Ever since I have heard of the Sonos system from Engadget, I have wanted myself one. It has been perhaps three years following the growth of the Sonos system and for some reason, despite my tendency to grab gadgets off the shelf first day, have not given myself a chance to get one. Why? Who knows, but after spending a good month with one, I can clearly say that will no longer be the case!
The start-up, based in Santa Barbara, managed to attract so much attention for its relatively expensive audio-only Digital Music System because it's essentially the product everybody's been hoping Apple would make: a simple, elegant solution to streaming hard-drive-based music to multiple rooms via a series of networked ZonePlayer base stations and an awesome command module.
When I got the Sonos System, I was a little intimidated by all the parts and pieces and wires. However, the system is rather easy to set up actually. In addition to its on board amplifier, my review system came with two speakers as well. Simply connect the ZonePlayer to your audio system, and then connect the other ZonePlayer to your network using Ethernet. You also get software, which you install on your computer. Everything is a simple walk through so not much thinking to do on your part, which is something I like. Keeping it simple is the key to success.
After finish, pick up the controller and it begins to search for its components and once found, you can begin naming them: Living Room, Bedroom, Kitchen, Den, Etc... The only possible snags you may run into when setting up the Sonos System involve whether you have unusual network scenarios such as lack of an Ethernet connection or an over-protective firewall. In either case, Sonos has plenty of documentation to solve most types of problems. My network was rather convoluted, but to my surprise, never encountered a big problem. After browsing through the website several times, I noticed the Sonosnet which appears to be their own wireless network solution which is convenient.
Sporting what can only be described as iPod-style touch-sensitive scroll wheel and a full color 3.5" diagonal LCD screen, the Sonos Controller is really what sets apart this Digital Music System. It combines ease of use, style, and a suite of flexible options and controls. Once you have configured your system, the Sonos Controller is your all-in-one tool for sending your desired sources to their appropriate destinations. The Controller itself has a very simplified interface. The scroll wheel has an 'Enter' button inside, play/pause, and stop buttons. At the top right there are hard buttons for selecting a zone, backing up in the menu, and bringing up the available music choices. The left features volume and mute controls, while the bottom has three soft function buttons that interact with the LCD screen contents.
What I really enjoyed about the controller is that it is automatically backlit, meaning that it has a built-in sensor that engages a backlit when it is being used in low light environments. It also automatically disengages backlighting to conserve battery power when the Controller is well lit. The buttons just popped to life as I was walking and just as suddenly went back to normal once I reached a well-lit room. Once you pick it up, it "knows" and seems to come to life. A great feature that I actually played with longer than I should have!
Listening to music on the system is just as wonderful as the aforementioned "knowing" feature which, of course, I spent more time doing than picking it up and putting it back down again :). Each Zone can either stream music from your music library, any of the ZonePlayer line inputs, or the Internet by a number of free internet radio options provided free by Sonos. When playing music, you have total control. You can select zones, or even link zones so that more than one ZonePlayer can play the same source. I can tell this would be perfect for party scenes.
I am no audiophile, however, the music sounded just right from every zone, and every source in which I had it connected. One thing I almost forgot about is the software that I installed on my computer. Pull up that software and the controller application is quite similar to using the Sonos Controller, though it offers a more organized, expanded view of many of the options. This is probably due to a larger amount of screen space I was working with. You have a 'Now Playing' view with Music, Volume, EQ, and Queue controls; and a Music Library pane for displaying your playlists, tracks, line-in sources, and /or Internet radio stations. It is amazing!
Speaking of controllers, I also have my handy dandy iPhone. Look for the full iPhone application review here, however, all I can tell you is that it does not disappoint. Have so many controllers laying around, it was difficult to pick one I wanted to use. I always have my phone, so I mostly used my iPhone after playing with each option.
The Sonos System is brilliant in every way. With my interesting setup before Sonos came into my life, I simply had a computer in the living room connected to speakers and a computer in my bedroom also connected to speakers, and my laptop which would sometimes go to rooms that I did not have a computer. I would use iTunes which connects to all my computers and plays music from my networked hard drive. After the Sonos System, I can say that my solution did not work as a true multi-room solution should. I look back and think to myself, "why have I gone so long this route?"
I have not tried other music systems similar, but Sonos doesn't get good ratings for just looking neat. It's functional, it's simple, it's smart...it's just awesome. Its uniqueness and attention to detail is spot-on. The Sonos LCD Controller is painstakingly cool, taking a well-thought-out music system and making it excellent. I dare someone to challenge me with a system that is just as fantastic as the Sonos System!
I want to thank Sonos for letting me review the unit. The unit that I had comprised of the ZonePlayer 90 (ZP90) to your home theater or stereo. I place the ZonePlayer 120 (ZP120) with built-in amplifier in the living room. I also had the ZoneBridge (sold separately) that went to my network. I reviewed the Sonos Bundle 150 with Loudspeakers which is a $1149.00 value. Of course, you can buy individual units to fit your needs, however, I would recommend starting at the Bundle 150 and that has a value of $999.00. Rather pricey, but I think it is a small price to pay for something so great.