Sonos Tries and Fails to Justify ‘Recycle Mode’ That Bricks Speakers

Sonos Tries and Fails to Justify ‘Recycle Mode’ That Bricks Speakers

Sonos was the first to make multi-room audio easy to set up, but swallowing the cost of its speakers wasn’t always as easy. Even in the age of internet-connected speakers from Google and Amazon, Sonos enjoys continued success thanks to its commitment to sound quality. However, the company has come under fire for the wasteful way it encourages customers to upgrade to new speakers — it bricks the old ones. Sonos’ defense of this practice is also laughably inept.

Even small Sonos speakers can cost several hundred dollars, which can make Sonos devotees hesitant to upgrade their expensive systems. So, Sonos implemented the Trade Up program that offers customers a 30 percent discount on select new speakers if they recycle the old ones. That sounds like a good deal at first, but Sonos really means it wants those old but perfectly functional speakers out of circulation.

Owners have to activate Recycle Mode on their old speakers to get the discount, which is really just a euphemism for self-destruct. After a 21-day countdown, the speaker stops working forever. E-waste recycler @atomicthumbs brought attention to this bizarre program on Twitter recently, pointing out that the speakers are completely functional on the hardware side. Sonos’ servers, however, will never again allow someone to activate them. Some customers have also accidentally tripped recycling mode only to find out there’s no way to stop the countdown. Sonos might as well just ask people to take a hammer to their old speakers and dump them in the trash.

This is the the most environmentally unfriendly abuse and waste of perfectly hardware I've seen in five years working at a recycler.

We could have sold these, and ensured they were reused, as we do with all the working electronics we're able. Now we have to scrap them.

— ralph waldo cybersyn (@atomicthumbs) December 27, 2019

Sonos has attempted to respond to this, saying that it wants Sonos users to have access to the newest features at a reasonable price. “For those that choose to trade-up to new products, we felt that the most responsible action was not to reintroduce them to new customers that may not have the context of them as 10+-year-old products, and that also may not be able to deliver the Sonos experience they expected,” Sonos says.

So, Sonos is claiming this is better for consumers because no one will end up with speakers that don’t have modern features. That’s an interesting angle, but it ultimately falls flat because it encourages wasteful disposal of working devices. Old Sonos speakers are often worth more than you’d get in discounts, too, and that’s more environmentally friendly. As many have pointed out, the best way to recycle an electronic device is to give it to someone else or refurbish it for resale. With Sonos speakers, the company’s policy means most of the materials like plastic will end up in a landfill.

(The editor would like to note his primary living room speakers are rebuilt original Advent Loudspeakers, at ~40 years old.)

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