Sonos Digital Music System review
There’s been an uneasy relationship between music lovers and the audio-streaming technologies that have emerged over the past few years. While carrying 10,000 songs in your pocket is a dream come true for many, if you’ve just spent £1,500 on a pair of speakers and £20/metre on speaker wiring, 128Kb/sec MP3 just isn’t going to satisfy you. But in conjunction with wireless technologies, digital audio is beginning to offer possibilities to make even the staunchest audiophile sit up and listen.
We’ve heard endless treatise on the digital home, but the reality has been tantalising at best and hair-rippingly aggravating at worst. The Sonos Digital Music System, though, delivers genuine and tangible benefits. Not only does it cost substantially less than a traditional multiroom music system, it doesn’t involve chiselling out conduits in your plaster, drilling holes in your walls or paying piles of cash for someone to install it. It’s also a breeze to extend or adapt, and you can even take it with you when you move house.
The system itself is made up of two parts: ZonePlayers and Controllers. The ZonePlayer ZP100 acts as a traditional amplifier, rated at 50W RMS per channel. There’s a front-mounted volume/mute control, with auto-detecting RCA phono line-in and outs, subwoofer output and spring-mounted binding blocks round the back. The differences start with the four-port Ethernet switch, extending internally to a wireless access point, with two antennae hidden within the unit’s feet. Given the amount of electronics inside, and the fact that it’s passively cooled, the ZonePlayer is an impressively svelte 4.5kg and just the right size to stow on a shelf or hide under a table.
The other key component, Controllers, come in hardware and software versions. The former is a rugged and splashproof 165 x 25 x 97mm unit (about the size of a packet of crisps), weighing 360g. A 3.5in screen and an iPod-style scroll wheel aid navigation, with a light sensor illuminating the transport buttons in dim conditions. A motion sensor switches off the unit when it’s been set still for a given period of time, before magically springing back to life when picked up. Running an embedded version of Linux, the Controllers are generally nippy enough, save for the occasional pause when zipping between screens. The software is simply an application that mirrors the hardware version.
Each Controller is instantly updated with changes made on any other unit. Album art is shown where available and there’s complete control of each ZonePlayer, as well as playlists and system preferences. That includes such complexities as redirecting the line input on any ZonePlayer to any other – potentially useful to connect up an old record deck to the system, or even a baby monitor. The only caveat with this all-encompassing power is that there’s no form of lock or master override on either the Controllers or the ZonePlayers themselves, so if you don’t want a disgruntled teenager subverting a dinner party with death-metal you’ll have to think carefully about who has access.
Installation is as simple as we could hope for. Sonos recommends the initial ZonePlayer is connected to a router via a wired connection, although it’s also possible to use a wireless bridge. The proprietary wireless technology, branded Sonosnet, is a secure, peer-to-peer mesh network. Each Sonos component is effectively a wireless repeater, so the more ZonePlayers you have, the larger the network’s footprint and the more stable the performance; the system makes multiple hops where necessary, always finding the most efficient route.