Recently, a friend of mine
held a large audio get together sponsored by our friend's at AV123. The
event showcased lots of different speaker setups and upcoming products from
the AV123 line. About a week before the event, Shawn (the host) asked me
to come by and give him some feedback on his ideas for the event and
comments on what he had so far.
this many audio setups throughout the house can be tricky. Managing the
music for all of these demos could be even trickier. Shawn had a solution in
place though, and it was one that I wasn't familiar with.
He introduced me to
the Sonos Digital Music System (a music server). I've used a few music
server solutions in the past at my own house or friends', but I've never
really been blown away with their operability or feature sets enough to want
to invest a bunch of money of my own. After Shawn ran me through this product though, I ordered
one the next day.
reviewed Sonos a couple of years ago, and it is time for an update.
The Music System
The Sonos Digital Music
System revolves around three key products: a controller and a
choice of two different types of zone players. The zone players are the
heart of the system and are what provide you with the music. There are two
options here: the ZP 80 and the ZP 100. Both are identical in terms of what
they process (more on that later), but the difference is their output. The ZP 80
has several output options including Toslink, digital coax, and standard
stereo analog outputs. The ZP 100 features a built in 100w integrated
amplifier (50W per channel) so that you don't need an outboard receiver or
processor, you can simply plug in a set of speakers and you're good to go.
For this review I requested their controller and a ZP 80.
start in on these products, let me just put it out there that I am not
what one would call "computer savvy". Sure I have a basic understanding of
the key concepts, but once you move past web browsing, word processing, and
some other basic concepts, I'm useless. I have a very simple home network at
the house, only because I have some products in my home theater that require
an Internet connection.
Since I've been keeping my eye out for a music
server option to replace my current solution (Xbox 360), I was looking for
something that wouldn't require a Masters in Computer Networking to use. So
if you are intimidated by networking, but want something like this in
your home, the Sonos product line may be one to look at close.
important part in deciding what type of music server you want for your home
is deciding what type of features and support that server offers. You need
to look at the hardware and output options to integrate into existing audio
components, and you need to look at whether or not the audio files you plan
on using are supported. Do you like Internet streaming audio? Do you like
music subscription services? Do you plan on using lossless compression? Do
you want to integrate your current playlists? These are all questions you
should ask yourself when you're shopping around.
system supports MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), FLAC, AAC, Ogg
Vorbis, Audible, Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF. For Windows
Media Audio (WMA), there is no support for WMA Lossless. I talked with Sonos about
this and they said the format requires too much computing power for the zone
players, so other features would have been cut back to add this one, and
they didn't feel it was justified. Personally, I totally agree with them.
You still have lossless audio support with FLAC and Apple Lossless and
uncompressed support with WAV and AIFF. The unit also supports sample rates
of 48, 44.1, 32, 24, 22, 16, 11, and 8 kHz. All of the necessary decoding is
handled by the zone player.
also supports several streaming options for Internet Radio including MP3 and
WMA. On top of that, it supports playlists from a variety of music services
including iTunes, Rhapsody, Windows Media Player, Winamp, and Music Match.
So importing your existing playlists is not an issue.
streaming audio, the Sonos provides support for several subscription based
services on the market. This includes Rhapsody, Pandora Radio, and Sirius.
Existing members can integrate their subscription with ease to enhance their
music server experience. You can control your playlists, stations, artist,
song preferences, and more, right from the handheld controller. Sonos even
offers a free 30-day trial for all of these services, so you can try them out
for yourself. During my evaluation, I took advantage of all three and had
varying degrees of experience with them.
Radio is very similar to XM Radio and has become a staple for satellite
radio. It is essentially digital radio stations being streamed over a
satellite or from the Internet. There are music stations divided up by genre
or themed based stations that cover things like pop culture, politics,
sports, movies, and more.
Most of these are commercial free, or nearly
commercial free, and you can get a nice mix of tunes. I had this service for
nearly a year when I bought an SUV a few years back, and I enjoyed it for the
most part, but not enough to become a full fledged subscriber. I don't
listen to talk radio much (in fact I try to avoid it), and most of the playlists on Sirius didn't do much for me. I'm happy to see this service
supported by Sonos for anyone who already has a subscription, but it wasn't
my cup of tea.
was pretty much the same. This isn't a streaming radio service but rather an
Internet-based music service. You can stream tracks from their long list of
available music, but I found them a bit limited in selection with my music
tastes. Their interface is also a bit frustrating. Again, a nice feature for
present customers, but I didn't get a lot out of it.
Radio was the gem of the bunch in my opinion. I had never heard of this
service before, but it was quite cool. This is a streaming audio service
created by The Music Genome Project.
They have dissected music into roughly
400 attributes to allow the end user to input some simple information and
create music "stations" based on them. You are greeted with a question, "What
is your favorite Artist or Song?" and based on your response, it creates a
music station from that answer. Sounds gimmicky, but it works very well.
created about three stations from different bands that I like. The service
then plays music from that artist or artists with similar styles from there
on. The similarities were remarkable, regardless of the genre of music.
Pandora also created a "Quick Pick" station based on the stations I created.
It was a fusion of music styles based on what I had created before. I've had
that station play for hours on end and literally never heard a song I didn't
like, even if it was one I'd never heard of before. You can also provide
feedback directly from the controller telling the service what you like and
don't like, so it can adjust the playlist on the fly. Of course it displays
the artist, album, song, and cover art right on your controller. Truly one of
the coolest music services I've used to date.
to Part II.