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.

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