Sonos Digital Music System

Thursday 19th May, 2005
I've now seen the Sonos Digital Music System in the flesh and installed in the UK. It's simply fantastic and I could not believe just how good it is.

Imagine an iPod style device with a large clear colour screen, just big enough to need two hands. On it is a familiar iPod style wheel controller, the screen and some extra buttons for volume, track skip etc. This is what the Sonos remote consists of. You're sat in the lounge, you ensure the "Lounge" zone is connected and pick an artist/album/genre/track and press play. The sound instantly comes out of your choice of loudspeaker in the same room.

Unsurprisingly, the device generating the music output is called a Zone Player. It's connected to the mains power supply and then to all the other zones and controllers in your home wirelessly using their highly efficient proprietary mesh system. Just one of these zone players needs to be physically connected to your home digital music library which can be MP3/FLAC/AAC/WMA based. Once your library is shared on your home network, from either a NAS or just a PC that acts as a server, it can be accessed by all mesh connected zone players.

Each zone player can act as a standalone hi-fi, playing the local users choice of music. Alternatively, zones can be grouped together so they are playing the same music. Devices are synchronised perfectly so there's no echo, not even an audible phase shift from other rooms. You walk from one room to others in the same zone group and hear the same output. Volume can be adjusted locally or across the whole zone.

Sound good? The beauty doesn't end there! Each zone player has several connections. Power, ethernet (for if you prefer CAT5 to wireless) and a few audio connections.

Speaker bindings allow you to connect up to 16ohms of speakers, more than one per output if you like as long as the impedence is between 4ohms and 16ohms. This allows you to use one zone player to supply 2 rooms, a hallway and a stairwell or maybe a bedroom + en suite.

Line out provides RCA/phono connectors for just that. This allows you to output to an existing hi-fi or home cinema system setup without the need to use the Sonos amp. Incidentally the Sonos pre-amp is still used to allow the Sonos controller to handle volume as normal.

The crowning glory comes with the Line-in support. Each zone player can accept input from an external device via the phono connectors. This can be a radio tuner (sadly there isn't one on-board, although it will "tune" internet radio stations) a cable or digital satellite box, a PC or maybe a DVD/CD player. The input device isn't just accessible on the local zone player, but any remote zones on the same mesh can also "tune in" to this input through the controller. Choosing  any input from any zone provides near instant output.

Any MP3 or similar libraries are supported, even iTunes playlists. The only real limit is that it can't play DRM protected WMA or AAC files, but there are ways to bypass these like jHymn to crack the Apple DRM.

Device limits are 30,000 tracks, 32 zone players and 32 controllers. Plenty enough for my requirement.

I've found a UK supplier and just awaiting confirmation of pricing which should come in at £899 for an intro pack consisting of 2 zone players and one controller.

UPDATE: I've now chosen a UK supplier. See
here for more details.

  1. 1) Greyhawk68 Said: (19/05/2005 16:31:10 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    I have been following Sonos on this for about a year now and I am completely drooling for one. I just have a really hard time shelling out the cash ($1199.00 US) right now. Maybe in a year or so. For now I still have about 1000 CD's to rip to MP3 yet (to add to my already 30GB collection.)

    Anyway, let us know how it goes if you snag one. I'd really like to see thoughts from a regular person in-the-wild so to speak :-)

    -Grey

  2. 2) Gareth Hansford Said: (27/05/2005 20:05:22 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Hi - I've got a Sonos system installed and it is every bit as good as Ben's report suggests. It is dead easy to set up and I used the line out to play via my home cinema system, and the line in to pick up radio channels that are not available via internet streaming. I've now moved my music collection to a NAS device which again was easy to do. All in all it's great!

    Gareth

  3. 3) Roy Clark Said: (13/06/2005 18:44:14 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    I also brought one of these Sonos players and am very impressed. I see { Link } are now offering them with 50 free rips too... I would have got htem to do my whole collection had I known a service was available - it took me ages...

  4. 4) Andy Barden Said: (17/04/2007 23:04:29 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    I also brought Sonos and am very impressed.

    apple must be very sad they didnt think of it! but i have 4 Sonos Zoneplayers and 2 contollers, and a great deal with some in-ceiling speakers from www.sonos-uk.co.uk will be putting some speakers in my garden soon.

  5. 5) Corporate Multimedia Solutions Said: (04/07/2007 08:55:49 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Indeed! we have just installed a large house with 18 Zones and 14 Controllers, and the whole system works like an absolute dream!!! Surely other than a built in DAB tuner this really couldn't get any better.... It is streaming music perfection!!!

  6. 6) Frank Said: (31/03/2008 09:14:13 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    I Like the new Logitech duet much more as it is more affortable (about half the price), the controller can be operated with one hand instead of the two hand sonos controller. The actual displayless device is much smaller and can easily be stuffed behind the stereo equipment it supports an open-source community bringing all kinds of plugins.

    Maybe sonos is better at streaming audio, synchronized, at a vast amount of devices (8+) but this is not a unique selling point if the user only has no need for it.

    (The owner of this log will probably remove this comment because it is not pro Sonos)

    Frank

  7. 7) Ben Rose Said: (31/03/2008 10:33:28 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Frank,

    The Logitech is indeed cheaper, as the old phrase goes...you get what you pay for. Your claim of 8+ devices is a bit inaccurate, Duet shows weaknesses against Sonos when synchronising just TWO players. When linked, it can't do gapless playback and also struggles to sync internet radio. The player linking is hidden in a complicated menu system and even something as simple as changing volume in the other room isn't simple and totally non-intuitive for new users. Another true weakness is shown when you exceed 3 rooms as Duet is unable to play Rhapsody in more than this number of rooms.

    It's also important to note that Sonos has dropped in price since this article was written, almost 3 years ago.

    (Anybody is entitled to an opinion, as long as it's on topic)

  8. 8) Frank Said: (02/04/2008 07:57:40 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    I believe a lot of review experience here is based on beta or early release of the duet release. True, some minor issues exists but it is a brand new product. In a few weeks time these issues and especially the synchronization problems will be resolved.

    Second, how many people really use synchronization? I believe being able to play different streams in different rooms for different audiences is much more of value. Both Sonos and Duet perform this task very well, only the Duet at half the price of Sonos.

    Rhapsody, Pandora are much acclaimed by Sonos users and is also supported by the Duet. It may be so that Sonos does a better job at synchronizing Rhapsody but since Rhapsody can't be used outside the USA and the world (and Sonos/Duet market) is much larger than the USA, Rhapsody synchronization is not an valid argument for non US citizens.

    Frank

  9. 9) Ben Rose Said: (02/04/2008 11:52:55 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Minor product issues, like the controller not working:

    { Link }

    This is not an isolated incident, the thread shows how it's affecting a LOT of customers...and there are just the ones who made it to the forums. They're already unhappy with the service they are receiving and some have already returned the product for a refund.

    Sonos was launched with no usability bugs and didn't perform their first update until a considerable times after the product launched.

    The Duet kit has already, in just a couple of weeks, had more software versions than Sonos has EVER had..in FIVE years. Customers are being told to "upgrade to the nightly build". This is supposed to be a commercially released product, not beta. Microsoft don't even release fixes this often.

    Rhapsody sync may not affect non US residents (you don't need to be a citizen, just have a US address), but internet radio sync does. Duet struggles with this too.

    For those outside the US, Sonos has Napster...which is imho an even better service. Sonos can sync this across 32 rooms too. Due to the way the SqueezeReceiver works, this can't happen in Duet either....it will be limited just like Rhapsody.

    Syncronisation is VERY popular and I'd say most Sonos owners use it every day...like having the same music on in the den and the kitchen.

  10. 10) Alasdair Said: (02/04/2008 13:26:57 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Ben,

    I must be the odd exception to these rules, I have three squeezeboxes and they all play different music all the time, I have a friend (single) who uses a sonos and find the sync useful, but when you have a family of kids they all want to listen to their own music not what dad wants to listen to.

    In addition, with regards to Napster, not interested, mp3s are such awful quality that they don't interest me, now if Linn streamed their Flac files I may be interested but the bandwidth limitations may be too much.

    Finally, wrt Rhapsody/Pandora/Slacker etc, you need a USA IP address to make them work successfully, also my understanding is that the Sonos can only play a single stream (yes to multiple rooms) the SBs can play different streams in each room (up to 3)

    Alasdair

  11. 11) Ben Rose Said: (02/04/2008 13:40:14 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Wow, the traffic on a 3yr old post on a blog that was decommisioned over a year ago!

    We'll take this bit by bit:

    "with regards to Napster, not interested, mp3s are such awful quality that they don't interest me"

    Napster use WMA and it's a reasonably high quality. It's certainly not lossless but it's also only a tenner a month for unlimited playback. It's excellent for evaluating music before purchase in CD quality. Bandwidth limitations prevent any significantly higher bitrate being used.

    "Finally, wrt Rhapsody/Pandora/Slacker etc, you need a USA IP address to make them work successfully"

    Pandora used to work globally with no restriction. Then they locked out the EU, but the UK remained unaffected. Sadly, just a month or so ago, they finally locked out UK traffic. They made an open and sincere apology.

    Rhapsody still works perfectly well outside of the US.

    "also my understanding is that the Sonos can only play a single stream (yes to multiple rooms) the SBs can play different streams in each room (up to 3)"

    You couldn't be more wrong. Sonos can stream music services to up to 32 rooms. You can have one Rhapsody stream playing in 16 rooms and another in the other 16. You could play have 3 groups of 10 rooms, each playing different Rhapsody album. In the remaining 2 rooms (sadly 32 isn't a multiple of 3),you could even be playing different Napster tracks or internet radio.

    You could hear a track you like in an adjacent room and add yourself into that zone ground on an ad-hoc basis and then drop out and go back to playing local music.

    All that flexibility, and easy to control, simply by clicking "link" and then selecting "kitchen" you can link to the music in that room. All zones are clearly identifiable by name.

    You join "Bedroom" and "en-suite" and you get a single zone called "Bedroom + en-suite", it couldn't be simpler to know which one was which.

  12. 12) Keith Milner Said: (02/04/2008 14:15:56 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    It's funny how the Duet fans blame the newness of the product on things like the sync issues.

    Any excuse!

    The duet is based on the Squeezebox range which has been around longer than Sonos. If these issues could be fixed, surely they would have been fixed by now?

    I keep hearing "soon" and "in the next release", "jam tomorrow". Personally I wouldn't hold my breath...

  13. 13) Alasdair Said: (02/04/2008 15:07:57 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Ben,

    1. Why buy music that is "lossy" at all.

    2. Rhapsody requires a US billing address so for the vast majority of people is not available outside of the US.

    3. Thanks for clarifying the multi stream capabilities of the sonos.

    Keith,

    I am not blaming the newness of anything, I just don't require and have never required the facility to sync more than two rooms.

    I could go on about how I can do some things with the squeezebox that is impossible with the sonos but that would be petty.

  14. 14) Ben Rose Said: (02/04/2008 15:12:08 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Alasdair,

    Why buy "lossy" music. I guess the you could ask millions of radio customers. They choose to listen to crappy FM or AM radio for a reason...it's not for the quality.

    Listening to music you don't own allows you to hear new music easier and decide what you wish to buy. I don't regard Napster as buying lossy music, in fact it's just a rental model in reality, but it does give access to millions of songs on a try before you buy basis you just don't get in a normal record store.

  15. 15) Keith Milner Said: (02/04/2008 16:30:34 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Alasdair,

    I wasn't directing my comment about blaming the newness of the system at you, but at Frank and others who I have heard blame the fact that the Duet is new for many issues.

    Regarding zone linking, maybe it's not important for you because you originally bought your system as a single-zone streaming music system. That view may be typical amongst Squeezebox owners, but I wouldn't necessarily call it typical amongst the population in general.

    Until you've experienced how much a good multiroom distribution system can enhance your listening pleasure, it's very difficult to understand how wonderful it is. I've messed around with streaming music systems for years and always thought of them as standalone tools, until I got Sonos. Now I think of it as an integral part of my home, almost like I do lights and heating.

    The only way to really understand this is to trial a system in your own home (at least 2 zones) for a couple of weeks and live with it every day. Then you'll probably understand why it's such a big deal.

  16. 16) Alasdair Said: (02/04/2008 17:59:52 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Keith,

    As I think I made it clear earlier, the facility to have a multi-room system has always been there for me, I now have 4 squeezeboxes and use softsqueeze on two PCs. (so 6 zones)

    Whilst I have listened to a multi-room system and I do sometimes sync two or three of the SBs at home (party mode, lounge/kitchen/den), in general I don't see the need to do so.

    Living with children aged from 8 to 18 and a wife, all of us having differing music tastes, which may or may not overlap then the requirement to use sync across more than one or two rooms is a non-issue. My kids certainly do not want to hear any of my music and vica-versa.

    So whilst I can appreciate the facilities that syncing 32 zones together would have to someone who wants to walk around their mansion listening to the same music seamlessly in every room, it is not for me.

    On a quick straw-poll of my friends/colleagues it seems that the single people or couples love the idea, those with kids that have differing musical tastes don't see such an advantage, so maybe in 20 odd years once the kids have all left home I may revisit it!

  17. 17) Ben Rose Said: (02/04/2008 18:05:12 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    It's a sad world we live in.

    Without listening to my Dad's music I wouldn't be into Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, The Beatles (ok, that was my mom), Roxy Music, The Police etc. etc. etc.

    I know I don't have much from my generation to pass onto my kids, but I do hope that I'm at least brainwashing them with Grandad's music!

  18. 18) Alasdair Said: (02/04/2008 18:23:08 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Interesting...my parents were into Opera and that was about it, which is something that I rarely listen to...however my kids do have to listen to my peculiar brand of 70s rock when we are in the car!

  19. 19) Ben Rose Said: (02/04/2008 18:30:02 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    70s Rock? T-Rex?

  20. 20) Alasdair Said: (02/04/2008 18:35:53 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Amon Duul/Pink Floyd/Queen/Yes/Rick Wakeman etc etc

  21. 21) Keith Milner Said: (02/04/2008 21:06:01 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Well in the morning we regularly listen to Streaming Radio as a family. It starts in the bedroom/bathroom where it wakes us up as an alarm. It then links to the kitchen whilst we have breakfast, and finally into my office and the living room.

    We also regularly pipe the sound from the TV in the living room to the kitchen, so we can hear what's going on whilst cooking or tidying up, or we'll have friends around and link the music in the kitchen to the living room and dining room.

    And of course, every now and then a party, with all the downstairs zones linked.

    When we're doing chores, she can listen to her favourite music all over the house.

    In between, separate music is great, so I can listen to some chill-out music in one room whilst the kids listen to Hillary Duff in their room, and the wife watches TV.

    As I said, music is now pretty much a way of life for us now, We just pick up a controller and it's there for us. When my neighbours come around for drinks, they spend all their time with the Sonos controlller, selecting music.

    I don't have it in the garden yet, but that's probably next.

  22. 22) Alasdair Said: (03/04/2008 09:29:04 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Keith,

    I didn't realise you had worked for Interoute....you must have been there or thereabouts when I was there (1999-2002)...and you live only about three miles from me...small world heh!!!

  23. 23) Ben Rose Said: (03/04/2008 09:47:21 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    @Alasdair,

    I'm not a million miles away either, I have a friend in Nine Mile Ride :O)

  24. 24) Alasdair Said: (03/04/2008 09:55:57 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    could be up to nine miles away!

  25. 25) Keith Milner Said: (03/04/2008 10:02:56 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Alasdair,

    Yes I was there during 2002. I was bought in to drive their IP/MPLS network development. Yes it is a very small world.

  26. 26) Alasdair Said: (03/04/2008 10:45:04 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Sonos Digital Music System

    Keith,

    I looked after the three submarine cables they had (now two since one doesn't work any more)...but moved on to bigger cables, now looking after trans-atlantic cables.

Add Comment
 
Subject:
   
Name:
E-mail:
Web Site:
 
Comment:  (No HTML - Links will be converted if prefixed http://)
 
Remember Me?