With Sonos announcing only yesterday that Airplay support was coming to the Sonos range, as well as updating their iPhone and iPad apps – we thought it was about time we took the Sonos for a spin.
Let me start this by saying the Sonos multi-room system is the best solution available for getting multiple sources of music playing throughout your home – period. It’s not necessarily the cheapest, but it is without doubt the most complete solution you will find – and we love it!
The Sonos comes as a suite of devices that each serves a slightly different purpose. The first is the Zp90, a device that plugs into your existing audio system or powered speakers via either analog phono or digital optical cabling. The second is the ZP120, a box that comes with its own built-in amplifier ready to be plugged directly into a set of standard speakers and the third is the recently released S5, a standalone speaker box with Sonos features built-in. Optionally, dependent on your home, you may also need the Zonebridge 100 – a network switch that links your router to the Sonos network.
For the purposes of this review we will be mainly focussing on the ZP90 and the S5.
As those who know me will testify, I am a long time Apple fan and have always been of the belief that no other company can offer an easier setup of device as the men (and women) from Cupertino. That opinion has been very much shaken with the discovery of the Sonos system.
We started our setup with the ZP90. Physically, it was a case of plugging the audio cable (optical in this case) into our AV receiver and the power lead and network lead into the back if the box. It is worth noting that if your router and hi-fi are in separate rooms you will need to purchase the aforementioned Zonebridge 100 to get the Sonos up and running.
From this point you have a couple of options to get everything moving. You can either use the supplied Sonos software on your Mac or Pc, or the controller software for iPhone or iPad.
After installation, to get the software to see the ZP90, you simply press the mute and volume up buttons on the box and it will appear on your computer or iDevice.
Once this first connection has been made, you have a vast array of options available to you. You can add iTunes libraries from local computers, set up streaming music sources and set favorite Internet radio stations. We will cover more on where you can get your music from later in the review.
So, we have one box setup now – but it’s not a multi room until we have another, and this is where the simplicity gets even simpler.
Using either your computer, iPad or iPhone, tap add new device, press the mute and volume up button on your second box, (the S5 in our case) and hey presto – you now have two zones. This process can be repeated for up to 32 Sonos units. It is a beautiful process, well thought out and perfectly implemented.
The choice of where you get your music with Sonos is expansive. When the units first launched, you were limited to streaming your own mp3’s from a computer or network-attached storage. Don’t get me wrong this was great, with multiple formats supported (full list here), but we have been spoiled over the years and this is no longer enough to truly satisfy.
Out of the box you have instant free access to thousands of internet radio stations from around the world. You can also connect to Deezer Radio as well as the highly popular Pandora Radio, totally free of charge. There is a veritable plethora of further choices available dependent on your location and wallet. The full list of services available in you country can be found here.
I am Europe based, so sadly couldn’t enjoy the use of Pandora, but I did get to test out the fantastic Spotify. If you haven’t heard of it, Spotify is a music streaming service, with access to over 10 million tracks at the time of writing. It has an ad-supported free model which allows you to listen to music on your computer, or a £10 ($17) a month for uninterrupted 320kbps streaming, as well as offline and mobile playback. You need the premium subscription to use Spotify with your Sonos. The service only out in a few countries at present, but with a US launch promised in the next 3-6 months, you have a lot to look forward to.
With the new software update, which adds Airplay support via Airport Express into your Sonos, we were able to stream tunes directly from our iPhone to every room in the home. With this being a brand spanking new feature – we won’t know exactly how effective it will be until further testing, but suffice it to say – so far it looks good. It’s a great feature for when you have friends over who want to play their tunes on your home stereo, and has a million other permutations too – we just haven’ thought of them yet!
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to how you would like to control your Sonos as well. There is of course the standalone hardware controller – but more importantly there is a controller for iPod/iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC, and as of yesterday (19/4/2011) – Android devices too.
The interface is simple and intuitive – giving you access to music playback, EQ settings and more for every zone in your home.
“It just works” is obviously a mantra the Sonos team have drummed into them everyday as the software opens perfectly every time and we have yet to see it crash over months of use.
Our only gripe with the iPhone app, was that the graphical assets are low resolution, so the app looks a little muddy on an iPhone 4 and latest iPod Touch. I’m sure it won’t be long until we see an update to address these faults.
The Sonos multiroom system is a beautifully made system. Everything from the matte white plastic of the ZP90 to the perfectly formed metal grille on the S5 is high quality and you can tell that visual design is as much of a priority as the sound itself.
Speaking of sound – and we can only judge the S5, as all the other units require their own speakers, it really is awesome. The S5 fills the room with beautiful noise. Bass is low and thumpy, highs are high and the detail levels are superb. We could go so far as to say that the Sonos S5 is the best sounding standalone speaker we have seen.
From a reliability perspective, we can’t claim to have had a smooth ride all the way. About a month into our testing, there was an update to our Airport Extreme Router. For some reason this totally wiped out all settings relating to the Sonos, and no number of resets or reconfiguration seemed to fix it.
Where Sonos really shone was in their amazing customer service. After bringing up a web chat window on the Sonos website and explaining our situation, the representative skillfully and expertly guided us through the steps to rectify the issue, even taking control of our Mac at one point to sort the issue himself.
While no-one likes it when gadgets go wrong, knowing that a knowledgable and friendly team are on hand to help really gives you peace of mind.
The one sticking point we have encountered whenever Sonos is mentioned is the price. With units retailing for somewhere between $350 and $400 a piece, kitting out a 5 room home quickly adds up.
This reviewer has always been of the belief that you get what you pay for, (heck, that’s why we all have Apple gear in the first place, right?), and this is true in the case of the Sonos as well.
Yes, there are cheaper systems that will enable you to have music in every room of your house, but there are none that do it with as much style and grace as the Sonos. Everything works perfectly and looks fantastic. Compare this to a custom installed, wired multi room system and the Sonos suddenly becomes very cheap – typical professional quality installs can easily cost thousands of dollars.
You will be able to tell from the tone of this review, that we are totally in love with the Sonos system. Having used it for a few months I can assure it is worth every penny and has actually changed the way we listen to music.
With the addition of something like Spotify/Pandora, we have discovered more music than ever before possible, and all in high quality – all over our home. Once you try Sonos, you will never go back.
The Sonos multiroom system is available direct from Sonos.com or through Apple.