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Nakamichi vs Sonos: The Ultimate Surround Sound Showdown

As a digital technology expert and audio enthusiast, I‘ve spent countless hours testing and comparing home audio equipment from all the top brands. Two names that consistently deliver impressive sound and performance are Nakamichi and Sonos. Both brands have loyal followings and receive frequent praise from reviewers. But they also have some significant differences in their approaches to speaker design, surround sound, and whole-home audio.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll provide an in-depth comparison of Nakamichi and Sonos, focusing on their flagship surround sound systems but also touching on their broader product lines. I‘ll dive into the details of their histories, engineering, performance specs, features, and more to help you decide which brand might be the best choice for your home audio needs and preferences.

Company Backgrounds and Philosophies

Nakamichi has a longer and more storied history, having been founded way back in 1948 in Japan. They initially focused on manufacturing portable radios, but in the 1970s they became a leading innovator in tape recording technology. Nakamichi‘s cassette decks were widely considered the best available and set the benchmark for audio fidelity.

In the early 2000s, Nakamichi entered the home theater market, applying their expertise in audio engineering to surround sound speaker systems. Their design philosophy emphasizes pure performance, aiming to reproduce the full dynamic range and immersive sound of a high-end commercial cinema in the home.

Sonos was founded much more recently, in 2002, by a group of engineers and entrepreneurs in Santa Barbara, California. Their goal from the start was to transform home audio by making it easy to enjoy music in any room wirelessly. Sonos pioneered the whole-home wireless audio category and has continued to refine their products and platform.

Sonos‘ philosophy prioritizes simplicity, versatility, and expandability. They want to make it dead simple to set up a great-sounding system and provide the flexibility to easily add more speakers over time as your needs grow. Sonos also values aesthetics, with most of their speakers sporting sleek, minimalist designs.

Surround Sound Showdown

Now let‘s take a closer look at how Nakamichi and Sonos‘s current flagship home theater and surround sound systems compare. We‘ll start with Nakamichi‘s Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 SSE system and Sonos‘ Arc surround set with Sub and One SL surrounds.

Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 SSE

The Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 is a beast of a system designed for the most demanding home theater enthusiasts. As the name suggests, it‘s a 9.2.4 channel configuration, meaning it has 9 main speakers (including 4 wireless two-way rears), 2 subwoofers, and 4 upward-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X height effects.

The main soundbar clocks in at a substantial 45.5" wide to match 55"+ TVs and features a whopping 18 drivers:

  • Ten 1.75" full-range drivers
  • Four 1" tweeters
  • Two 4.5" woofers
  • Two 1.75" side-firing drivers for an expanded front soundstage

The wireless rears each have a 1" tweeter and 2.5" full-range driver, while the two subwoofers pack 10" drivers and 200W of amplification each. All together, Nakamichi specifies a frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz and maximum SPL of 106dB – more than enough output and bass extension to pressurize a large room.

In terms of surround processing, the Shockwafe Ultra supports Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, and DTS-HD Master Audio. It offers plenty of connectivity too, with three 4K passthrough HDMI inputs and one HDMI eARC output, plus optical, coaxial, and analog inputs.

Other notable features include a room calibration system with included mic, aptX HD Bluetooth for high-quality music streaming, a remote with LCD display for easier control and sound mode selection, and a dialog enhancement mode. The build quality is also top-notch, with wood cabinets and piano gloss finishes.

Professional reviews of the Shockwafe Ultra have been glowing. CNET called it "an extraordinary sound machine" and gave it an Editors‘ Choice award, praising its "gutsy, visceral sound" and how well it "blurs the line between sound bar and high-end home theater." Digital Trends was similarly enamored, saying the "sound is nothing short of fantastic" and "this is the soundbar to get if you want the most immersive performance you can find, period."

The biggest downside to the Shockwafe Ultra is its price, with an MSRP of $1,599. It‘s also quite large, so you‘ll need a suitable space for it. But if you want a true high-end surround sound experience without the complexity of separate AV components, it‘s tough to beat.

Sonos Arc Surround Set

Sonos‘ flagship soundbar is the Arc, which can be combined with a Sub and two One SL speakers for a 5.1.2 surround setup. While not as elaborate in pure driver count as the Nakamichi, the Sonos system still delivers excellent sound and some unique features.

The Arc itself is no lightweight at 45" wide and packs 11 drivers:

  • Eight oval woofers for the front L/C/R channels
  • Three silk-dome tweeters for clear treble
  • Two upward-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos height effects

The Arc supports Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD surround, but not DTS:X. It has a single HDMI eARC input and also supports Apple AirPlay 2 and streaming from a huge range of music services.

The Sonos Sub uses dual force-cancelling drivers and a class-D amp for deep, tight bass extension down to 25Hz. And the two One SL surrounds borrow the same internals as Sonos‘ popular One speaker for impressive performance from a small package.

Setup is dead simple using the Sonos app, which walks you through the process and optimizes the sound with Sonos‘ Trueplay room correction. Daily use is equally easy, with the app consolidating all your streaming services and the option to expand with more speakers over time.

In testing, I found the Arc surround system to deliver expansive, immersive sound with excellent clarity and vocal intelligibility. It can‘t match the dynamics, SPL, or bass extension of the much larger Nakamichi, but it‘s more than satisfying for most people. What you give up in ultimate performance you gain in ease of use and expandability.

Reviewers have praised the Arc system‘s impressive Atmos performance, cohesiveness, and musicality. What Hi-Fi called it a "simply fantastic surround sound experience" and gave it 5 stars, while Tom‘s Guide concluded "this is the best Dolby Atmos soundbar you can buy." The biggest criticism tends to be the price, with the Arc, Sub, and One SL surrounds totaling around $2,000.

Broader Product Lines

While we‘ve focused on their flagship surround systems, both Nakamichi and Sonos offer other home audio solutions at varying price points and for different needs.

Nakamichi has a full lineup of Shockwafe soundbars and surround systems in 5.1, 5.1.2, 7.1, and 7.1.4 configurations ranging from around $250 to $1,100 (not including the flagship 9.2.4 Ultra). They all use similar design language and aim to reproduce the company‘s signature dynamic sound, just with fewer channels and drivers than the range-topper. Even the entry-level Shockwafe Pro 7.1 is well-reviewed as an excellent value.

Sonos‘ product line includes several other soundbars below the Arc. The Beam ($449) is a more compact 3.0 option with Airplay and voice assistants, well-suited for smaller rooms and budgets. The entry-level Ray ($279) focuses on core performance in a smaller bar for TV and music. Sonos‘ most popular offerings are their standalone wireless speakers like the One ($219) and Five ($549), which can be expanded into wireless surround systems or used in other rooms.

Other Considerations

A few other points of comparison worth noting between Nakamichi and Sonos:

  • Nakamichi has the edge in connectivity options, with full HDMI switching on their higher-end models compared to Sonos‘ single eARC input. This allows for more flexible source setups.

  • Sonos offers both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control built into some speakers like the One and Beam, while Nakamichi has no built-in voice support.

  • Sonos supports a much wider range of music streaming services and has the edge for multi-room audio. While Nakamichi has Bluetooth and can stream, Sonos is really the leader in wireless whole-home audio.

  • Sonos has introduced portable battery-powered speakers like the Move and Roam for outdoor use, while Nakamichi remains focused on AC-powered home speakers.

  • Aesthetically, Sonos speakers have a more minimalist look with rounded grilles and solid colors, compared to Nakamichi‘s more angular designs with exposed drivers and LED accents. Which looks better comes down to personal taste.

Market Positioning and Sales

According to a 2021 report from Grand View Research, the global home audio equipment market size was valued at over $30 billion in 2020. Soundbars in particular have seen rapid growth, with a market share of over $6 billion.

While Sonos and Nakamichi don‘t disclose specific sales figures, some outside estimates and data points are available. As a public company, Sonos reported 2021 annual revenue of $1.7 billion, up 29% year over year. Their filing cites over 12.5 million products sold to nearly 8 million households worldwide.

Nakamichi is part of parent company Nimble Holdings but doesn‘t appear to break out sales. A 2019 report from Research Nester projected the global soundbar market to grow at 3.3% CAGR through 2027, with North America leading in revenue. They cited Nakamichi among the prominent market players "expected to increase competition."

So while Sonos is the larger company overall, both brands seem well-positioned to benefit from rising consumer demand for soundbars and home theater upgrades. Nakamichi has strong momentum in the premium segment, while Sonos leads in the fast-growing mid-range.

Conclusion

Nakamichi and Sonos represent two of the top choices in home audio today, each with their own strengths. Nakamichi‘s singular focus on delivering the most cinematic, dynamic surround sound is evident in their Shockwafe systems. For discerning home theater enthusiasts willing to invest in the best, their flagship 9.2.4 Ultra is tough to top – it‘s a true audiophile-grade solution in a soundbar form factor.

Sonos takes a more holistic approach to home audio, focusing on simplicity, versatility, and whole-home wireless music in addition to home theater. Their Arc surround system is still very capable for immersive Atmos sound and offers seamless expandability. It‘s an easier entry point for those who want great sound without the sticker shock or complexity.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to your specific priorities and needs. If you‘re building a dedicated high-end theater room and want reference-quality surround sound, Nakamichi is definitely worth auditioning. If you‘re looking for an easier, more affordable setup for mixed home theater and music use that can grow over time, Sonos is the leader to beat.

What‘s certain is that both brands are pushing the envelope in their own ways and making better sound more accessible for everyone. As an audio enthusiast, I‘m excited to see how they continue to innovate and bring the emotion and immersion of great audio into more homes. Hopefully this in-depth comparison has given you the insights to decide which one is right for you.