A few months ago, I decided to upgrade my music system. I began looking at CD "jukeboxes" that could load my entire collection. Along the way, I discovered the world of wireless music systems, and began researching them. Sonos seemed to be well-received, so I finally made the decision to purchase a ZoneBridge and a ZonePlayer 120. This setup has fulfilled every expectation I had for a new music system, and more. It's an easy and pleasant way to listen to music you already own, and to discover new music.
Below is my review of all the main benefits I see to this amazing system.
1. System Setup
Sonos offers many hardware options, but they all have a few things in common. A Sonos ZoneBridge connects to your computer - it "indexes" music on your hard drive and connects to the Internet for music services (more on that later), then it beams all this to a ZonePlayer, which is hooked up to speakers somewhere else in your home. It creates a wireless network dedicated just to music and does not interfere with other wireless devices. You can add more ZonePlayers, and they all pick up the same wireless signal and allow you to listen to your collection in multiple locations throughout your home.
The ZonePlayer 120 has standard jacks for directly connecting speakers. You can also hook up an ethernet cable, if you want to stream music through a wire instead of using the wireless signal. Finally, the ZonePlayer 120 allows you to connect an analog device using standard RCA cables. For my setup, I just hooked up two speakers.
To get ready for this system, you must rip all your physical CDs into a music library. This is the most time-consuming part of the process. But there is nothing unusual here. You can use iTunes to rip CDs into your library, just as you normally would. To get the best sound quality from the Sonos system, you should rip everything using "Apple lossless" format (instead of MP3). This is really easy to do in iTunes. Lossless is not required (you can use MP3s if you want) , but it's better because you'll get CD-quality sound.
After you rip all your CDs into an iTunes library, you run the Sonos "Desktop Controller," which comes free with Sonos systems. This is one of the easiest and most intuitive software applications I've ever used. Just tell it to set up your music library. It finds your iTunes collection and "indexes" it in the Sonos system. Depending on the size of your collection, this may take a little while. With my collection of about 400 CDs, indexing takes about three minutes.
After that, there is an automated process where the software "locates" your ZoneBridge and ZonePlayer. On your computer screen, it literally shows a picture of the devices with arrows pointing at the buttons you need to press. In less than five minutes (seriously) the Sonos Desktop Controller can have the whole system done and ready to go.
Other than that, you just decide whether you want to use one of Sonos' remote controllers, or get the free Sonos app which runs on the iPhone or iPod Touch. I use the free app, and it it works great: I turn on the iPod Touch, click the "Sonos" icon, then scan my entire music collection and play anything, within a few seconds.
2. The Listening Experience
Of course, easy set up does not matter if the system doesn't sound good. Well, Sonos sounds great. The music that plays through the ZonePlayer is CD quality (remember to rip in Apple lossless format). It's as simple as that.
There is about a three-second wait time when you first click on the icon on your controller, as the Sonos systems starts up. But after that, you can run through your collection without delay. I like how my music collection is suddenly organized alphabetically by artist, album, or track names. If you're like me and have a large collection, this indexing of your music is itself a great improvement over looking through hundreds of CDs for the one you want! Of course, the accuracy of your index relies on the album and artist data you provide when ripping your CDs into your iTunes library.
Once the music starts to play, it just works. I've never had interruptions due to wireless connection problems. While the music plays, you see album artwork on your controller, plus the standard play/pause/forward/rewind functions we're all accustomed to. You can also create playlists.
3. Music Discovery
Of course, having your entire music collection easily accessible is great. But the Sonos system goes much further. I was pleasantly surprised after I started using my Sonos system to see some excellent music discovery options I had not known about before.
Through the Sonos system, you can access Pandora (the free Internet radio service) and play it through your stereo speakers.
You can also access radio stations from around the world and play them live over your stereo system. I've enjoyed cruising my local radio stations, or stations from around the world. You can find stations in obvious places like the US, Europe, Africa, and South America. But you can also find them in remote areas of the South Pacific, Asia, Antarctica (I'm not kidding), and places you may have never heard of before. It seems as though almost every corner of the globe is represented in this system. If you find a station you like, you can bookmark it as a favorite. It is important to point out that when you play a radio station through this system, it is not a canned pre-recorded program. You're hearing the actual broadcast, exactly as it would be heard by a "regular" radio.
You can also take out a subscription to an online music service. I chose Napster for $60/year. At any time, in about a minute or so, I can locate artists, albums, or tracks and play them on my stereo system. The sound quality of Napster is not quite the same level as the lossless files ripped from my CD collection, but it's very good. You can bookmark your favorite albums or artists to play them easily each time you start the Sonos system. Napster even has some interesting spoken-word "albums" like poetry readings and stories. You cannot create CDs from Napster music, but I use it all the time to hear enough to decide if I want to buy the actual CD, which I then rip into my library.
There are numerous other music services available through the Sonos system. All of them show up right on the main menu of your controller.
4. Product Support
The Sonos system often feels overwhelming when you're first looking into it. When I began reading about it, I was confused about all the different ZonePlayers, could not tell what I really needed, and did not know about the sound quality of the equipment. For me, it was great having the Sonos user forum, a group of customers helping each other. There are a lot of patient people there who are willing to help you understand what the Sonos system is all about. After purchasing the system, you may have a question or two about options and possibilities, and the user forum is great for all of this.
As you can see, I'm a big fan of what Sonos has done with their music system. It really has opened up all kinds of listening possibilities. I can play music easily and at high quality levels, and I even see my own collection better now - sometimes noticing CDs and songs I had forgotten about!
I recommend this system strongly to people who want to modernize their music library but keep the same music quality they are accustomed to with CDs.
on December 10, 2013
This review was originally posted for the PLAY:1, but I'm modifying it for the BRIDGE since the review applies to both products.
I just purchased a home and was looking into having it wired for whole-house audio. Looking into multi-room systems on Amazon, it was apparent to me that it wouldn't be cheap: cost of the speakers, controllers, PLUS cost of running wires throughout the house. When I saw the SONOS PLAY:1 and BRIDGE promotions, I found its wireless solution to be more cost effective, and with better speakers to boot. Below are the pros and cons that led me to decide for the Sonos system.
NOTE: a Sonos BRIDGE is NOT needed to use the PLAY:1/3/5, etc. See the INSTALLATION section of this review. The BRIDGE is primarily used to extend Sonos' wireless range at lower cost than additional speakers.
- Hi-Fi. Speakers sound better than the multi-room, wired systems I looked at for less than $500.
- Resale Value. Wired speakers don't add much resale value to your house. So, why spend $1000s, only to leave the audio system behind when you sell the property or move? With wireless, I could take my expensive speakers with me to my new home.
- Freedom to move around.
With wireless, you are free to take the speakers anywhere you want throughout the whole house. For neighborhood block parties, I could even hook up the speakers to an extension cord out to the street, and stream music from my home. Or take it outside to your backyard. They are moisture-proof, but I wouldn't use them as permanent outdoor speakers unless you enclose them in protective casings.
NOTE on wireless: each SONOS component is its own wireless client and repeater. Sonos wireless is a private, wireless "mesh" system, separate from your home WiFi. What does that mean to you? It routes music through its own wireless, leaving your home WiFi untouched. There's an additional benefit for that, as I'll explain after the installation note below. Most of the Sonos components (PLAY:1 is NOT one of them) have 2 network ports. This means, you can plug in the component into the network jack, and use the 2nd one on the speaker to connect your laptop.
INSTALLATION: First, the tech talk. You need 1 Sonos component to be plugged in to your home network (any of the PLAY speakers, Soundbar, Bridge, etc.) So, as an example, you must plug in either the BRIDGE or the PLAY:1 to your network with a network cable. This turns that component into a wireless access point (or as consumers tend to call it, a "Wifi router".) All other Sonos components will now be able to wirelessly talk to that plugged-in device. No other Sonos component has to be plugged in, as long as it's within wireless range of the plugged-in one. Should a component in your house be too far away (say, your garage) from the plugged-in one, you can connect it to your network via cable, if available, or set up a Sonos BRIDGE (or any other Sonos speaker) wirelessly somewhere between the plugged-in one and the Garage speaker. The BRIDGE or other speaker strengthens the wireless from the plugged-in one, and extends the range to the one in the Garage. Each Sonos component is both a wireless client, and a wireless access point/repeater. Each component talks to each other in a mesh network. Think of a spider net. Any part that is touched vibrates to the rest of the net.
Tech-talk aside, think about this: One person (Person 1) is at a corner of the house. When he shouts, the person in the garage (Person 2) can't hear Person 1. The only way Person 1 can talk to 2, is to pick up the phone (talking over a wired connection, or plugging a distant Sonos component to the wired network) or having Person 3 stand between them (having a Sonos component physically be between both speakers) and relaying the information back and forth (what WiFi mesh would do). So, with each Sonos component/speaker, the Sonos wireless range gets extended.
With the Sonos wireless mesh, you could humorously place a few speakers into each house in the neighborhood, and suddenly play the same music through each home. Try that with Bluetooth speakers. You wouldn't be able to.
WiFi mesh TIP: if you have an Android device, you can Google "Android devices on SonosNet", and you will see instructions on how to use your Sonos wireless network ("SonosNet") to connect your Android phone/tablet. This allows you to use your mobile device further away from your home WiFi. This has disadvantages and advantages out of the scope of this review. I decided not to use SonosNet for my tablets.
NOTE: a Sonos BRIDGE is NOT needed to use the PLAY:1. Just plug in the PLAY:1 to the wired network (ie your router), and it will work just fine. You still control it with the Sonos App from your mobile device. Once the PLAY:1 is plugged in, you can add other Sonos components to the system. A BRIDGE is NOT needed for that either. It's only needed if you want to extend the Sonos wireless range to a farther part of your house or yard for $50 vs buying another PLAY speaker for $100+)
- Small size. The BRIDGE is about the same size as an Apple TV/Roku/WD TV Live.
- Ease of Pairing. To pair other Sonos components (or with the Sonos Controller App), simply hit the Play/Volume Up button on the speaker, and the same combination on the other speakers. If pairing with the BRIDGE, hit the pair button on that component.
- LED. The Bright LED can be configured to turn on/off via the Sonos app.
- Ease of music sync.
You can use the free Sonos app for your Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod), Windows Phone, Mac/Windows laptop/tablet (sadly, no Windows Store app yet) to control how the speakers play: you can easily choose which speakers to pair/unpair into groups. Grouping the speakers allows you to play the same music on those speakers. You can have up to 32 separate groups. You can also individually control each speaker from the app. Each group's volume is controlled by the Sonos app. So, if Speaker 1 is set to 50% volume, and Speaker 2 is set to 25%, lowering the volume by 5% will lower Speaker 1 to 45%, and 2 to 20%.
Once music is playing, you can leave the house, and it will continue to play -- as long as the music source is not coming from that mobile device (meaning: if you're playing MP3s from your phone, and your phone leaves, it will stop playing. But if you started Pandora from your phone, or you told the speaker to play music off one of your network shares, it will continue playing since the source is coming from a device that's still at home.)
PARTIES: one cool feature is that once you download the Sonos Controller app and pair it to one of the Sonos speakers (which authorizes the app/phone to talk to your Sonos system -- this prevents unauthorized people outside your home from controlling your speakers), each device can control the playlist. So, if you have guests coming over, and each guest downloads and authorizes the Sonos app to your system, each guest can now add/remove songs from the queue. Everybody can now be a DJ.
Sonos did a smart thing. They released the less expensive PLAY:1 to wet your/my appetite, and gave away BRIDGE for free, too. As you use the system, you will likely buy more Sonos components to expand your sound system, resulting in more revenue for the company. You can add any Sonos component to your system, and they will all work in harmony. You can set up a complete home theater system that way too. I know, sounds pricey. It is. But it still is cheaper than having your whole house wired with nice speakers.
- Alarm/Sleep timer.
You can set up each speaker (or Group of speakers) to play music at a specific time, day, and volume (Alarm) from a specific source for a specified amount of time. Or you can also set a Sleep timer to play music for a specific number of minutes to ease you into sleep. I love getting waken up by mellow music (ie. Norah Jones) in the morning, and when I leave the home, I don't have to worry about turning off the speakers. It'll automatically turn off after the 45 minutes I set up for the alarm.
- Sound. Sound quality is quite good. I will leave you with the reviews by others to read more about that. With the Sonos app, you can control Bass, Treble, and volume. I have the speakers play between 15% to 25% volume in each room -- they are plenty loud enough. Setting them to 100% can be heard through the whole house -- and the potential for your neighbors to complain. Even at low volume, the sound is very good. It's definitely better than most Bluetooth speakers. If you put the PLAY:1 in the corner of a room, the sound seems a bit more muffled due to the amplification of the Bass by the walls on both ends. You can fix this by adding more Treble, or by moving the speaker away from the corner.
- Design. The PLAY:1 and BRIDGE are beautiful devices. They don't look out-of-place in my home. I bought the White ones.
I couldn't find many cons with the PLAY:1. But here are some that have annoyed me.
- Cost. The Sonos system is expensive. Just look at the price of the other components. Holy moly. Still, if you were to wire your house with Bose speakers, the Sonos system is comparatively inexpensive. Again, I chose Sonos because wiring the house won't add much resale value. I like the idea of being able to take my Sonos with me to my new home.
- Sonos App Interface. The app is clunky and looks outdated. It took me a while to figure out where to go to do what (and I love gadgets/toys. I'm a technology tinkerer!). It's not very user friendly.
- Music sources. Not all apps can play to the Sonos speakers. You have to use the Sonos App, add the approved source to it, then you can play from that source. I wish you could re-route any audio from any device to the speakers. Pandora, network shares (NAS), iTunes, TuneIt Radio (built-in), iPod/iPad/iPhone, media files on your own Android/Windows device are all possible sources. At one point (if I remember correctly), my not-so-tech-savvy dad was able to beam his iPad's YouTube sound to the speakers without using the Sonos App. I didn't get a chance to verify how he did it, but I did see the PLAY:1 being available as a target on his iPad. Perhaps it was playing via the DLNA protocol. Either way, that was neat.
- Input source. I wish that the PLAY:1 had a Line-in/Aux port so that you can connect any music source to it for playback, such as your TV or existing home entertainment system. Yes, the Sonos CONNECT takes care of that, but look at the price of that component! Even then, the CONNECT doesn't support SPDIF/Optical input.
Weren't it for the Amazon/Target promotions on Black Friday, I would have been EXTREMELY hesitant to buy these expensive speakers. I bought two PLAY:1 during the promotion. With that said, overall, I'm quite pleased with the purchase. It came out cheaper than wiring the house, and I get to control my music from any of the mobile devices. That's neat. Lower the prices of your other components, Sonos! I hope for increased competition in the market to drive the prices down -- as of today, I'm not aware of any good, alternate, wireless HiFi solution.
I have the BRIDGE installed downstairs in a 2-story home. One PLAY:1 is upstairs, and one PLAY:1 is downstairs. I may purchase more PLAY:1s in the future. The BRIDGE is not needed at all for my home since one of the PLAY:1 can act as the wireless access point for the other.
EDIT 5/12/14: Almost half a year later, and I'm still enjoying the PLAY:1. By the way, Sonos is working on making it unnecessary for any Sonos component to be connected to the wired network/router. From their blog post, titled, "Our Vision for Rock-Solid Wireless, Evolved" (April 17, 2014), "We've found a way to deliver all the benefits of SonosNet without a product directly connected to your router... Start with a speaker and your smartphone, enter your WiFi password and Sonos takes care of the rest."
I've also updated my review with the clarification, "Most of the Sonos components (PLAY:1 is [NOT] one of them) have 2 network ports." (Thank you, JOEKC, for pointing out the original review's error)
EDIT 6/16/14: Clarified that SonosNET is a proprietary wireless network. (Thanks, Kerton)