Sonos BU150 review

Price when reviewed

Despite an increasing number of challengers, the Sonos Digital Music system has remained a benchmark for wireless multiroom audio since its 2005 launch. But while there have been some software tweaks and hardware additions during that time, this new bundle represents the first major refresh of the range.

The concept remains the same: a multi-room audio system is made up of ZonePlayer hardware units and Controllers, which come in both software and hardware versions. Each zone nominally represents a room, with up to 32 units forming a network. Up to 32 hardware controllers can be added to that, and any number of software controllers, available in both Windows and Mac OS flavours. The software, now at version 2.6, contains a number of tweaks, including support for libraries of up to 65,000 tracks.

The hardware changes are relatively small. The ZP120 – which replaces the ZP100 – manages to shave 35% off its predecessor’s size, while upping the Class-D amp to a very respectable 55W per channel. The smaller ZP90 (replacing the ZP80), lacks the integrated amp, replacing it with analogue RCA and optical digital outputs. Both players also sport analogue inputs for connecting other sources, such as CD players or, with a suitable pre-amp, a turntable, which can then be routed around the system freely.

But the biggest change is unseen, with the introduction of SonosNet 2.0: a simple branding of what’s essentially an AES-encrypted, 802.11 draft-n, MIMO, peer-to-peer wireless mesh network. It claims to double the range of the previous iteration and, while we’d be cautious about guaranteeing that, using both generations in a heavily-built period house certainly favours the latter for stability. Handily, each unit also comes with two Ethernet ports (a reduction from the ZP100’s four), enabling them to be used as a wireless bridge or a hardware switch.

While it’s marketed as a wireless system, there’s a caveat in that one unit does need to be wired into your router in the name of security. If that doesn’t happen to be where you need a ZonePlayer, you’ll have to invest in a ZoneBridge (£69 inc VAT) which, while it won’t break the bank, seems unnecessary when there are other ways to authenticate the system’s presence on the network. On the plus side, these can also work as wireless repeaters, so won’t necessarily be a wasted investment should you move house.

Once located where they need to go, though, it’s almost embarrassingly easy to set the Sonos system up: take either the CR100 hardware controller (which remains unchanged) or a computer-based controller and handshake the units to the system with a simple two-button press. Then, just browse to a music share (either on a PC or a CIFS/SMB-compliant NAS) and wait for your music to be indexed. Assuming there are no range issues or an esoterically-tuned router, that’s it.

Using the system is just as simple, with the slick menu system, and well thought out hardware controls. Each ZonePlayer has a volume and mute control, and you can easily switch between them to change the source each is using, or gang them together in ‘party mode’, complete with impeccably executed multi-room synchronisation.

And while some competitors struggle with sound quality, the results with Sonos will be dictated by your source material. On that front, it will play uncompressed WAV and AIFF files, as well as FLAC, Apple Lossless, and the more usual WMA, MP3, AAC and Audible formats. In addition, there are a number of music services built in, including Napster and Pandora – plus Internet radio services.

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