Sonos crowns its wireless audio system with its best model yet. (August 9th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Sonos
Price: $1,149 ($999 without speakers)
- Great integration of music services and sources.
- Excellent audio quality, design and build; customizable to varying needs.
- Intuitive Controller and computer software; iPhone/iPod app.
- Cheap versus custom installations.
- Might be pricey for some.
- Remote could be lighter and slimmer.
Sonos was founded with the dream of building a reasonably affordable whole home audio solution in an era where many systems did (and often still do) cost several thousand dollars or more. Now on its second generation of hardware and with much more mature software, it's possible the company's music system may have reached its zenith. We want determine just how true that is in our larger review.
a brief recap of features
Those unfamiliar with Sonos' hardware will want a refresher. At its root, a system involves three main products: controllers (with controller software), players and bridges. If the Sonos system had a heart it would undoubtedly be the Sonos ZoneBridge. The ZoneBridge unit connects Sonos ZonePlayers and Sonos Controllers to the internet and to your home network. The ZoneBridge also powers an AES-encrypted, 802.11n Wi-Fi connection that wirelessly links all of the Sonos components.
ZonePlayers come in two flavors, amplified and output-only. Both types of player are equipped with RCA and digital audio outputs to connect home theater equipment. Amplified players can also be directly connected to stereo bookshelf speakers and work best in rooms where a home theater system doesn't already exist. The Players even have line-in jacks to share audio from a source in one room with other rooms. In our case, we had the Speaker Bundle 250, which adds a pair of Sonos' own bookshelf speakers.
Steering the Sonos network is accomplished in three ways. The Sonos Controller is arguably the preferred method, but Sonos also offers free Mac and Windows software to control the network as well as an app for the iPhone and iPod touch. Controllers not only select which players play what music but also control volume and the music selection and sources.
equipment tested and setup
For our review we tested both the Sonos Speaker 250 bundle and a Sonos ZoneBridge. The Speaker 250 bundle includes a Sonos Controller and both a non-amped ZonePlayer 90 as well as an amped ZonePlayer 120 with a set of Sonos bookshelf speakers.
Setup of the entire system was very straight forward. While the Sonos ZonePlayers have wired Ethernet connections for those who can hardwire their system, we opted for an all-wireless setup. We connected the ZoneBridge to our router and powered up the ZonePlayer 120 along with the controller and speakers. After installing the software and powering up the controller and selecting our language, we were ready to go. The entire install only took 5 minutes and we barely glanced at the documentation.
music services and sources
The Sonos system can almost literally play music from just about anywhere and everyone. We tried every source we could and were consistently impressed. From accessing music in our local MP3 library to playing tracks from last.fm, Pandora radio, Rhapsody, and even local FM channels through digital rebroadcast via the Internet. We were consistently impressed with the sound quality, the ease of use, and sophistication and simplicity of the system. Sonos also includes support for paid subscription services like Napster's unlimited plan, XM Radio, and Sirius Satellite Radio and even line-in functionality to play audio from a source in one room to players in another room.
On top of playing music from different sources the Sonos system also plays to different zones, or one or more players all playing a single source. We tested the system with two zones running different audio sources and with the two players synced. The Sonos system ran beautifully and didnít so much as hiccup during any of our track or zone changes.