Music As It Should Be, Brought To You By Sonos

Music As It Should Be, Brought To You By Sonos

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.

Music As It Should Be, Brought To You By SonosSetup

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.

Music Sources

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!

Music As It Should Be, Brought To You By Sonos

Control

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.

Quality/reliability

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.

Price

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.

Overall

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.

Rating: ★★★★★

Related
  • Guest

    pics dont load!?

  • gareth edwards

    ‘Sounds’ (bleugh, no pun intended, sorry) like a good system. I’ve walked paste the window of my local independent hi-fi shop and they have a Sonos system in the window and have done for over a year. Looks cool and very well built. If the only quibble is price (and it’s not that much – I spent £450 on a pair of second hand BlueRoom speakers FFS!) then if you like music it’s a no brainer.

  • Guest

    I would be very interesting in reading how this stacks up vs. a multi-room system based on Airport Express and/or Apple TV. What are the main selling points that justify the much higher price tag?
    Thanks for the review. I’ve been interested in Sonos for years, but never taken the plunge due to price.

  • prof_peabody

    No offence, but this sounds like the opposite of what you say it is. In other words it sounds like a nightmarishly complicated and mostly unnecessary system that requires a lot of setup and management.

    All anyone with an iPhone really needs are Airplay speakers, which you tease us with Sonos offering in the opening sentences but then never really explain. I’m guessing the S5 is a basic Airplay speaker, but you never really say if it is.

    The long aside on Pandora, Spotify, and Internet radio is especially weird considering the technology is old, and every computer or audio device I’ve had (or even heard of), for the last five or six years also contains this functionality.

    If the S5 is actually an Airplay speaker and can be bought and used outside of the rest of this stuff, I would buy one in a heartbeat, but otherwise this system just seems like a lot of time and money for a very small payback IMO.

  • Will Moore

    Hey – Thanks for the comment. I agree that Internet radio and streaming music etc have been around a long time, but I have never seen as easy a way to listen to it in every room of your home, without the addition of a computer.

    You are right about the Airplay functionality – I am yet to give it a full test, as I mention in the post – I will probably do an update in due course :)

    Have a great day

    Will

  • God

    To use the Sonos devices with AirPlay, you need to have an Airport Express connected to the Sonos. So it’s really not an AirPlay compatible speaker. Will – you need to make sure you research these announcements before simply writing what you read in the press release. I have the Sonos system and love it, but miss the implied AirPlay functionality I had hoped for with my iPhone.

  • Robert

    Actually, while this Sonos gear does seem to be nice stuff, and likely works well, it is not, as you state, “Music the Way it Should Be”.

    While this is a small step in the right direction–of reasonable fidelity to recorded music–it is part of the continuing erosion of music reproduction in the home. I am not a snob about this, but I have a good stereo system, and I won’t sacrifice quality for hippness. Yes, I do have ipods–for when I am on the run.

  • Will Moore

    I agree that music is more than MP3′s – I personally still buy a lot of vinyl – I don’t think you can beat the richness of sound from an analog format – however, compared to a lot of mp3 systems – The sonos is of much better quality than some :)

  • Matt

    I have a multi-speaker setup in my apartment (two airport expresses & one AppleTV2). It works brilliantly, sounds great, and is incredibly easy to use (whether on my computer or iPhone). I don’t really understand how Sonos has differentiated their products, and would like to see a comparison as well.

  • Brandon Snipes

    Great product, Great review … I have two !

  • Clay

    Something to be certain of – the fidelity of the music played by your Sonos system is just as-good-as whatever you give it. So if your music library is FLAC or Apple Lossless, then your Sonos is going to be playing bit-perfect representations of your music – just like if you were listening to those CD’s being played through your receiver. That begs the question then of what you might consider to be “of reasonable fidelity to recorded music” is?

    Certainly, Music sources such as Pandora / Rhapsody are not as high quality – but what of your own music library’s fidelity?

  • Jeff Schader

    I like the desktop controller UI. Looks great. So does their industrial design though. I use Bose normally but with airplay this may be something to look into. Thanks Will for the review.

  • Lee Fyock

    With a Sonos system, you can have several rooms playing the same music, precisely in sync, or you can have different music playing in different rooms. Using the iPhone or other controller software, you can move the music you’re listening to in one room to another room. You can also make two Sonos components into a stereo pair, and the system will split the audio up.

About the author

Will Moore

Will Moore is a freelance writer based in the UK - He specializes in consumer technology and is a long time Apple fan. As well as cultofmac.com, Will also writes for a number of popular european tech sites such as techradar.com, electricpig.co.uk, The Gadget Show and more. He is married and lives in Maidstone UK, with his wife, Lydia. A keen amateur photographer and videographer, Will can often be found around the UK coastline documenting one of his loves - the sea and UK surf scene.

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