Sonos - the Wife Acceptance Factor

by Volker Weber

The Sonos sound system has one soft factor playing for it, that you do not notice until you have it: It has an excellent WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). I am now at four ZonePlayers and Ute loves it. She hardly needed any instructions and really "gets" it.

I pay a lot of attention to the way she adopts technology. There are a number of things that clicked immediately. One of them was digital photography. It was very liberating to practice without incurring additional cost. Hard disk recorder for TV, an automatic transmission in the car, heated seats, all of those were used immediately. Other things just fell to the wayside. Like the video recorder, the MP3 streamer, an iPod (!). But now the Sonos: She "got" it the first minute. Without looking twice she accepted the Controller, and unlike me, never looked at the Mac or PC client. For her it is always showing this screen:


Instead of asking what's playing she can immediately see it at a glance. There are only three buttons used most of the time: Play/Pause plus Volume Up and Down. She has no trouble locating what she wants to hear. High up on the list is Internet radio. Currently our favorite station is, or more specifically the Smooth Jazz program.

My usage pattern is different. I often use the Desktop Controller since it is much easier to quickly select a few tracks to play and put them on the queue. Not as easy as iTunes, but OK for now. It takes a lot of screen estate though:

There still is some room for improvement. My biggest complaint is the scroll wheel on the Controller. Other than the one on the iPod or any trackpad, it does not accelerate. The sensitivity is too high to pick a single item in a list, and too low if you quickly want to jump to a different position in the long list. This needs to be fixed in a software update. The other small wish has to do with moving between zones. While it is quite easy to link zones, so that all players in a zone play the same music -- perfectly in sync btw -- transferring your currently playing queue (playlist) to a different zone could be easier. If you want to move from one room to another and take your music with you, you need two steps. Example: Moving from Office to Living Room requires two steps: Link Office to Living Room (as pictured above), then drop Office.

A nice touch: The Controller has a motion sensor so it springs to life as you pick it up. If you rest it on the table it goes to sleep and then shuts itself completely off after a few hours to conserve battery life. If you place it on the cradle it does not need to switch off, but you can set all this to your own preferences.

I contemplated a bit about the reasons Sonos was accepted so easily. I believe it "feels" like an iPod and not like a computer. You don't have to peek at a screen meters away while picking a track from thousands with a fugly remote. Instead you pick up the Controller, select the zone you want the music to play in and then select your music. You never look at the ZonePlayers, so you might as well tug them away once the novelty wears off. It feels like the controller is playing the music.

This concludes my ten part review of the Sonos system. Executive summary: Cool technology developed and built with great care. Think Apple, not Dell. Great WAF. :-)

Let the music play. I will keep you posted with news about Sonos as it happens.

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


I want one of these, no..... I NEED one of these.

Damien Katz, 2006-04-12

Well, now that you work for Google. :-)

Volker Weber, 2006-04-12

While my fake salary for fake working at Google is quite high, it only buys fake things.

My very real interest in Sonos is partly because of Rhapsody music service integration. I've been using Rhapsody with the Omfi DSM1. I've been pretty pleased with the Rhapsody service, but my DSM1 hangs so frequently it's been the source of more than one argument with my wife. Your blogging of the Wife Acceptance Factor is all too relevant to me.

Damien Katz, 2006-04-12

I have no experience with Rhapsody (and do not intend to acquire any) so I cannot tell you how well it works. I believe it adds one level of complexity: You must run the Rhapsody software on a PC. My setup does not require a PC. Sonos just accesses a file share on a NAS device.

I don't know whether I have mentioned this before: DRM is bad for the customer.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-12


Will you be at DNUG?



Ben Rose, 2006-04-12

I only use Rhapsody for the streaming music, I never purchase DRMed music on the service. I look at it like a cable TV subscription, except I use it way more often.

Ben, no I have no plans to attend DNUG, but maybe I should look into see if there are any speaker slots available.

Damien Katz, 2006-04-12

I know only too well about WAF.. The Tivo was a screaming success with both Wife and Sprog - to the extent that I cant wrestle the controls from her.

Unlike Poor Warrens experience with the MS media center...

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2006-04-12

Warren has a pretty common experience. The most expensive way of living is to underspend. You buy a couple of products which don't cut it. And then you get what you should have bought in the first place. I think everybody has done this with webcams.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-12

I have been following your review of the Sonos products. Thanks for sharing with us your experience and thoughts.

I think it fits exactly what I want. It has the features and seems to be a quality product. The wife factor hit home with me also. I think she could understand this product and she would like it as much as me. The new ZP80 with the digital outputs interests me also. When looking at ZP100, my first thought was "No digital output?" but the ZP80 fits that need nicely.

All things considered, I think that Sonos have priced themselves out of a large chuck of the market potential for this. For me the price needs to come down. My hope is that more products will enter this area and this will push the prices back to reasonable.

Steve Smillie, 2006-04-12

Steve, Sonos has two issues:

Explaining multi-room audio
Explaining the price

I think I could help to explain the first part, but not the second. My understanding is that Sonos has a large percentage of customers who come back to buy more. This tells me that they perceive their purchase as a satisfactory experience. I like to compare them to companies like Bose or B&O, not to the el cheapo MP3 streamers. If you buy two starter kits with 2 ZPs, 4 speakers and 1 controller each, plus 1 NAS device, you will have four rooms with audio, two units to control the music and you still paid less than for a single Bose Lifestyle with harddisk.

This argument does not hold up against somebody who wants to buy a Roku soundbridge for US$ 200. The same argument however can be held against German sedans. You can go places in a Chevy Cavalier just fine. :-)

Volker Weber, 2006-04-12

Hi Volker,
Thanks for your running piece on the Sonos, its something I've been contemplating for some time now

The controller looks like it has a display which could show the album artwork. However, I can't find a way to discover and download all the art work associated with my MP3s. I've tried a few bits of software that some generous people have put together, but I haven't found anything that is reliable. Can you recommend anything (sorry windows only)?


jonathan lewis, 2006-04-13

Jonathan, iTunes lets you add album art to your mp3 files. One by one. There is a number of programs that help you with this task. I suggest you check out the iPod lounge.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-13

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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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