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Audio geeks get their wish – Sonos debuts its Rick Rubin-inspired automatic speaker-tuning app

Getting the perfect audio system is, it turns out, a Sisyphean task. Vinyl verses CD, valve verses solid state amplifier, Monster Cable – they’ll go on as long you let them.

One of the variables that produces so much gnashing of teeth in passionate listeners is the acoustic environment. Every one is different, every one has its own effect on the listening experience and every one colours the sound, for better or worse, in some way.

Such a concern is something high-profile speaker-maker Sonos is looking to address. The company – which usually specialises in speakers, home theatre systems and component production – has created an app that fine-tunes your speakers output to match the acoustic environment of a room – something that used to require a lot of know-how and a very well-tuned set of ears to achieve.

Using an app, or rather, the free update to the Sonos app, an iPhone or iPad and a Sonos speaker, you can precisely analyse the acoustic profile of the room, determine how sound is reflecting off surfaces around the speaker, and then adjust the output of the speaker accordingly.

And before you call ‘gimmick’ on the whole concept (known as ‘Sonos Trueplay’), know that the idea was first suggested by none other than music industry heavyweight Rick Rubin.

“Any time we get new speakers in the studio, we hire a professional to come in and tune the speakers to the room,” he says. “Every room sounds different, so you need someone to come in and EQ those speakers for the space. So I suggested to John [MacFarlane], the founder of Sonos, that it would be interesting if there were a way to make that same technology available for everybody.”

Four years later, Rubin got to hear his idea made real.

“When they demonstrated it [Trueplay] for me, they put the speaker inside an empty cardboard box and closed the box. When I listened to the speaker through the box, it sounded as muffled as you’d imagine, like if you’re talking with your hand placed over your mouth. Then they used this tuning system. And with the same speaker in the same closed box in the room, it magically sounded like it wasn’t in the box anymore. It was amazing. So now, if you can’t optimally place your speakers in the room and the only place that there’s a plug is behind a sofa, you can place the speaker there and the music will still sound respectable.”

High praise from Rubin, but the company is no stranger to celebrity endorsements. It’s recently worked on a campaign with alternative artist-of-the-moment St. Vincent, Kiwi electro-popper Kimbra, and, for what it’s worth, the company’s PLAY:5 smart speaker recently made Oprah’s prestigious ‘favourite things’ list.

The app is free and available here

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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