Review: Sonos Music System
for wireless multi-room
An easy way to stream and play...
'all the music on Earth in every room
Many often fail to tackle multi-room audio during a whole-house renovation. Yet implementing a hard-wired solution later is difficult — often requiring professional help — and costly especially if you want to enjoy different streams of music in different rooms in your house. It is here that the Sonos Music System comes in.
Contrary to a hard-wired solution, the Sonos multi-room audio system merges the convenience of wireless connectivity with the simplicity of a 'plug-and-play' solution you can install yourself. It gives you the possibility to play different streams of hi-fi music in different rooms in your house, while controlling the music via your smartphone, tablet device or laptop. Mind you, it does have a few shortcomings, and does not come cheap though it is much cheaper than opting for a hardwired professional installation, but...
In this review article, we first discuss the Sonos music system to see what exactly is on offer; we then proceed with a typical multi-room setup using a number of Sonos components to evaluate overall system performance. For details of this article content, please refer to the Article Index box on the right.
Video Clip Courtesy: Sonos
The Sonos Music System covers all-in-one players and music streaming components for an expandable wireless multiroom audio solution capable of carrying different streams of music in multiple rooms; control is via your smartphone, tablet, or laptop device!
System components are available from
Sonos first entered the wireless audio market in 2005; they aimed at delivering easy-to-use products that made it possible to replay hi-fi music from networked PCs and NAS devices, in any room in the house.
Since then a lot has changed in the world of home entertainment, and so has the Sonos system.
Apart from playing music from networked PCs, the Sonos wireless system today also streams music from the numerous Internet music services including iTunes, Spotify, MOG, Pandora and amazon cloud player.
The Sonos System includes all the necessary building blocks to cover every possible multi-room installation setup. The full line of Sonos products cover not only all-in-one streaming players but also dedicated system components. The all-in-one players come with built-in speakers and a dedicated bridge device that adds flexibility and increased wireless range to the Sonos system. On the other hand, dedicated components are designed to expand the Sonos system using existing AV receivers, home theater systems and speakers while adding music-streaming support to existing audio hardware in the home. However...
Sonos products do not come cheap even though lately we have seen a slight downward correction that in our opinion better reflects the system true value. Sonos also created a free app for smartphones and tablet devices to enable these to double as a Sonos remote, thus making it possible for the user to do away with the $349 Sonos Control. The latter has now been discontinued as the introduction of the free Sonos app in 2012 for PC, Mac, iOS and Android devices, made the dedicated control redundant.
Seeing Sonos addressing this cost issue is in our opinion important and encouraging as a typical multi-room setup based on the Sonos Music System covering two to three rooms may easily run in the $1,000-$1,200 range; in effect, this is the cost of the setup used to evaluate the system for this review.
Suffice to note that the Sonos PLAY:5 — Sonos most popular all-in-one player device with built-in speakers — is selling for $399. Similar pricing applies to the Sonos Connect, an unamplified wireless Sonos module designed to add music streaming support to an existing AV receiver or home theater system, while integrating it within the SonosNet wireless network; the CONNECT is selling for $349. We will be covering these Sonos music system components further on in this review
Sonos components are well built, but... Here we are talking about a music-only streaming solution. There is no doubt that if one were to compare the Sonos Music System with say the latest iteration of Apple TV, Roku 2 or Western Digital WD TV Live wireless media players reviewed on our site, the Sonos solution may seem too expensive for what it does; the average price of individual Sonos components is more than three times the price of the latest Apple TV or Roku 2!
However, none of these 'competing' devices supports multi-room media streaming in the home — at least not in the way the Sonos system does. Rather, the Sonos music system distinguishes itself in this respect thanks to an intuitive and friendly user interface designed for multi-room audio, extremely simple installation, and a most complete suite of music streaming services that it supports. This makes the Sonos system one of a kind when it comes to wireless multi-room audio applications.
OK, the Sonos is not the perfect solution, but it is the one that in our opinion comes close to providing a perfect wireless multi-room audio system suitable for both home and business applications. Though it comes at a relatively expensive price tag, the Sonos music system is still much cheaper than installing a multi-room audio system — hardwired or wireless — using professional assistance.
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The main building blocks of the Sonos music system for multi-channel audio include both all-in-one players with built-in speakers, and system components designed to integrate with existing audio hardware.
All-in-one players include the Sonos PLAY:5 and the smaller Sonos PLAY:3; under this category, there is also the Sonos SUB — a powered subwoofer module to complement all amplified components within the Sonos music system range of multiroom audio hardware.
Sonos devices to integrate with existing audio hardware include the:
Sonos CONNECT to incorporate existing AV receivers and home theater systems within the Sonos network while adding music stream support to such devices,
Sonos CONNECT:AMP to add existing unpowered speakers,
Sonos BRIDGE to enable the Sonos network to connect to the existing Wi-Fi network when none of the Sonos devices can be hardwired to the home router via an Ethernet cable.
All the different wireless Sonos devices operate over what Sonos calls the SonosNET, a secure AES encrypted peer-to-peer wireless mesh network. This means that the Sonos network is not limited by your Wi-Fi network; however, the whole Sonos setup still requires that one of the Sonos components be physically attached to the home network router via an Ethernet cable. This is required to enable the Sonos system to access your broadband Internet connection for streaming of music from online services and from networked PCs, tablets, etc. Access to the home network is also necessary to enable your smartphone, tablet device or laptop to serve as a Sonos controller. The SonosNET supports up to 32 different Sonos devices.
We will discuss each of these system components in more detail below.
The Sonos PLAY:5 is the larger of two zone players in the Sonos range, measuring 8.50 x 14.40 x 4.80 in. (H x W x D); audio power is not specified but we measured close to around 10W rms.
Available in either black or white finish with a metallic speaker grill, this all-in-one player incorporates a five-driver speaker system with each speaker driven by a separate class-D amplifier.
The tweeter and mid-range drivers on either side can operate either in stereo mode or in mono, depending on the driving audio signal and selected mode of operation; in addition, the Sonos PLAY:5 can be paired with a second unit to operate in true stereo mode.
The only controls on the unit are volume and mute buttons; these same controls are also used during system setup to connect the PLAY:5 with the rest of the Sonos network. However, you can still adjust the bass, treble and balance controls via the Sonos App for controlling smartphone/tablet device. There is no power button on any of the Sonos products and the PLAY:5 is no exception. Nor does the PLAY:5 supports a low power idle state; power consumption when the PLAY:5 is idle falls to 6W, going up to 12W when playing music.
Connectivity includes audio line-in and headphone output, a two-port Ethernet switch, and Wi-Fi support. Any audio signal fed via the line-input on the PLAY:5 is accessible via the rest of the Sonos network.
AC supply voltage can be either 120 or 240V, 50-60Hz; the incorporated power supply automatically switches to the correct supply voltage.
The Sonos PLAY:3 is basically a smaller version of the PLAY:5 player with 3-channel speaker setup instead of the five found on the PLAY:5 unit. It measures 5.2 x 10.6 x 6.3 in, and comes in either white or back finish with a metallic speaker grill. Price wise, it comes approximately $100 cheaper than the PLAY:5
It is designed for the smaller environment like kitchens, bedrooms, small waiting-rooms in business environments, etc. Sonos does not specify any audio power output for the PLAY:3 but taking into account that it makes use of class-D amplifiers, we expect the audio output to be around 3W rms. The PLAY:3 can also be paired with a second unit to operate in true stereo mode.
As with the PLAY:5, it does not come with a power switch. Power consumption of the PLAY:3 is flat at 4W irrespective of whether the unit is idle or operating at full audio power. This reduced power usage with respect to the Sonos PLAY:5 makes the PLAY:3 more appealing to eco-minded users. However, unlike the larger PLAY:5 unit, the PLAY:3 does not have neither a headphone output jack nor a line-level audio input; the only connections present on the unit are for AC input and one Ethernet port.
At $700, the SUB is the most expensive module within the full Sonos range, and in our opinion the one not worth investing in as for half the price, you can get a full size wireless home theater powered subwoofer.
Yet, what makes the Sonos SUB compelling is that it can be easily integrated with the rest of the Sonos system — coupled with any of the Sonos amplified modules namely the PLAY:5, PLAY:3 and Connect:AMP — in a multiroom wireless audio setup. In addition, coupling the SUB with the PLAY:5 and PLAY:3 Sonos components helps make the sound from both Sonos players sounds better and louder.
The SUB measures 15.8 x 6.2 x 15 inches; as with the rest of the Sonos modules, there are no controls or switches on the unit except for a side button used to join the sub with the Sonos network. However, the Sonos control app provides all necessary advance subwoofer controls like speaker size for crossover setting, volume setting, subwoofer placement, etc.
The Sonos CONNECT is a non-amplified wireless device that adds music streaming to existing home theater systems, HTiBs, AV receivers and powered speakers.
At 2.9(H) x 5.4(W) x5.5(D) inches, the CONNECT is not as compact as Apple TV or the Roku 2; and with a price tag of $349, it is much more expensive. However, it does more than just adding music streaming to existing audio hardware; rather it does so while seamlessly integrating existing audio components in the home with the rest of the Sonos music system in a wireless multi-room audio environment.
This seamless integration is achieved both by enabling connected existing audio hardware to the Sonos CONNECT to stream music from any device in the Sonos network, and also by enabling other Sonos components to stream music anywhere in the house from an analog music source connected to the analog line-level input on the Sonos CONNECT.
Other connectivity options on the Sonos CONNECT apart from the line-level in, are analog and digital line outputs, and a two-port Ethernet switch.
The Sonos CONNECT:AMP is an amplified version of the Sonos CONNECT — incorporating a 55W per channel continuous rating stereo amplifier to drive an unpowered speaker pair. This comes at a price that is $150 more than that of the CONNECT.
The integrated amplifier makes the CONNECT:AMP somewhat larger at 3.5 x 7.3 x 8.2 inches overall.
Other differences between the CONNECT and CONNECT:AMP relate the AMP connectivity, which apart from those already present on the CONNECT module, also include the speaker outputs and an auto-detect subwoofer output.
The last remaining Sonos component is the Sonos BRIDGE; this is also the least expensive module, at $49. As its name suggests, it is used to bridge the SonosNET to the existing wireless home network when none of the Sonos components within the SonosNET are close enough to be hardwired via an Ethernet cable to the home wireless router.
However, the Sonos BRIDGE has another function; it can be used to extend the wireless range of the Sonos music system in places around the home where reception is problematic.
The Sonos BRIDGE includes a 2-port Ethernet switch; power consumption is 3W, and design resembles that of the CONNECT module except that at 1.61 x 4.33 x 4.33 inches, it is somewhat smaller overall.
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The setup used for this review to help us evaluate the Sonos music system consisted of two Sonos PLAY:5 units in a medium-size living room, a Sonos CONNECT unit used with an old Marantz AV receiver in a second entertainment room, and a Sonos Bridge in the office area next to the Wi-Fi router; a Smartphone and a tablet device loaded with the Sonos app were used to control the Sonos setup. The two PLAY:5 were used both as separate units with one of the PLAY:5 in a third room and also paired together to form a stereo pair in the living room.
The whole scope of the setup was to test both amplified and non-amplified devices. The diagram below depicts the whole Sonos music system layout.
The Sonos Music System Evaluation Setup
Installing and setting up the Sonos music system is extremely easy — often requiring nothing more than the press of a button to enable a Sonos device to join the Sonos network. In the case of the PLAY:5, you have to press the mute and volume up buttons simultaneously to establish a connection with the SonosNet.
The clear and detailed documentation provided by Sonos with each unit and the ease with which the whole system can be setup makes it possible for anyone to setup the system. The only hardwired connection in our case was an Ethernet cable between the router and the Sonos BRIDGE; all remaining Sonos system components were operated wirelessly.
The most time consuming part of the setup is the indexing of your music library (depending on the size of your library) present on your Wi-Fi networked devices.
The general feel we have is that the different Sonos system components are all of excellent built quality; streaming performance is rock-solid while the supported features for a multi-room environment renders the Sonos music system in a class of its own. System configuration and control via the available Sonos control apps is easy and intuitive, and the whole setup worked as expected.
Synchronizing all Sonos music system components in the house to play the same music stream did not produce any perceivable echo between the different playback devices in the Sonos network. This is definitely a major plus for the Sonos as echoing due to different delays is often an issue with many wireless multi-room audio systems.
The Sonos system also managed to simultaneously stream different music streams to each of the Sonos devices in the Sonos network without any dropouts due to bandwidth issues. In effect, streaming performance is superb thanks to the way the Sonos wireless network operates separate from the home Wi-Fi network.
Sound quality from the Sonos PLAY:5 units was good, with clear sound. The five built-in speaker drivers provide a rich sound with a relatively deep bass but the small cabinet means that both sound quality and left-right channel separation suffer. The overall sound experience improved drastically when the Sonos PLAY:5 was paired with the second PLAY:5 unit in our setup in the same room for a true stereo experience; pairing a second unit is easy and can be completed through a few steps from the Music Menu/Player Settings on the controlling device.
However, do not expect audiophile quality, nor expect that these Sonos speakers will fill any room with sound as Sonos say. These are definitely good for the small room; use in a medium size room depends on the level of loudness you expect. Combining the PLAY:5 with the Sonos SUB should help improve the overall sound fill in the medium size environment.
The Sonos CONNECT forms part of the Sonos family of non-amplified products and will surely appeal more to the audiophile than the PLAY:5. The main appealing factor of the CONNECT is that it leaves you with the option of making use of the best sound amplification system and speakers you have in the home. In other words, if you want to stream music over a set of 'real speakers', the CONNECT is the Sonos device to go for.
As expected, sound quality of the CONNECT is one of the best - though we found that the overall sound was lean in the bass portion; we had to adjust the bass slider up on the Marantz AV receiver to make up for this during system evaluation.
The Sonos control apps for smartphone and tablet devices are easy to use and provide a great intuitive way to system configuration functions, access to the numerous Internet music services, and the music library; if you can make use of a smartphone of tablet devices, you can install, configure and use the Sonos music system.
The greatest strength of the Sonos system — thanks to the Sonos control apps — is the ability to make playlists on-the-fly and control multiple music zones around the house. The user interface however, is not perfect and does lack that much-desired seamless integration between the different supported services.
The Sonos music system is not cheap and does not stream video content; unless you are after a multi-room audio setup in the house, a wireless media player such as the Roku 2 or the Apple TV offers more in terms of multi-media streaming for much less.
Yet for the price, the Sonos wireless multi-room audio solution offers a great simple plug-and-play solution that is surely much cheaper than having a professional retrofit a multi-room audio distribution system, to play multiple streams of music in different rooms around the house. In this respect, the Sonos solution stands in a class of its own offering features and conveniences no other system within its class supports.
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