Sonos Amp - Ear Pain

  • 19 December 2018
  • 13 replies

Just upgraded my Connect:Amp to the new Sonos Amp. The Amp is beautiful and was a breeze to set up, but I immediately noticed pressure and pain in my ears. I reconnected my old Connect:Amp and my ears were fine. I'm not sure what's causing this, though the Amp does seem a bit brighter. Dialing the treble all the way down helped a little, but not much.

My KEF Q150s have aluminum dome tweeters, and perhaps just don't play well with the new Amp. Maybe there's something else going on that I can't obviously detect. For completeness, I also have a KEF sub wired up. Anyone else experiencing something similar?

13 replies

I have the Sonos Amp wired to a pair of B&W CM6 S2 bookshelf speakers outfitted with aluminium double dome tweeters.

For some reason the Sonos Amp sound signature seems to be very bright. I too have to dial down the treble under the EQ settings to no avail. Most reviews so far relate the same listening experiences as well. This is a bit odd considering Sonos has been demoing their new Sonos Amp on B&W 700 series loudspeakers.

I have previously owned a NAD D 7050 60 watts amplifier equipped with a similar Qualcom DDFA digital chipset. The NAD amplifier did not exhibit the same problem.

I currently own a NAD C 368 Hybrid Digital amplifier equipped with a Hypex UcD hybrid digital chipset and have been performing A / B comparisons to try and understand what is going on.

I can definitely detect that the Sonos Amp appears to be performing some form of psychoacoustics techniques most probably via it's onboard DSP in order to maximize the soundstage. This is great for movies and games with the centre channel effect but unfortunately lessens stereo separation and imaging for critical music listening.

The NAD amplifier outputs sound that is neutral, balanced with instruments and vocals that are well defined and easier to locate within the soundstage. The stereo separation is precise and the sound appears to be coming from the front where the speakers are located.

The Sonos Amp outputs sound that is very bright with instruments and vocals that are precise to the point of being harsh but harder to locate within the soundstage. The stereo separation is not optimal and the sound appears to be coming from all sides.

I hope this can be rectified via a future firmware upgrade as an amplifier should be able to output a neutral sound without having to alter the EQ settings.

I wish the onboard DSP effects could be turned off and remembered on a per input basis. I wouldn't mind having these features turned on when watching movies or playing video games but would rather have them turned off when listening to music.

I decided to directly compare my old Connect:Amp with my new Amp by connecting one speaker to each unit and switching between them - I always used the same channel, but tested both left and right. I tried with volume matched, higher on one, and higher on the other, but I always left the sub unplugged. I also tested with different EQ settings and loudness on both. In each scenario, I thought the Connect:Amp was less clear than the Amp, but much fuller and warmer. The new Amp always sounded thin and lifeless and I would immediately feel an uncomfortable pressure on my eardrums.

I really want to like this thing, and it sounds like a lot of people do - what am I missing? Could I have set something up wrong? Is there a way to modify the amp or DSP beyond what's offered in the app?
Userlevel 7
Badge +22
Hi jbagg22

As a rule; BS (Before Sonos) :8 I would always purchase speakers with more Peak Handling Power (PHP) than my Amp or AV Receiver could output in Watts Per Channel (WPC). For example: Amp @ 100 WPC / Speakers @ 150+ Watts PHP.

Per my research the KEF Q150's have a PHP of 100 Watts. The Connect Amp @ 55 WPC drove the KEF Q150's at an adequate level without pushing them beyond their capacity. The Sonos Amp @ 125 WPC are probably pushing the KEF's slightly beyond their PHP. To compensate the Sonos Amp's level will have to be lowered so as not to damage the KEF's along with making other acoustic adjustments.

So it's quite possible that the KEF Q150's sound better with the Connect Amp @ 55 WPC vs the Sonos Amp @ 125 WPC.

AjTrek1, that's some great advice - thanks! I was aware of the potential to damage the speakers, but figured my ear drums (and max volume setting) would prevent me from reaching that level. So far, I've only gone as high as half way on the Amp, and always felt the same, even at low volumes.

I suppose my understanding of amplifier power and speakers could use some dusting off. I had assumed that, if two amps, one twice the power of the other, are played at the same perceived volume on the same speakers, the higher powered unit would be outputting roughly the same power. Of course it would be capable of hitting transients that the lower powered unit would clip, but the volume would have to be near that latter unit's max.

What I hear you saying is that no matter the actual volume, simply the fact that the speakers' max power is less than Amp's higher power could create problems, even at low volumes, since the Amp still has the capacity for accurately hitting transients. Is that correct?
Userlevel 3
Badge +7
I'm using Elac B6 2.0's with the Amp.
I had read the AMP is very bright. I don't like brightness so turned down the treble in EQ.
However that seemed to have lost some detail so I moved treble back to the middle position.
I have no issues with high treble air brightness and stereo operation sounds fine and in fact very good.
I got the Elacs because of the sale price intending to replace them with something higher end later and Kef was on my list. perhaps not I will probably do tower speakers anyway.
Userlevel 3
Badge +7
This might be useful
Connecting speakers to an Amp or Connect:Amp
Userlevel 3
Badge +7
I'm now using Revel Concerta2 M16 speakers with the amp and they sound great. The Revels are known to be somewhat warm which I prefer anyway. Kef was number #1 on my list but based on what people are saying about the amp and treble I lost interest in Kef.
Userlevel 3
Badge +7
I wonder if Sonos might do something about the treble in a firmware update.
Userlevel 3
Badge +7
Here is my setup.

Badge +1
I’ve had my Sonos Amp now for a week and it did sound a bit bright when I first listened to it. I have now read quite a few impressions that mentioned the same thing and I attribute it to the fact that the Amp needs to breakin with music played through it for several hours. This was the case with another Class D amp I purchased several years ago. I’ve had the same amp and speakers for several years and swapping to the Sonos(after breakin) find it no more tonally different from my previous amp. Here’s a bit from a review where he mentions the advice from that manufacturer of my older Class D amp.

“NuPrime recommended 100–150 hour break-in time, so I gave the IDA-16 at least 200 hours of break-in before listening critically. Right out of the box, the IDA-16 sounded OK, but somewhat lifeless; however, after break-in it sounded a bit more dynamic, and the treble, which had been disappointing in some switching amplifiers I’d tried, became delicate and detailed.”

My advice is to run the amp while away with music to hurry the process and look forward to the amp opening up and sounding better. I sure others will follow and say it’s all BS, but I’ve read enough of folks first impressions of Class D amps along with my own experiences to brush them off. Maybe when I get my next Sonos Amp I’ll compare it to my broken in model and prove it again to myself.
I’ve had my Sonos Amp now for a week and it did sound a bit bright when I first listened to it. I have now read quite a few impressions that mentioned the same thing and I attribute it to the fact that the Amp needs to breakin with music played through it for several hours. This is as nonsensical and unscientific as it was on the other thread.
If it floats a boat...
The thing is that no one ever does the claimed comparison with the rigour of a controlled blind AB test, because there is effort involved to do that.
Userlevel 3
Badge +7

Updated picture with Skylan stands, highly recommended and the speakers were too high on the previous stands.


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