Wednesday, 15 June 2011

SONOS Review: The Ultimate Music Experience

I have no hesitation in calling SONOS the ultimate music experience. Five years ago I lost my entire music collection. My computer died, I lost my iPod, and all of my CDs (remember them?) were stolen in the same week. Years of meticulous music collection… gone. And sadly, I gave up on music.
Then SONOS sent me their music system for review including a ZoneBridge and two SONOS S5 speaker systems. Instantly my interest was piqued. After using it a short while, I was motivated to rebuild and revitalize my entire music collection. But that’s the funny thing… the moment I turned it on, I instantly had access to more music than I had ever previously owned.
Listen up ladies and gentlemen… SONOS rocks.

The SONOS Hype

What is SONOS, why is it cool, and is it easy to install? Consider this video your mini “School Of Rock” (just remove Jack Black, insert Rob Jackson):
Installing SONOS is an absolute breeze and in many ways, helps explain exactly what SONOS does:
  • Install a “Zone Bridge” that connects to your internet provider through Ethernet
  • Install SONOS software on your computer
  • Plug in Sonos Zone Player(s) (all-in-one speaker system) in the rooms you want an awesome musical experience
All of a sudden, in every room you’ve effortlessly connected SONOS, you’ve got instant access to a ridiculously large music library and incredible control of what is playing in each room. Your iTunes library, archived music folders, worldwide radio stations, streaming music services… it’s all there for immediate access. Not to mention, you can control every little aspect of your entire home’s music system right from your Android Phone.

SONOS Music: Your Collection On Steroids

As I said, upon installing SONOS for the first time, I instantly had access to more music than my personal library ever could have contained. And the SONOS Android App tied the whole experience together brilliantly.
Let’s take a quick look at the SONOS music sources:
  • Your Computer. Whether it’s pulling directly from your iTunes library or from folders neatly organized on an external harddrive (or both), SONOS pulls your personal music collection into the library. The music once confined to your computer is now set free, released into the airwaves of whatever rooms you’ve installed SONOS.
  • Local Radio (Anywhere). Whether you want to listen to local radio, browse the world by genre, or listen to a station from a particular location, SONOS allows you to tap into thousands of radio stations with the press of a button. One example from the above video: sitting on my couch, I used my phone to load up a Top 40 Music Station from Cairo, Egypt.
  • Streaming Radio. There are a LOT of great streaming music services out there and SONOS supports both free and paid models. You can use a few of the most popular ones (Last.FMPandora, & iheartradio) absolutely free. SONOS also supports SiriusXM,NapsterMOG, and Rhapsody; these are pay services but they’ve all got free trials you can test out. Wolfgang’s Vault is also an option.
Combine YOUR music with traditional radio stations from around the world and both free and paid streaming radio services and what do you have? The most epic music collection known to man. Further customization and control is offered through the desktop software, but for the most part I found myself using the Android App, even when sitting directly in front of my computer.

Living With SONOS

It’s not just about what you’re listening to, it’s also about how you’re listening to it. I was amazed at how seamlessly SONOS fit into my life. For me, it took all the trouble, irritation, and complication out of the equation and returned the joy of music to my busy life.
The SONOS Android App makes all the difference. Whether I’m folding laundry in my room, playing cards in the family room, or eating dinner on the deck, SONOS is in my pocket, ready to play whatever suits the mood. It’s crazy to say, but if I could dream up my optimal music solution I wouldn’t be dreaming at all… I’d just think of SONOS. It’s amazingly easy to setup, even easier to use, and offers access to your music and more music than you could ever imagine. One small request? A tablet optimized version of the app.
Simply put, SONOS works. Set it up once, plug it in, and listen to the music you want, when you want it, where you want it. The perfect balance of simplicity and flexibility… SONOS would fit seamlessly into pretty much anyone’s life. It injects a Eureka of musical omnipotence that makes you wonder why you hadn’t been using something like this all along.

SONOS Hardware

Since the whole SONOS system “just worked” I almost forgot that the whole concept is powered by some pretty powerful hardware. The main component for our review, in addition to the ZoneBridge which connected the whole thing, was the SONOS ZonePlayer S5:
I was really impressed with the S5′s performance: it was conveniently compact and portable yet packed a powerful punch, crisp playback, and the audio was fantastic. I’m not the biggest audiophile geek, but you’ll be happy to know that (on the software side) you can adjust the equalizer for various bass and treble levels.
The S5 was perfect for my needs because it’s basically an entire musical system in one conveniently compact body. Put it in a room, plug it in, and it’s a musical experience in and of itself. The SONOS S5 sports:
  • A 3.5-inch subwoofer
  • Two 3-inch mid-range drivers
  • Two tweeters
Each of these five elements is powered by it’s own Class-D Digital Amplifier.
While the S5 system was perfect for me, maybe you’ve already got a home entertainment system you’d prefer to use as a music source or a ridiculous sound system in a certain room that you don’t want to go to waste. The S5 is of the all-inclusive variety, but SONOS makes other products to fit various needs:
  • ZonePlayer 120. Already got an incredible speaker system? Connect SONOS with the ZP120.
  • ZonePlayer 90. Want to leverage your home entertainment system? Survey says ZP90.
  • ZoneBridge: As seen in this review, plug an Ethernet cable into it, and all of a sudden all your SONOS equipment have access to the full menu of music. It’s like magic!
  • Sonos Controllers. You don’t need these… because you can install the SONOS App on your Android Phone and your phone becomes the controller!
Smart move by SONOS to take into account people’s existing inventory of musical equipment. You can mix and match different SONOS products with each room to create the musical masterpiece of your choice.

3 SONOS Shortfalls

My review of SONOS has thus far been glowing, but part of my job is to try and point out the potential pitfalls to help you – the consumer – make the best purchase decision possible. Here are three criticisms you may want to consider when deciding whether or not SONOS is for you.
PriceIf you’re looking for a budget solution, SONOS isn’t for you. It’s expensive, and while worth every dime, it isn’t cheap to outfit your whole house with SONOS. Take a look at the SONOS Store and you’ll see that the solution I’ve got is (in my opinion) the best deal: a ZoneBridge and 2 SONOS S5s will help you suit up two separate rooms. Even if you’re bringing your own speaker system or home entertainment system to the table, you’re still forking over several hundred for the SONOS experience.
Is it worth the investment? That’s for you to decide. If you buy it… I definitely don’t think you’ll be disappointed, but the cost definitely prices some people out of the option immediately. I’d love to see SONOS work on some more affordable solutions for the everyman. All-in-all… it costsmoney… but it is money.
Wi-FiYou’re somewhat limited in your SONOS experience by your home’s Wi-Fi connection. If your phone doesn’t get Wi-Fi in a certain spot, you won’t be able to connect to the system and control your SONOS devices from your phone. Of course you could still control it from your computer, but as Android enthusiasts we know the other way is more fun and convenient. So before you purchase, be conscious of where you plan on putting your systems, how good your Wi-Fi is in those locations, and from where you plan on controlling your SONOS.
Something to keep in mind: you can always purchase a Wi-Fi extender that you can strategically place to help increase the signal in various parts of your house. And interestingly enough, places my phone’s Wi-Fi hit dead spots, my SONOS player was still perfectly transferring music and playing it crisp, clear, and without hesitation.
SlackerI’ve done a bunch of bragging about how awesome it is to have access to so many music sources with SONOS. However, SONOS doesn’t currently provide support for one of the most popular Streaming Music Services – Slacker – what we named our Best Streaming Music App in our list of Best Android Apps.
This is a small gripe. SONOS continues to add more music services to their offerings and I’d guess that Slacker will land on SONOS in the future. Let’s hope sooner rather than later. But even without Slacker support, you’ve got so many options that it’s hard to see this complaint holding anyone back.


It’s hard NOT to love SONOS: it does what every music fan wants. With minimal effort, you can instantly connect your entire house with endless amounts of music, all controlled right from your phone with a simple app. It’s not cheap, but the outcome is a positive transformation of the way you enjoy music.
Perhaps the greatest feature of SONOS is it’s transcendability (coined it). It doesn’t matter whether you’re an obsessive music enthusiast or just someone who casually enjoys some good tunes. It doesn’t matter whether your personal music collection is bursting at the seams or if you just like listening to a few personal favorites. All you’ve got to do is plug it in… and the opportunities are endless.
I used to be both a music junkie and a music maker, stopped dead in my tracks by a few unfortunate events. SONOS brought me from 0 back to 60 in the shortest time imagineable… and now there’s no looking back.

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