Sonos Radio could be the answer to your lockdown entertainment needs, if you're after something a bit more thoughtful than Melody or Radio 1. Because as bizarre as it might seem, Sonos is launching a rival to America's NPR rather than to Britain's BBC Radio 1 or Radio 2.
Sure, you could call Sonos Radio's main features – Sonos Stations and Sonos Sound System – a rival to Apple Music's Beats radio service. However, where Apple had Zane Lowe and a focus on pop, hip-hop and what the undiplomatic might call 'middle-brow crud', Sonos is hitting the older, more high-brow market HARD. It's called on support from Thom Yorke of Radiohead and David Byrne of Talking Heads, who will be running their own channels within Sonos Radio. Oh, and who do you think is doing the Sonos Music station jingles? The world's second most revered living composer, Philip Glass!
Not only is it great to see older folk keeping busy during the lockdown crisis, this also suggests it will be great lockdown entertainment, albeit for a relatively small proportion of the population. The way Sonos Radio is arranged is a little bit confusing, but if you can understand how all its different elements work together, you're probably cerebral enough to enjoy listening to Thom Yorke and David Byrne's favourite music all day, ad free.
If that all sounds a bit much, don't worry because Sonos Radio also has 30+, ad-supported streaming stations devoted to popular genres from hip-hop to country. All you need is a Sonos speaker!
- Best Sonos deals – in case you currently don't have a Sonos speaker
- Sonos Radio is available via the Sonos app 'from today' (opens in new tab), although you may need to wait to be able to access the latest update on the App Store or Google Play
Sonos says half of all listening via its app already consists of radio stations – the Sonos app gives access to a huge number of online stations, broadcast from around the world. So in many ways, Sonos Radio overall is more of a branding exercise than something really new.
What is really new is the launch of Sonos' own curated selection of stations – known as Sonos Stations. Previously, radio streaming was only through third-party streaming services, via the Sonos app. And perhaps the biggest news is that within Sonos Stations are channels curated entirely by stars such as Thom Yorke and David Byrne.
There's also Sonos' very own 'station': Sonos Sound System, broadcasting live with special star guests from the Sonos Store in NYC.
Sonos Stations are 'handpicked by a team of curators, DJs and artists', from over 30 genres including reggae, indie, electronic, hip-hop, country, pop and electronica. There's also a 'Cocktail Hour' channel, for when it is Wine O'Clock – unless you are trying to stop drinking alcohol to lose weight, of course.
More excitingly, ad-free 'artist stations' will feature tunes solely picked by artistes. This kicks off with a station from Thom Yorke, called 'In The Absence Thereof…'
I'm pretty sure I'm not sticking my neck out here when I say I think In The Absence Thereof… will not be packed with red-hot pop jams and anthemic bangers. However, I'm sure it'll have some interesting stuff on it, for the more adventurous listener. Apparently the Radiohead front man kicked the channel off in high style with an hour-long drone by Ben Vida, dedicated to Beverly on her 17th anniversary. After that was the weather.
Sadly, I don't think Thom is being forced to sit in his bedrooms with a microphone and headphones on, broadcasting 24/7 and giving traffic updates or taking your calls. But he probably will choose the artists and music that gets streamed.
Further artist-curated stations will follow 'in the coming weeks' from Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, David Byrne, and Third Man Records, with even more coming in future.
Sonos Sound System
Sonos Radio also introduces Sonos Sound System, 'curated and hosted by the Sonos team', and recorded in the brand's New York flagship store – I've been there, it's very plush.
Sonos Sound System will also include guest spots 'from the likes of Angel Olsen, JPEGMAFIA, Phoebe Bridgers, Jeff Parker (Tortoise), Vagabon, and more.'
One interesting technical note here is that Sonos has used AI developed by Super Hi-Fi to ensure volume levels remain consistent across songs and ads. This also allows for 'song blending, and seamlessly mixing in voice commentary'.
So that's quite cool, I guess.
Oh, and one interesting non-technical note is that the Sonos Radio station jingles have been composed by Philip Glass. Or as Sonos puts it, 'Sonos will also debut its new sonic branding, created by iconic composer Philip Glass, with Sonos Radio.'
Now that is cool.
Sonos Radio as a whole brings together 'more than 60,000 stations from multiple streaming partners' – this is not new as such, but it certainly is a lot of choice. Internet radio services including TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Napster, Global and Radio.com provide the bulk of this, with 'more to come'.
Sonos will also make streaming services that are currently limited to certain locations available worldwide, for even more choice.
Local stations can be searched for by location, or you can dip into any station from around the world as you see fit. Balinese jazz followed by the best of Angolan techno, perhaps.
Some words from our sponsor
And finally, here are some choice words from Thom Yorke on his Sonos Radio station.
in a new form
ever rolling compilation / office chart habit of mine
of putting together what i have found recently that fascinates or moves me, what obsesses me, challenges me, opens new doors, reminds me of what i might have forgotten, is insanely complex or elegantly simple, violent, funny, messy, heavy or light. whatever has hit me over the head basically.
it may be new or old or just dug up again
this time we have behind doors i hope this provides a welcome connection and escape .. and perhaps stops the walls closing in quite so quick.
So that's nice, thanks Thom.
• Sonos Radio is available via the Sonos app 'from today', although you may need to wait to be able to access the latest update on the App Store or Google Play (opens in new tab)