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Sonos explains why 'Recycle Mode' bricks old speakers

Sonos explains why 'Recycle Mode' bricks old speakers
(Image credit: Sonos)

Sonos has felt some heat over the holiday break after users noticed a Recycle Mode that suggested they 'brick' their Sonos speaker in order to get a discount on an upgrade.

Sonos offers a 30 per cent discount on a new speaker if you follow its recycling steps, but these steps include deactivating your existing speaker in a seemingly irreversible way. Users suggested this was somewhat wasteful and at odds with the overall message of recycling. 

Sonos supports its wireless speakers with software updates much longer than most, with many of its products having an impressively long life – facts that make 'bricking' a perfectly usable device all the more galling.

A Sonos spokeswoman told What Hi-Fi?: "Our commitment to sustainability starts with the way we design our products. Through the materials we choose and the quality of our craftsmanship, we build Sonos products to last for many years. And via software updates, we’ve been able to keep these early products in active use (and by extension out of landfills) much longer than most other consumer electronics products. In fact, 92% of the products we’ve ever sold - even those launched more than 10 years ago - are still in use today.

"We provide regular software updates and new features for years after customers buy our products. Today, the Trade Up program only includes four of our oldest products, launched more than a decade ago. The reality is that these older products lack the processing power and memory to support modern Sonos experiences, for example support for Apple’s AirPlay2.

"For those that choose to trade-up to new products, we felt that the most responsible action was not to reintroduce these older products 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.

Recycle mode is specific only to the four products included in the Trade Up program. It wipes locally stored data from the device and disables it from being reconnected to Sonos. After a customer has initiated Recycle Mode, we encourage them to take their old devices to a local certified e-waste recycling facility. This approach is much more environmentally friendly than packing up and shipping heavy devices back to Sonos. That said, our priority is to keep old players out of the landfill, so if local recycling isn’t an option, customers are welcome to ship it back to Sonos at our expense."

It seems Sonos, in very much trying to do the right thing, has slightly bungled the methodology. It's great that the company's speakers last so long, and it's clearly a positive that people are inclined to upgrade to the company's new models. And a discount - who doesn't like a discount? But the forced 'bricking' of an otherwise working speaker is wrong. Recycling this as a refurbished model seems more sensible, much like the Apple Certified Refurbished program. Sonos tells us its "always looking at ways to improve customer experiences", so whose to say this program might be updated in time.