Sonos S5 has arrived

by Volker Weber

Sonos S5

Today I have seen the first production level unit. But first I had to part with my trusted beta S5. Sonos was very diligent in collecting the non-production units. There must be some gold hidden inside. :-)

So now it's production gear. The only obvious difference is the label and the box, which was plain white on the beta unit. Here are a few photos (they are all click through) of the unpacking process. The review is further down:

Sonos S5

Sonos S5

Sonos S5

Sonos S5

Sonos S5

Sonos S5

So how is it? Exactly like the beta hardware. Which means: this is the best all-in-one unit I have ever heard. I am not a Hi-Fi expert, and I worked as a DJ for 10 years, so my hearing might be impaired. I can compare this to the Apple Hi-Fi, which can't even come close to the Sonos, and the B&W Zeppelin, which is pretty good. I also think that the S5 sounds better than a ZP120 with Sonos speakers.

The S5 is not a boombox like the Apple Hi-Fi was. It does not deliver the same amount of punch, but it sounds a whole lot better at lower volumes, and it does not distort when cranked up to eleven. This thing can be loud, headache inducing loud. I tried that during the beta test and I did not want to be in the same room for long. You want to know if it fails or breaks but it did not.

My favorite albums to listen to on the S5 are The Köln Concert, Dark Side of the Moon and Touch Yello. They all sound fantastic.

The real surprise to me was the price. If you touch one of those, you think it should cost 500 or more, considering its capabilities. However, it sells for 400. Compare that to a Zeppelin which is only a dumb iPod dock with a remote. Here is what you want to do: don't buy one, buy two instead. And then put them into different corners of the room and link the two zones. Trust me, you are going to buy more anyway.


At least one thing confuses me. The ZP120 is $499 US and the S5 is $399 US.

Glen Salmon, 2009-11-04

Well, I said it. Should have been more expensive. :-)

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

BTW: I just learned that the production unit is different from my beta. You just can't tell from the outside. I assume there is now silver hidden inside instead of gold. :-)

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

Is ist possible to play the songs stored on the Ihpone or do you need a Itunes library on a computer ?

David Justen, 2009-11-04

The S5, like any other ZonePlayer, can play from SMB shares, Internet Radio and a number of services. For Germany that is, Deezer and Napster. The iPhone is a remote controller, not a player or a data source.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

Volker, do you connect your Apple TV to the S5? Would it be possible to redirect the Surround Sound to the S5? Thanks.

Frank Mueller, 2009-11-04

Frank, S5 has stereo line-in. You can take that signal and play it on all ZonePlayers in a household. I have two devices connected: a sat receiver to one ZP120 and a bluetooth gateway to another ZP120. I can either have the TV sound anywhere in the house or whatever my iMac is currently streaming over Bluetooth A2DP.

I have not connected the Apple TV.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

From a sound quality perspective is Sonos comparative to Bose or better?

Matt Hanson, 2009-11-04

So, we have a set of Griffin Evolve Speakers, and an Airport Express dedicated to it. So I can play the iPod sitting on it, and then carry the speakers around the house or on the porch or deck and listen to it there. Using the Airport, I can stream from the iMac running iTunes, which I can control from my iPhone via the Remote app. Using a third party app called Airfoil, I can stream sound from any app, like Pulsar (XM Radio) or Spotify (in the US! proxy tunnels FTW) or running Grooveshark or Lala, which I can control remotely via VNC on the iPhone.

Pretty complicated, but once it is setup, I can do quite a lot, and bring it whereever I want music and have it be controlled remotely. Just grab one or two of the speaker cubes and my iPhone and I'm good to go. The Griffins sound quite good, in fact incredible as far as wireless speakers go. I'm sure an S5 sounds better, having multiple drivers and being wired. The Sonos setup is also probably somewhat easier to use, and a nicer integrated experience.

My question is, seeing as the Sonos setup is pretty expensive (I'd probably get an S5 and an S90 to hook up to the Griffins - since the wireless capability is quite nice), do I get enough in new functionality and user experience, and, on top of that, can I treat the Sonos network like I do the Airport? IE, target it from iTunes and/or Airfoil?

Kevan Emmott, 2009-11-04

Matt, yes. :-) I believe it is better.

Kevan, Sonos is completely different. It plays music like a stereo, not like a computer. And it does not even need a computer, just storage (if you want to play your own stuff). Here is a sample of what it can play. If you need to add anything else from your Mac, then hook up an Airport Express to a Sonos line-in.

Do not want to say anything bad about your stuff. But those Griffin speakers are just not in the same league.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

Aus "strahlungsphobischer" Sicht gefragt: kann man beim S5 das WLAN abschalten und es nur als Speaker betreiben, digital per LAN oder analog per Line-In? Steuern könnte man es dann vielleicht direkt vom Mac oder per Squeezebox...?

Dieter Schmidt, 2009-11-04

Nein. WLAN ist immer an. Kenne jemand, der nutzt Powerline, weil er auch strahlungsphob ist. Nun ist er von Antennen umgeben: seinen Stromleitungen. Aber weil er nichts davon weiß, stört ihn das auch nicht. Wenn Du einen Strahlungsphoben beruhigen musst: jeder ZonePlayer hat eine weiße Status-LED, die konfigurierbar ist. Du kannst einfach erzählen, das WLAN sei aus, wenn die LED aus ist. Hilft natürlich nicht gegen das böse WLAN vom Nachbarn.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

Completely understood about the sound quality - I'm no stranger to true hifi. I grew up in a house with Mission CD players, Perreaux mono amps, and esoteric $10K speakers that my uncle was considering manufacturing that used all Dynaudio drivers. I probably did not emphasize enough being sure the S5 sounded better than the Griffin. I would love to truly improve the level of sound quality of everything we listen to (although I will say, hooking an Airport Express up via the digital out and streaming FLACs or Apple Lossless to it and then using a dedicated DAC has gotten quite good reviews). The Griffins just are *incredibly* handy for grabbing the speaker cubes and heading out to the porch/deck.

I guess my point was more about the overlap of features with what all I am currently running. I'm considering an S5 and possibly a ZP90 (the ZP120 just adds an amp, correct?), but wondering things like: would I replace the Airport? would I stick it in front of the Airport and get the best of both worlds? is that needlessly complex?

Also, some technical questions - one of the Sonos systems needs to be connected to a wired network at some point, correct? I guess I could probably hook it up to the Airport-acting-as-bridge? And do any of the Sonos systems give you a digital in?

Kevan Emmott, 2009-11-04

A ZP120 adds the amp and drops the line-out. A ZP90 has digital out, both optical and coaxial, but no digital in.

And yes, you are making it overly complicated. You hook up one Sonos device (ZoneBridge, ZP90, ZP120 or S5) to Ethernet. You set up the system with a few mouse clicks, add the ZonePlayers by pressing two buttons, and that's it. Then you start listening, without ever bothering too much.

I have set up two line-in devices, but almost never use them. Most of the time I just get on, select "deep house" and let the music roll. As I move about the house, I link other zones in. If I go on the deck, I drag an S5 out, plug it into power, and link that zone. Before I had an S5, I would drag a ZP80 (predecessor to the Z90) with an attached Apple Hi-Fi out. Too many wires though.

If I had to start fresh today, I would probably get half a dozen S5 players and put them everywhere. There is a ton of Hi-Fi equipment stored away now. Anybody want to buy a 400 CD changer from Sony? I also have a huge amp that was replaced by a ZP120.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

Kevan, before there was iPod, people would "manage" files on their MP3 players. When the iPod came, there were first some complaints that you needed to have your music in iTunes as well. How can I move stuff to the iPod and not keep them on the PC/Mac. All gone now.

Sonos is the same thing. You set it up. You listen to music. End of story. No sound redirections on Macs, selecting Airports or remote speakers. Just the music. In all zones, mix and match.

There are now four remotes, between six and eight players, and two bridges in my house. And they all act as one. Every remote shows the same thing, even the Macs and PCs. Leave the house? Take a remote, hit "pause all", and leave. It all shuts down to standby.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-04

Heh, you sold me... now to get the wife to agree to spring (she's the attorney, natch) for a grand worth of equipment... :-)

Kevan Emmott, 2009-11-04

It's only a beginning. :-) Does she have an iPhone or an iPod touch? That would help a lot.

Volker Weber, 2009-11-05

Aaah - what fine albums you are listing.

The two last ones are well know for being fantastic recordings. That is one dirty little secret of the music industry - no matter how brilliant the original recording was, the end product tends to be really really shoddy. It takes a relatively good stereo to start noting the difference, and then you start realizing that the weakest link of the stereo (apart from room acoustics and loudspeaker placement (50% of the sound quality IMHO) is the quality of the recordings.

A good source for inspiration for really good recordings is:


and there are also a number of boutique labels which consistently deliver fantastic recordings:

If any of you guys want to have a super-quality headphone system on your sonos ZP90, I can recommend what I have warmly:

connected to Grado RS1 headphones, with a battery-driven amplifier (RA1). Magic!

All the best and enjoy the music!

Andrew Magerman, 2009-11-10

I am now using a couple of S5 since three weeks and really like them. I also like features that I never considered important before, e.g. I am now going to sleep listening to waves ;-)

However I haven't figured out to get the sound in sync.
All the S5s playing from the same source works, but when a ZP90 enters the picture it doesn't work anymore. I suspect that my "sound system" does some kind of signal processing that adds some delay.

Also when putting the sound of a movie that I play using VLC on my Desktop into an S5's line-in, there is a delay, so that the picture and the sounds is not in sync at all. I can't say if the delay varies or is always the same, or even how to measure the delay and if it's possible to ask VLC to slow down the picture.

This may all be system immanent, but if somebody has an idea, I am all ears ;-)

Mariano Kamp, 2009-12-10


In VLC, you can:

ctrl + K or ctrl + L to increase/decrease delay (it goes up by 50 milliseconds each time)

Enter the delay in the (ever changing) preferences dialog : Screenshot


Ole Saalmann, 2009-12-10

Thanks, Ole.

Mariano, if S5 and ZP90 are not in sync you have an issue that should be fixed by Sonos support. The line-in delay is normal, since Sonos builds a buffer so that it can compensate for network latency. There is a setting in Preferences/Advanced where you can set the Line-In encoding as uncompressed or compressed. If you set this to uncompressed, you get a lower delay.

Volker Weber, 2009-12-10

Ooops, that was too quick!

I was using an old version of VLC. The current (1.0.3) version does things differently:

1. Use g and f keys (no modifier) to change delay

2. Preferences settings are not working :-(

Keep the prefs setting at zero and use g & f keys


Ole Saalmann, 2009-12-10

Thanks Volker and Ole.

Do you know if the delay is always the same for my configuration if I use uncompressed?

Actually I tried it with "g" and "f" and I think it's really hard to find the sync point, so hard that I wasn't able to do that in 5 minutes, not even close. I am not a patient person. I will try again another time ;-)
It seems my mind does so much re-syncing that it's hard to see the raw delay ;-)

I am using the digital out of the ZP90 and I will ask their support.

Mariano Kamp, 2009-12-10

Try using ZP90 with analog out. If your system is in sync then, your problem is on the other side of your digital link.

Volker Weber, 2009-12-10

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