There are countless examples of the consumer audio industry paying homage to rock and rap music-including, of course, innumerable celeb-endorsed headphones-but the times when the industry pays attention to the jazz world are few and far between. Sonos is taking one small step to correct this oversight with a new Blue Note wireless speaker, available starting March 5 in a limited edition of 4,000 units: 2,000 for the U.S. and Canada, and 2,000 for Europe.
The Blue Note Play:1 is technically the same as Sonos’ original Play:1, but with a blue fade finish. It also includes one year of access to Artist Selects, a Blue Note Internet radio station that’s exclusive to the Blue Note Play:1. Artist Selects includes content curated by current Blue Note artists such as Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Robert Glasper, Jose James and Lionel Loueke. It also includes 125 tunes chosen by Blue Note president and famed producer Don Was.
The unit can also stream Blue Note 101 (which contains cuts chosen from the label’s 75-year catalog) and Born in Blue (featuring artists who have sampled Blue Note recordings), although those channels are already available through TuneIn Radio and iTunes.
Cost of the Blue Note Play:1 is $250, versus $199 for the standard Play:1 in black or white.
If you’re not hip to Sonos, here’s how it works. The Sonos unit connects wirelessly to your home WiFi network. It can stream music stored on your networked computers and hard drives, and on smartphones and tablets running on iOS (iPhone, iPad) or Android. It can also stream 35 Internet music services such as Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, Rdio and Amazon Music.
You can run as many Sonos units as you want, streaming different music on each one or grouping them together as you wish, and you can control them all from a computer, smartphone or tablet. Each unit has its own volume, mute and power buttons for those times when you can’t find your phone. You can pair two units for stereo sound and also add a wireless subwoofer for more bass.
I’ve reviewed every Sonos product and performed full laboratory measurements on them, and I and many other audio experts consider the Play:1 to be the best product the company offers, even if it is the least expensive. It’s built like a high-quality audiophile minispeaker, with a separate woofer and tweeter — and it has the added bonus of digital signal processing that allowed Sonos’ engineers to tune the 6.4-inch-high unit to perfection. It delivers the cleanest, most natural sound I’ve heard from a wireless product in its price range, or even double its price range.
Is the Blue Note Play:1 worth the $51 premium compared with the original Play:1? That’s your call. If you dig the paint job (I do) and you like owning something that’s a limited tribute to one of jazz’s more storied record labels, then it’s a great buy. The Artist Selects stream is nice-I certainly enjoyed the nonstop stream of jazz classics on the pre-launch product sample Sonos sent me-but I was disappointed that the Sonos app just tells you the artist and the song title, not who curated it. It’d be nice to be able to listen to something like “Robert Glasper’s 25 favorite Blue Note recordings.”
Regardless, I’m thrilled to see a consumer audio company giving jazz its due. Now if we can only get Beats to do a Sonny Rollins headphone …