UPDATE (April 2012) Who needs to drill holes and re-plaster walls to get a multiroom music system at home? Not you. With Sonos, creating a simple two-zone system is an idiot-proof doddle: the cheapest way would be to combine two of the new Play:3 units with the Sonos Bridge router. Want to go more high end? Hook up a ZP90 Zoneplayer to your existing hi-fi and router, add speakers to the amplified ZP120 in another room, and enjoy. Upgrade with more Zoneplayers like the Play:5 and control it all with the free iOS or Android apps. The new Sonos Labs platform is in beta and gives users access to even more streaming services. Note: a Sonos multiroom system is now available from £510.
The Sonos Digital Musical System first graced Stuff’s hallowed pages way back in August 2005. Although new wireless streamers were flooding into our office back then, this mysterious white box still seemed ahead of its time and quickly garnered five stars.
But the hi-fi landscape has changed much since those innocent days. The Yamaha MusicCast is still one of its main competitors, but cheaper multi-room systems like the Philips WACS700 and wireless bridges – including the Squeezebox 3 and Roku Soundbridge – are providing some stiff music streaming competition.
So, is Sonos still the hottest thing in wireless hi-fi? You bet. Thanks to recent upgrades – you can now buy the cheaper, amp-free ZP80 Zone Player and two controllers as the BU130 bundle for £700 – it’s now even within the grasp of the financially challenged, who could previously only admire it from afar.
The main difference between the Sonos approach and other wireless systems is that it doesn’t have a hard disk. Instead, it’s designed to be hooked up to your PC and Mac and feed on the music already on your home network.
The brains of the system is the ZP100 ZonePlayer, which serves as both a 50W amp and wireless distribution hub. Our test kit had two of these babies, one of which needs to be hard-wired to your computer. Thanks to Wi-Fi, the other can be placed anywhere. And if you live in a replica of Buckingham Palace, you’ll be pleased to hear that up to 32 ZP100s can be supported.
The remote part
Once you’ve connected some speakers – either Sonos’ own SP100s or your own – the fun really begins. The Sonos sounds great, and the results can easily rival any mini hi-fi system. It also supports a big range of music formats including Apple Lossless, although songs bought from iTunes annoyingly aren’t supported.
You’ll soon forget about this minor grievance, though, when you pick up the remote. This rechargeable, iPod-esque magic tablet is a joy to use and relays such information as what’s playing, in which zone it’s playing and what’s coming next, while offering unnecessary delights like album art on its brilliant colour LCD.
As you may have guessed, we love the Sonos. It’s a shame that one of the ZonePlayers has to be hard-wired to your network, but you can’t have it all. Music-lovers with particularly tight wallets should take a look at the more limited but better value charms of the Squeezebox3, but for simplicity, quality and functionality there’s still no beating a Sonos.