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Sonos ZonePlayer 80 Wireless Digital Music Server

Part III

October, 2007

Kris Deering

 

In Use

I think I've already made it quite clear that this is a simple system to use. I couldn't be happier with the interface. The question is, can this system deliver the level of performance I'm looking for. I know most people just plug in a bunch of low bit rate MP3's, but I was looking for a system that can output bit for bit identical audio tracks from their CD counterparts into my reference audio processor.

All of the music I've loaded onto my hard drive was extracted using the program Exact Audio Copy. This program ensures bit for bit ripping from a CD and evaluates for errors during the process. Once that audio is extracted, I used FLAC Frontend to convert the raw WAV files to lossless FLAC files. This compresses the file sizes, but ensures the files are bit for bit identical with the original WAV files. Both of these programs synch up with each other, making the process a snap.

To compare the quality of the tracks with their CD counterparts, I used the HDMI output of Oppo Digital's new 983H DVD player. Since this player is outputting a digital bitstream via HDMI, it acts as a transport. I could cue up a CD on the Oppo and cue up the exact same track on the Sonos system. I started off with a test track to ensure proper level matching and then began my comparison. Both sounded identical regardless of the material I used, making this a very flexible option for doing speaker demos or audio evaluations.

There was a bit of a hit in quality when I used the streaming audio services compared to the music on my server, but I expected as much. Most streaming services and Internet radio use a lower compression quality to preserve bandwidth and space. But the quality was good enough that I doubt many people would even notice the subtle differences. This was especially the case with Pandora, which allowed me to pause the tracks and A/B between their streaming track and my stored version. The differences were there, but they were subtle.

At the end of the day, the Sonos did leave me wanting in one area. As soon as I saw that this product supported a digital output, the gears in my head starting chugging with the possibilities of supporting surround sound music. As some of you know, I am a big fan of 5.1 music and have a decent collection of DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD selections. While I wouldn't expect this product to support decoding of either of these formats, there is no reason to think it couldn't simply pass through the raw DTS and Dolby Digital tracks found on DVD-Audio, DTS CDs, and DVDs. There is plenty of software available on the open market that allows you to extract these soundtracks into their raw data file. If the Sonos recognized these tracks it could send them through in their raw form via their digital output and allow any surround sound processor or receiver with a Dolby Digital and DTS decoder to process them. You would instantly have a 5.1 music server. I talked with the co-founder of Sonos and gave him the rundown on this, and I hope its something they'll consider with future updates. No decoding would need to be added, it would simply need to identify the file extension and pass it through.

Conclusions

I think it's clear to see that I was quite impressed with these products. This is without a doubt the most full featured music server system that I've used, and I thought the interface and setup ease were second to none. The price is a bit higher than you'll find with some other popular server solutions, but the flexibility it adds in remote zones, connectivity, streaming services, and audio support is hard to beat. Anyone in the market for a wireless music server would be remiss to not give this one a look. The Sonos Music System has found a permanent home in my theater system, and I couldn't recommend it more.


- Kris Deering -

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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