Sonos - first impressions

by Volker Weber

In the middle of January, when I was just heading to Florida, I received an e-mail from Ben Rose. He asked me whether I would be interested in reviewing the Sonos sound system. I was interested and he contacted Sonos to have them send me one. Thomas Meyer, PR manager for Sonos, was quick to follow up and we agreed to have them send me one at the end of February, when the first wave of review units would be back. I was in no rush, and frankly, sound systems are not that interesting to me.

February passed, but in the second week of March, a german PR agency called me while I was at CeBIT, in the middle of a press conference. They told me about a company called Sonos and asked me ... I told them to just send the box already.

Time passes.

Today a courier shows up with a huge box. It contains two Sonos ZonePlayers (559 € each), one controller (449 €), one docking station for the controller (60 €). I open the first player box. Wow, what an impressive piece of hardware. There is a four port switch, four speaker terminals (2 left, 2 right) and a bunch of other audio connectors (line in, line out plus subwoofer). The box had been open before and there is no software, no cables, and as I find out later, a paper with a handwritten note.

Reading through the manuals I learn how to connect the controller to the player. Connect the player to power and run an ethernet cable to your switch. I have plenty of cables, so I get a patch cable and a power cable and connect both. Time to look at the controller. Connect the docking station to power. Insert the controller. Wait for it to start. Go back to the ZonePlayer, press mute and volume up. Wait for it to connect. No luck. Try again. No luck. Try yet again. No luck.

I go hunting for the CD. Then I read the handwritten note: Defective. Sheesh. Time to get a drink.

I unpack the second ZonePlayer. This one is brand new. All the cables in the box. Hook it up, try the controller. Works like a charm. The ZonePlayer tells me I need to register with Sonos. Don't want to do that right now. Then the ZonePlayer tells me there is an update available and it wants to upgrade. WTF? I just told it to not register. Anyway, it wants my email address before updating. Nice. I give it some email address and the player updates itself over the internet.

Next stop: Get some music connected. It turns out that the player needs either software on a Mac or a PC, or it needs a shared directory. From what I understand now, it can neither talk to iTunes (daapd), not to a uPnP media server like Twonky. I have both running on the slug, but the ZonePlayer wants to build yet another index. It is now busy reading brazillions of files from the shared directory and building its index.

Sonos & iPod

I just checked and found out it already has some files and I started playing one. This seems to work just fine. The more pressing problem I have is with the network setup. Sonos advertises:

No HEX keys. No WEP keys. No SSID.

This is truth in advertising. If I am not mistaken, then the ZonePlayer cannot connect to a wireless network. If this is true, then you need to waste one $500 ZonePlayer as a "server" in your office, connected to your wired network, in able to hear music in your living room. Since I have one good and one defective player, I might as well stop right here. One is connected to the network, the other one won't play.

Running wires from the office to my Braun speakers now. I am not impressed so far. At least when compared to feeding the speakers with a SONY TA-F707ES.

The other thing that bothers me is the controller. It feels like a Russian iPod from the 80s. It is as thick as the lower part of an iBook, you have to hold it in two hands and it takes forever to scroll from A to Z. I has a thumbwheel similar to an iPod but there are an additional 12 buttons.

Time for a break. Need to read more stuff about Sonos first. Speakers are back on the SONY and music is playing through the Airport Express.

Sonos - first impressions
Sonos - second look
Sonos - the controller
Sonos - music from the iTunes Music Store
Sonos - now we are talking
Sonos - getting into the zone
Sonos - the mesh network
Sonos - inside the ZonePlayer
Sonos - April 10 and the ZP80 is already here
Sonos - the Wife Acceptance Factor


And who on earth had the ideato send out a defective player in the first place? Sounds really sloppy to me. Anyway, I guess I'm going to build me the worlds most expensive DAAP compatible streaming server over the next few hours ;)

Stefan Rubner, 2006-03-24

Is this a "consumer product" or what? Who's got the nerves and time to configure all this? This is a freak show ...

Cem Basman, 2006-03-24

For the amount of money we're talking here, I would expect the Sonos player to just work. Tsk.

Ben Poole, 2006-03-24

Have a look at the next generation of AV amplifiers: They all have either an iPod connector and/or Wireless/Ethernet abilities: You do no longer need these expensive in-between devices to access your Audio/Video library...

Jörg-Stefan Sell, 2006-03-24

Pretty inexcusable shipping a defect box, have you raised it with them?

As you communicated in your second review, there is absolutely no need to waste a ZP as a "server" machine. Although officially unsupported a wireless bridge does work pretty well for most needs, but it's not like cat5 is redundant. Ethernet runs a long way and it's rare to find a deployment where you wouldn't want Sonos in the same room or at least adjacent to the Zone Player, so I do feel that criticism a bit unfounded.

Besides, do you not want music in your office? I know I have a ZP in my office for exactly that reason...although my NAS isn't in that room.

Sound quality wise what are you expecting? The main zone player unit contains the line-in, line-out, 4-port switch and Sonosnet wireless system along with the amp for $500. It's not going to sound like thousands of dollars worth of amplifier, because it isn't...but if you want that you can connect your top class amp to the digital out on a Sonos ZP-80.

Unfortunately with only one ZP you miss the main benefit of the system...multi-zone. You can have up to 32 linked zones and control them all from the same "Soviet" controller. The iPod/iTunes UI may be simpler but it doesn't control music in up to 32 rooms and some compromise has to be made for functionality. The controller is also illuminated in the dark, water-tight (I use when washing up or shaving) and has good battery life...vital in such a unit.

The zones can either play the same or different music, it's very flexible. When the zones are group together the music is perfectly in sync with no latency, it's like it's all coming from the same amp...but it's not...they're all independently controllable.

To answer Ben does just work. I setup 5 rooms in under 30mins.

Ben Rose, 2006-03-24

Not to worry, Ben. I will be looking deeper into this. These are only the first few hours, and there will be lot more to tell. I don't understand a few of your points though.

Don't you think it is weird that I need a wire from the first box to the office? Every single one of my friends who asked me for a media player wanted to play music in the living room from a computer in the office. None of them has ethernet in the living room.

I know how to work around with a wireless ethernet bridge, but I bet that nine out of ten people who have a WLAN never heard of one, and have a hard time understanding the concept. Also, it does ruin the design of you have a bridge sitting next to the Sonos player or on top of it.

I am not saying that ethernet is redundant. What I say is that most likely your first media player will not be in the office. And if your first was there, you can hardly claim to be the norm. I do however understand, why Sonos sells the gear as a starter kit with two players and one controller. One of the players go into the office. With one player only, a lot of people would not get what they planned for.

The other point that I do not get is the design of the desktop controller. What benefit does it have to a multizone setup, if navigating the music library is harder than in iTunes? I want to type in a few characters and then have the library filtered. When I select a track I want to be able to select its album, or genre, or artist. Make that work in every direction.

You have five players? I am afraid my place is a lot smaller than yours.

As for "inexcusable": I don't have a problem with that. It will be fixed. People are allowed mistakes. At least here at vowe's magic flying circus.

Volker Weber, 2006-03-24

Well it sounds like a nightmare to buy this product and setup the infrastructure to run it. And I agree to most people that we are heading towards a wireless technology and who would like to get a product that cannot support this type of technology.

I am in the market to buy a porduct that enables me to share my music from my computer room to my living or family area playing through my entertainment system. But I cannot have ethernet cables running arround the house.

I need help in finding the right technology, as not many people know if this exists or not in Australia. I have been to every singal retailer here in Melbourne and they cannot get me something that will enable me to share my muisce from my computer to my home entertainment.

Pranav Gupta, 2007-05-15

Pranav, you have to read the other posts linked from here. You will find that the first shipment was broken and that it actually is quite easy to set up.

Volker Weber, 2007-05-15

ive been trying to find out whether the sonos zp100 will be able to read data from my ipod. I know it can play the mp3's but can i scroll through and make selections from my connected ipod's library using the sonos handheld control pad. In all the information ive read the writers are talking about connecting the ipod via the line-in, surely this means that the sonos will have no control over the ipod and i wont be able to access the ipod's library from the handheld controller. There has to be a way, can you help me

edward warner, 2007-09-06

So what do you do after you found out the facts? Keep looking for what you imagine?

Volker Weber, 2007-09-06

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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