the wealth of working artists who still live in the city.
It would’ve been easy for them to take over a spot among the upscale SoHo boutiques on Greene Street and create a traditional store, but instead, Sonos are seeking to disrupt the music technology community by creating a space that encourages consumers, listeners, fans, people bored of walking around outside, to come into their store and engage with the quality of sound their speakers provide.
Personally, I listen to music on headphones almost all the time–I can’t afford a luxurious home speaker system (yet), and even if I could, all the wires and drilling and sound system I associated with other, more classic speaker setups always intimidated me. Popping into a Sonos store let me experience luxury of immersive surround sound—if even just for twenty minutes or so–without the hassle, and also sparked the realization that speaker systems in the digital age don’t require all that and are fairly easy to setup. And what would a store of this caliber be without Rick Rubin presiding at the front, in zen mode? After leaving the store, a bit of that zen stuck with me, too.