Review: Sonos Wireless Multi-Room System

by Damian on March 23, 2011 · 25 comments

in Reviews

Last fall I posted a review on the Logitech Squeezebox Radio, which was my first foray into the dark world of wireless home audio. Today I am going to look at another wireless music system, the Sonos Wireless Multi-Room System.

Similar to Logitech, Sonos relies on your home network (wired and/or wireless) for streaming music throughout your house. The big difference though is that Sonos employs a mesh network which they call SonosNet. There are two key points in particular with SonosNet that really enhances the service. The first is that with SonosNet each Sonos ZonePlayer is turned into a repeater, so as you add ZonePlayers your mesh network actually grows. This also allows each ZonePlayer to communicate with the closest ZonePlayer as opposed to pulling in the wireless signal from a single point (such as a wireless router) which could suffer from interference or other factors. The second key benefit is that SonosNet does not share bandwidth with your existing network, so it should have no impact on other facets of your network (such as internet browsing). Sonos ZonePlayers can operate wired or wireless, however it is a requirement that one ZonePlayer must be wired to your network. OK, enough of the pleasantries, let’s take a look at setting up ZonePlayers and what it has to offer.

Features:

Before getting to the hardware let’s take a look at the current list of features available for the Sonos ZonePlayers:

Audio Formats Supported:

Support for compressed MP3, iTunes Plus, WMA (including purchased Windows Media downloads), AAC (MPEG4), Ogg Vorbis, Audible (format 4), Apple Lossless, Flac (lossless) music files, as well as uncompressed WAV and AIFF files. Native support for 44.1kHz sample rates. Additional support for 48kHz, 32kHz, 24kHz, 22kHz, 16kHz, 11kHz, and 8kHz sample rates.

Music Services Supported:

Deezer, iheartradio, Last.fm, Napster®, Pandora®, Rdio®, Rhapsody®, SiriusXM™ Internet Radio, Spotify®, Wolfgang’s Vault®, and downloads from any service offering DRM-free tracks.

Operating System (for stored files):

Windows® XP SP2 or higher, Windows Vista™ or Windows 7;Mac OS X v10.4 or higher, including v10.6; NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices supporting CIFS

Internet Radio Supported:

Streaming MP3, WMA

Album Art Supported:

JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF

Playlists Supported:

iTunes®, Rhapsody, WinAmp®, Windows Media Player®, and MusicMatch™ (.m3u, .pls, .wpl)

Playback Modes:

Crossfade, shuffle, repeat

Hardware:

Well, the first thing that should be mentioned is that building a Sonos setup is not exactly cheap. However, I believe this is an instance where you truly get what you pay for. You can mix and match various Sonos ZonePlayers, or simply go with one ZonePlayer to start and build up your Sonos network over time. For my setup I decided to got with a Sonos ZonePlayer S5 and ZP90:

ZP90:

  • Price: $349
  • Sound Quality: THD+N <0.009%, 20Hz-20kHz
  • Line Out Connections: Analog (RCA), digital (optical and coaxial)
  • Line In Connections: Analog (RCA), auto-detecting
  • Power Supply: AC 100-240V, 50-60Hz
  • Front-panel buttons: Volume and Mute
  • Front-panel lights: Indicate ZonePlayer status and Mute status
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 2.91 x 5.35 x 5.51 in (74 x 136 x 140 mm)
  • Weight:1.5 lbs (0.69 kg)
  • Must be connected to a Receiver, Stereo System, or Powered Speakers since it does not have a built in Amp (the ZP120 has this)

S5:

  • Price: $399
  • Amplifier: Five Class-D digital amplifiers
  • Speakers: Five driver speaker system – two tweeters, two 3” mid-range drivers, and one 3.5” woofer. Each driver of the product is individually powered by a dedicated amplifier.
  • Headphone: Auto-detecting 3.5 mm headphone connection. The S5’s integrated speakers mute when headphones are inserted.
  • Audio line-in: Auto-detecting 3.5mm audio line-in connection
  • Stereo Pair setting: Allows you to group two S5s in the same room with one S5 serving as the left channel and the other as the right channel.
  • Power Supply: AC 120/240V, 50-60Hz, auto-switchable
  • Top-panel buttons: Volume and Mute
  • Top-panel lights: Indicate ZonePlayer status and Mute status
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 8.50 x 14.40 x 4.80 in. (217 x 365 x 123 mm)
  • Weight: 9.15 lb (4.15 kg)

Setting Up:

One of the nice features about Sonos is how easy it is to set up. As I mentioned earlier one of the ZonePlayers (or an alternative would be a ZoneBridge BR100) must be connected via wired to your network. For my setup I decided to have my ZP90 as the wired ZonePlayer (in particular because since the S5 has speakers built in it makes the perfect mobile player).

With all ZonePlayers plugged in/powered up it is time to install the Sonos software that is included with the ZonePlayers (or can be downloaded directly from the Sonos website). I decided to rdp into my Windows Home Server and install there.

Once you start the software installation it will take you through the typical setup screens. Once complete you can finish the installation and have an option to launch the Sonos Desktop Controller to complete the setup.

With the Sonos Desktop Controller software now installed next up is to set up the ZonePlayers. As you continue through the Setup Wizard your ZonePlayers should hopefully be detected From a dropdown list you can choose a name for each ZonePlayer.

You will need to set up one ZonePlayer at a time, so once the first ZonePlayer has been named you will have the option to add an additional ZonePlayer.

With the ZonePlayers named the next step (make sure you have your running shoes on) is to connect your ZonePlayer to the network. You will have two minutes to do this, and it will require pressing simultaneously the mute and + volume button (don’t worry, you will have a chance to do this as many times as needed).

Now that everything has been set up, you should now have the Sonos Desktop Controller displayed. From here you can add your music library, set up music services, and control music playback on any of the ZonePlayers in your network (if there is a later newer version of the Sonos Desktop Controller from what just installed you will be prompted to update).

Next up will be the option to set up your music library now or later (of course we want to do it now)

Click on the “Add a Share” button to add your music source

You will have two options for adding your Music source, either music stored directly on the computer you just installed the Sonos Controller software on, or music stored on your network.

Since all my music is stored on my Windows Home Server I simply point to the UNC path.

Once the library has been added Sonos will go through the process of Indexing your music library. Depending on the size of your library the first time this process may take a few minutes.

With your library now set up you have full access to controlling playback on all ZonePlayers, as well as setting up any music services (such as Pandora or Rhapsody).

One thing you will probably also want to set up is to have Sonos automatically update its library for new content added. Going into the “Music” toolbar item there will be an option to Schedule Music Index Updates. You can also manually refresh the music index if you don’t want to wait.

Controlling The ZonePlayers:

Using the Sonos Desktop Controller you can control the ZonePlayers, but obviously this is not ideal. There is no way to control the ZonePlayers directly from the hardware itself, so you will need to rely on a separate controller. Sonos offers a controlled called the Sonos Controller 200 (CR200), but at $349 it is a pricey option. Fortunately if you have an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch you already have a Sonos Controller. Head over to App store and download the official Sonos App, it’s FREE! Once you download the App setting up is a breeze.


With the App running on your iPxx you need to do to the same process as when you initially set up the Sonos Controller software, pressing the MUTE and VOL+ on any ZonePlayer.

Once done you should now see a list of all Zones in your Sonos network. You can control each Zone individually or you can link zones together (if you want to have the same music played throughout your house).

From the Sonos iPxx app you now have full control of your Sonos, with the ability to browse your music library and online services.

Although not quite as practical as a handheld remote, if you have an iPad the Sonos iPad App makes full use of the extra real estate.

For all you Android users who may not be feeling the love, Sonos has announced that a new Android App will be released soon. Head here to sign up and be notified once it is released.

One thing I do wish was that the Sonos software could act as a universal remote to control a Receiver if a ZonePlayer is connected. For example, the Sonos ZP90 is connected to my Receiver. In order to use the ZP90 I first have to manually turn on my Receiver which is a slight inconvenience. This is what is nice about the S5 as there is no need for a Receiver to be involved.

Playback/Performance:

I have been using the Sonoz Zoneplayers for nearly 9 months now and to date I have had not one issue with playback. The ZonePlayers are always picked up by my controllers. I have not had any issues with audio dropouts. Loading Online Services is very quick with very little buffering. I was able to seamlessly move back and forth between both Zones.

As I mentioned in my Logitech review, I am not a big audio buff, and the mix of content in my music library is very limited. I purchase all my CDs and the rip to my Windows Home Server as 320kbps mp3s. I don’t purchase music online and don’t rip to lossless (mainly because doing so would require me to maintain two sets of songs). Based on my limited content all my mp3s played clear and without issue. In particular I found the sound outputted by the ZonePlayer S5 to be quite impressive. The S5 is located in my kitchen and the sound can easily fill up the kitchen at a very low volume. Cranking up the volume not only fills up the entire downstairs but also carries upstairs (and usually gets me in trouble).

Music Services:

Currently Sonos offers eight Music Services mixed between free and subscription services:

  • iheartradio
  • Last.fm
  • Napster
  • Pandora
  • Rdio
  • Rhapsody
  • SiriusXM Internet Radio
  • Wolfgang’s Vault

The services available may be dependent on your location. For example, Spotify was just added to Sonos’ list of Music Services, yet it is not available for users in the United States. Out of all the services I currently use Pandora, Rhapsody (thanks to this 60 day trial), and SiriusXM Internet Radio. Setting up the services to work with Sonos was a piece of cake, and for the music services that were subscription based a trial period was available directly through Sonos.

Final Thoughts:

If you couldn’t tell already from my review I am a very happy Sonos owner, and over time I plan on expanding my Sonos network. The entry price may scare off some people, but this is one instance where you definitely get what you paid for, and I have yet to come across a Sonos owner who has regretted their purchase. Of course the question I always see asked is which system is better, Sonos or Logitech. To be honest there is no answer to this question as it will always be dependent on each user’s experience and needs. As an owner of both Sonos and Logitech they both fit specific needs. The Logitech Squeezebox Radio has been the perfect player for my office at work, something that none of the Sonos players would be able to do. However, at home I wanted something that had a little more oomph then what the Squeezebox Radio provides, and undoubtedly the S5 fitted the bill quite nicely.

The one big challenge I see for both Sonos and Logitech is Apple’s newly announced AirPlay which would allow you to push any content from your iTunes/iPxx library to any hardware that supports AirPlay. Currently only a handful of electronics support AirPlay, but as that list grows (which I expect it will) I would expect that AirPlay will give both Sonos and Logitech a run for their money.





Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


{ 24 comments }

Richard@GadgetInsane March 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Hey Damian,

As usual, great detailed review. As you know, I own the Sonos system myself and, as you said, this is an instance of getting what you paid for. It really is the Cadillac of wireless audio systems.

Also, like you, I’m also wondering what impact will Apple’s Airplay have in this space and how it will impact Sonos, in general. I guess time will tell. In the meantime, I continue to enjoy my Sonos system and would recommend to anyone interested in it.

Great job Damian.

Damian March 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Hey Richard,

I had mentioned to you, it actually is harder to review/writeup on a product that actually performs as advertised out of the box, and undoubtedly the Sonos system meets this. I would highly recommend as well.

As far as AirPlay I am now reading that TV manufacturers are looking to get AirPlay integrated into their tv sets. I have only used Airplay once or twice to test, but from reading around I hear it still has its issues, so I am sure it will take time to mature. Since we know a lot of households have iPxxs, if all of a sudden every electronic supported Airplay as well it makes for quite a compelling combination.

Cheers
Damian

Tinus March 24, 2011 at 3:24 am

I completely agree, Sonos is a wonderful system.

Regarding Android support – there is an unofficial app in the google app store called Andronos which works perfectly.

Kevin March 24, 2011 at 10:51 am

Nice review. A couple of years ago I looked into getting either the Sonos or the Logitech solutions. Due to price I decided on the Logitech Squeezebox Duet systems. I have 3 around my house and they all work really well.

Mike March 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I have exactly the same setup, ZP90 wired to the network and hooked to my receiver and the S5 in the kitchen, wireless. It was incredibly easy when I didn’t need it to be. The indexing of the library took longer than any other part of setup. It has a huge WAF, especially with the drop dead easy Iphone app controller.

My only, very limited, gripe is that the ZP90 only has analog audio inputs. I can envision when I might want to route the audio output from my receiver through the ZP90, in order to play through the S5 in another room. Would be nice if that was digital.

Usually, I second guess myself on convenience purchases of this amount. But haven’t questioned this one for a second.

Brian G. Wermeyer April 6, 2011 at 9:11 am

I bought a Sonos system quite a while ago. I have the ZP120 and ZP90 with two remotes. It was easy to setup. The ZP90 is hooked to my old Sansui amp.

If you are using the ZP90 with your amp, be ware that the ZP90 may put out voltage that exceeds the input for your amp. At full volume, it puts out about 2.0V RMS. If you are not careful, you could fry the input on your amp. I keep my amp cranked up and turn the volume up only half way on the ZP90.

Gruntfuttock April 25, 2011 at 2:10 am

Hi Damian,

many thanks for the comprehensive review. As a result of this my interest in Sonos was revived and I came very close to buying a Z90 but…there are a few issues that I think need mentioning, as they stopped me and will no doubt affect many others. First of all, there is a hardware compatibility list for the system. I discovered this by accident whilst literally being minutes away from making the Sonos purchase! Unfortunately for me, my Wireless router and a Gigabit switch in my home network are not compatible with the system. Whilst the switch is about 2 years old (Netgear) the Router (Belkin) is only about 3 months old. In fact, my WHS is the only bit of my network gear that is compatible but there are a few other NAS devices on the list that are not. None of this is the fault of Sonos of course, it is due to poor or sloppy implementation of network standards by the companies concerned.

https://sonos.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/sonos.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=42

Secondly, for such a premium system, there is a library track limit of 65,000 tracks. This is a very large number of tracks admittedly, but is not widely publicised by Sonos themselves.

I am not sure how to proceed now; whilst I could fix my network (it ain’t broken!) it is now a larger and more costly undertaking than just plugging in a Z90. :-(

Damian April 25, 2011 at 8:49 am

Interesting, I never heard of the hardware issues. Could you possibly just introduce a switch into your network to connect the Z90. My Z90 has been connected to a Linkys and D-Link switch, both with no issues. These switches only go for about USD 30-40.

I actually think the track limit has increased. I am only around 3,000-4,000 songs so fortunately I have a ways to go (and music these days has to get better first!!!)

Gruntfuttock April 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Hi Damian,

I may be able to get away with a single wired Z90, as I think the problems with both the router and switch will only manifest themselves once an additional player is added. I could just suck it and see but it is potentially fatal to the whole network if the problem shows up.
This is the last piece of Netgear hardware I will own, this is a managed Gigabit switch and was not cheap (unfortunately, as a cheap one may stand a better chance of working!):
“Causes broadcast storms. Devices on network crash or drop off.
Netgear – GS108
Some versions of this switch do not forward STP traffic between multiple wired ZonePlayers. May cause broadcast storm / network crash if multiple ZonePlayers are wired.”

Damian April 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

That is crazy, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. It may be worth trying, but purchase via Amazon as they have a very good return policy, and I would expect that if you bought a bundle which did not work with your network they would accept a full refund. I notice though that the warning mentions crashes between multiple wired Zone Players. Well, there is only a need to wire one zone, and all additional zones should/could be wireless, so maybe you would be fine?

Gruntfuttock April 26, 2011 at 2:46 am

Damian,
I’ll start by updating the firmware on the dodgy switch as I am a few versions behind the final update. Amazon will also be getting an order for the Z90, so we’ll see.

Derek Frost May 14, 2011 at 5:42 am

I can echo Damiean’s review thankfully, having bought purely on the advice of Sevenoaks. The switch issues you refer to on your network would be a thing of the past if you invest a little more and upgrade to a Cisco LinkSys router. Best thing I ever did, especially discovering the Network Magic software that came with it. The Cisco welcomed the Sonos warmly, with not a problem in sight.

If you have those occasional irritants such as your network losing connectivity, forget the usual power cycling of the modem & router, as Network Magic takes care of all that as soon as it knows it’s lost its source and flags an alert. Just click on ‘repair’ and it drills down and resolves the issues.

Gruntfuttock April 25, 2011 at 2:21 am

Hi,

One other thing I forgot to mention. A great deal of fuss is made in many reviews I have read regarding the ‘fact’ that the Sonos system ‘uses its own wireless network’ thereby not interfering with your existing wireless network. I thought this was a good thing as I use my home network wirelessly to do quite a bit of video streaming. Upon further reading however, it seems that it does indeed use your existing wireless bandwidth, so it will interfere with and use up wireless bandwidth. Whether this is an issue for you will depend upon your installation and wireless usage. YMMV as they say.

Buegie September 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Gruntfuttock (and others),

Sonos will only compete with your existing wireless network if both systems are set to the same (or overlapping) wireless channels.

General Sonos instructions caution the user to select a different wireless channel for your Sonos and wireless network.

Typically one should select from channels 1, 6, or 11 for Sonos, and hard-set your network wireless channel to either of the two remaining channels. Also disable any ‘Turbo’, ‘Wide’ or ’40mHz’ selections on your wireless router/AP.

Setup as described above, Sonos does not compete or interfere with your wireless network.

Brian G. Wermeyer April 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I seem to remember something about broadcast storms when I was shopping for hardware for my wired network. I bought a Dell PowerConnect 2708 gigabit switch an it’s been working flawlessly It has a storm control feature that is enabled by default. Being that a Sonos bundle is about $1000, and extra $100 spent on a good quality switch is money well spent.

I have, what I consider a rather large music library. Until today, I had no idea how many songs I had in it. I have nearly 20,000 songs or about 1300+ albums. To me, it’s nearly unmanageable at that size. I find it mind-boggling that any one would have a library with 65,000 songs.

I love my Sonos and am very happy with my investment. I’ve gotten rid of all my my vinyl, tapes and CDs and will never go back. I can sit on my back deck and control my Sonos.

Don’t let your switch or router shy you away from a Sonos system.

Brian Carnell May 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm

A 20,000 track music stash is nowhere near close to a “rather large music library”. I have 170K+ tracks and have never had any trouble managing my music. Plenty of software out there you can get for free or very little $$ handles that # of tracks (or larger) just fine.

It is beyond bizarre that in 2011 the Sonos *still* has a 65k track limit given the prices they charge for their equipment.

Richard (All4Fun) April 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Hey Damian,

I’m sure you’re well aware that there is now a workaround for having your Sonos system support Airplay. With the latest Sonos software/hardware updates and an Airport Express, you can add Airplay functionality to your Sonos setup.

I did it and it works great with my Sonos setup and can carry to any zone or zone group that you like. The immediate benefit to me is that I can Airplay Slacker Radio from my iDevices which is not directly supported within Sonos.

Damian April 28, 2011 at 6:20 am

Hey Richard,

I saw the Airport Express/Airplay workaround. I was tempted to try out but for me I see zero benefit. Really the only benefit would be to be able to play a music service that you get on your iPxx but don’t get on Sonos, correct? I use Pandora, Sirius, and Rhapsody, all of which Sonos supports, so for my setup I can’t see any justification for spending $100 to purchase an Airport Base, at least nothing that is obvious.

Richard (All4Fun) April 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

Damian,

You’re right..there’s no justification if you don’t need it. I don’t “need” it but I’ve complained to Sonos about supporting Slacker Radio and this workaround inadvertently satisfies that request. I also use Accuradio on my iPad and that can be sent over AirPlay also. Basically, I’m not limited anymore as to what music service I want to listen to.

I do want to say that when AirPlay was introduced, there was concern about the long term viability of the Sonos system. With this workaround, they’ve somewhat offered current users AirPlay support until they decide (or don’t) to support AirPlay directly in their hardware. So, it was a good move on Sonos’ part to offer AirPlay support for those who want it.

Damian April 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

If I could find just one instance where I would use Airplay with Sonos I would definitely buy the Airport Base, if anything just to test out. It is good to know that it is an option down the road. Of course the best solution for Sonos would be to keep expanding the online content they provide.

Buegie September 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I have a 6-Zone Sonos and one AirportExpress hooked into one of the Zones.

The AirportExpress allows us to drive in music via AirPlay from laptops or iDevices of house-guests who have music they wish to share. Once within Sonos, the music can be played from any or all of the Zones in the house.

As all of our own music is located on a NAS for Sonos, there is little to no music on our personal laptops/iDevices that Sonos cannot already access. One exception is music videos from iTunes or otherwhere. Keeping the video on the PC while sending the music to Sonos is a bit better. Then again, our AppleTV also fills this function reasonably well.

Generally, AirPlay via the AE is a cute and inexpensive gimmick, but provides another gateway into the Sonos whole-house music system. Could be either a good or bad idea if one has children….

Beth July 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I have very limited knowledge about audio systems, but am slowly learning… I am getting really excited about the Sonos system, but need to clarify 2 things before I purchase.
1) If all of my music is currently in iTunes and a majority of it in m4p formats of whatever itunes changed all of my music to… Would I be able to point my Sonos system to this music?
2) Is there a work around in order for me to have an additional source to play from my ipod? (this may have been what Richard was talking about with Airplay) And by additional source meaning my music library OR internet radio OR ipod/Auxuillery input… something like that?

Any clarification would be extremely helpful. Thank you…

Damian July 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I don’t have iTunes specific music formats, but my understanding is that all iTunes music is supported on t he Sonos:

https://sonos.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/sonos.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=1049&p_created=1265984154&p_sid=4XZqIfyk&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_lva=&p_sp=cF9zcmNoPSZwX3NvcnRfYnk9JnBfZ3JpZHNvcnQ9JnBfcm93X2NudD0yNjcsMjY3JnBfcHJvZHM9JnBfY2F0cz0mcF9wdj0mcF9jdj0mcF9zZWFyY2hfdHlwZT1hbnN3ZXJzLnNlYXJjaF9ubCZwX3BhZ2U9MQ**&p_li=&p_topview=1

For #2 I believe this is what Richard was talking about with AirPlay + Airport Express. I believe also the Sonos dock should work (although I don’t know if there are any limitations on what it will play back) :

http://www.sonos.com/products/accessories/wd100/default.aspx?rdr=true&LangType=1033

Beth July 8, 2011 at 9:28 am

Thank you Damian! I appreciate your response. I’m excited to get this system in my house!

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

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