Product Review (December 2005)
Sonos - Digital Music Server

By Kevin Nakano


Modern upscale homes are often coming equipped with distributed audio systems, which have traditionally relied upon multi-zone electronics driving long cables throughout the house. There are many offerings available from a variety of well established companies. However, most of these systems require wall panel controllers and a central distribution hub. A company called Sonos has introduced their solution which leverages from standard home networks using CAT5 cables or wireless 802.11b WiFi connectivity. We first saw the Sonos Digital Music Server demonstrated at the 2004 Electronic House Expo in Long Beach, California over a year ago. The system had an impressive wireless handheld controller with a detailed color LCD display providing feedback to the user. Naturally, we were excited to get our hands on a system for review. Our patience paid off when we received the long-awaited Sonos package (specially priced at $1199) that included two ZP100 ZonePlayers ($499 each) and the CR100 Controller ($399). Almost as amazing as the features offered by Sonos was the ease of setting up the system. It took less than 15 minutes to get the audio up and running. The user is required to connect at least one of the ZonePlayers to a wired ethernet connection. The other ZonePlayers (up to 32 in all) have the option of wired or wireless connections. The Sonos system does not hold the music, but instead accesses the content through the network connection using a PC, Mac or Network Attached Storage box. We used our existing file server PC running Windows XP to distribute our music. Sonos supports compressed MP3, WMA, AAC (MPEG4), Ogg Vorbis, and Flac (lossless) music files as well as uncompressed WAV and AIFF files. The latest firmware update (Version 1.3) now offers support for Apple Lossless Codec. Additional enhancements have also made their way into the latest firmware update including better playback control and larger cover art.

Software
Setting up the system is easy and fully supports PC or Mac systems. If neither is available and the music files are hosted on a network-based hard drive, the handheld CR100 controller can be used to identify the ZonePlayers. We used our Sony Vaio laptop to run the Desktop Controller software. It was obvious to us that Sonos dedicated a lot of time and effort in the development of their software to make it user friendly. It has been completely stable throughout our review period (2 months) and is feature rich. Each ZonePlayer location can be named and later identified in the Zone menu. The Desktop Controller software gives the user full control of the Sonos system. Playlist files created with third-party software such as iTunes, WinAmp and Windows Media Player can be imported.

The Sonos software also supports protected content using Rhapsody 3.0 from Real.com. Setting this up requires more effort, but we were able to stream content from the Rhapsody music site with our trial subscription. Music quality from this site was reasonably good, but not quite as impressive as music we encoded at higher bitrates (320kb/s).

Navigating through the Desktop Controller software was intuitive. The left side of the window displays the zones defined by the user. The center portion of the screen displays the "Now Playing" music cover art along with artist, album and track information. Also included is the music queue with the ability for the user to remove tracks as well as clear or save the queue. The right side of the user interface displays the library content grouped by Artist, Albums, Genre, Composers, Tracks and Playlists.

Controller
The CR100 controller is an ergonomically designed unit with an impressive looking LCD display. Similar music information found on the computer's main software screen is also provided on the wireless portable controller. A total of nine backlit buttons and three soft buttons located below the screen are provided. Volume and mute buttons are located on the left side with standard controls for selecting and playing tracks on the right. Navigating through the menu system is made easy with the iPod-like navigation wheel built into the unit with the center select button. The Zones button selects the zone while the Music button chooses the audio content by Music Library, Playlists, Internet Radio stations or Line input. A built-in light sensor automatically illuminates the keys when low ambient light is detected. The LCD display and button backlight levels can be adjust through the settings menu. Powered by a rechargeable Li-Ion Polymer, factory-replaceable battery, the CR100 controller has a battery level indicator on the top right corner of the screen. When charging the unit, the top right indicator illuminates orange. Once the unit is fully charged, the indicator illuminates green.

The Controller provided excellent two-way communication in every room inside of our home. Most wireless products run into reception problems at extreme ends of our single-story house, but the Sonos CR100 communicated with the ZonePlayers without a problem. In addition, our second CR100 Controller worked seamlessly with the first, allowing us to have both controllers operating different zones in the house simultaneously. When viewing the same ZonePlayer on the two different controller screens, one controller updates accordingly with the other used to control the music.

Linking Zones
Using the Link Zone feature, users can link some or all of the listening zones to a single group. This is particularly useful when having a party or when one might be moving from one room to another within the house and would like to hear the same music. At the same time it is possible for one or more of the other zones to be running fully independent audio streams. The controller clearly shows which zones are linked and what music is currently playing on each zone. In addition, the mode (Stop, Play or Pause) is also indicated on the screen next to each zone grouping. The Drop Zone button is visible when more than one zone is assigned to a given group. Pressing this button allows the user to release a zone.

Linking Volumes
Controlling the volume level of all linked zones is easy using the Group Volume control. The Group Volume control appears as part of the individual volume levels when multiple zones are linked in a group. The volume for each zone within a group can be individually set and are globally controlled using the Group Volume. If the Group Volume level is set to the maximum, all zones are also set to the maximum levels. When the Group Volume is reduced, all zones are reduced equally even though the initial values may have been different from one another. The implementation of the level controls proved to work very well in our setup.

Charging Cradle (CC100)
One thing became apparent when we used the handheld controller. We did not like having to connect and disconnect the power plug to the unit each time we wanted to charge it. Luckily, Sonos recently introduced the much anticipated Charging Cradle (CC100), designed specifically for the CR100 controller. The CC100 is simply a docking station that uses the controller's existing AC adapter to power two metal contacts at the base of the unit. The power jack attaches to the bottom of the unit as seen here. Once set up, the user can place the CR100 controller in the cradle and the unit charges through these contacts. The cradle is also a convenient way of holding the controller for easy viewing. The $49.99 price tag seems steep for a piece of plastic, but is an essential part of the system. The CC100 package also includes a bracket with anchors and screws for wall mounting the unit. Not only does the new cradle look good, but it makes using the controller simple with easy docking. We chose to use the cradle on our table without mounting it to a wall.

Installation
The ZonePlayer is a compact design measuring 10.2" wide, 8.2" deep (including speaker terminals) and 4.4" tall. Our setup included a pair of Klipsch RB-15 compact bookshelf speakers for our initial testing. ZonePlayers can go anywhere AC power is available and connect wirelessly when a wired Ethernet connection is not available. Our setup used a wired connection for each of our ZonePlayers. Each ZonePlayer is identified by pressing the Mute and Volume Up buttons simultaneously. This lets the Desktop Controller software identify the location of each of the ZonePlayers during the setup process. Both our Controller and ZonePlayers required a firmware update that was automatically detected by the software. We were prompted to proceed with the update and the latest data code was transferred from the Sonos website.

The front panel has a white indicator when the unit is online. This light can be disabled if it causes a distraction in environments such as home theaters. The green Mute light will illuminate on the front panel when the user activates mute on the ZonePlayer. Both the Controller (CR100) and the ZonePlayers (ZP100) are Linux-based products based on a 2.4 version of the kernel. Using the Sonosnet™ system, each of the ZonePlayers form a self-configuring secure peer-to-peer wireless mesh. This allows different audio streams to flow to and from each zone. Each ZonePlayer also serves as an access point for the handheld controller.

Connections
The rear panel of the ZonePlayer has a detachable power cord with an input voltage selector switch (115VAC/230VAC). A pair of speaker outputs designed to provide 50W minimum RMS per channel into 8 ohms and a pair of line level outputs are also provided. A line-level subwoofer output is also provided for powered subwoofers and can be especially important when using main speakers that lack low frequency response. This autosensing output automatically applies an 80 Hertz crossover to the main and subwoofer outputs. The latest firmware update (Version 1.3) allows the line level outputs to be fixed or variable using the Sonos volume control.

The rear panel also includes a 4-port ethernet switch which allows other wired ethernet products to use the same network drop. An autosensing pair of analog inputs is detected by the ZonePlayer and can be used as an audio source for any of the other ZonePlayers. We connected our multi-zone Antex SRX-3 TriplePlay SIRIUS® receiver to supply programming to other zones in the Sonos network. Users have access to Internet radio stations preprogrammed into the Sonos offering a variety of music.

Conclusion
We have seen many distributed audio systems over the years and some have had impressive features. The main drawback of the more sophisticated products is the complexity and/or the price. In addition, the vast majority require custom installation to maximize their capabilities and are not always available directly to the consumer. The Sonos Digital Music system is designed for anyone who wants to set up and stream music to multiple locations in their home or office using wired ethernet or wireless 802.11b (WiFi). The clever design includes a wireless handheld controller with an attractive color display completely capable of showing the cover art of your CDs. The system is very intuitive and we had the system up and running in less than 30-minutes with minimal use of the manuals. Mac users can rejoice because Sonos is completely compatible with both PCs and Macs.

The bundled package priced at $1,199.00 includes a single handheld wireless Controller, and two ZonePlayers offering customers a savings of $200.00 compared to purchasing the components separately. Having seen so many options for distributing audio in today's homes, I can't think of a better all-around product than the Sonos Digital Music System. The product is not only well-engineered with excellent build quality, but it offers customers the sonic performance and features the set it apart from anything else we have seen. Finally a product that both you and your spouse can enjoy.

- Kevin Nakano






OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Player




Review System

In-Wall Speakers #1: M&S Systems- WG150W
In-Wall Speakers #2: Phase Technology - CI 20VII
In-Wall Speakers #3: Home Theater Direct - HD-W80


Review - At a Glance


Sonos - Digital Music Server


Sonos ZonePlayer (ZP100)

Features
Multi-room digital musicZonePlayers can go anywhere and connect wirelessly when a wired Ethernet connection is not available. Play the same song in different rooms, or different songs in different rooms—simultaneously. NOTE: The first ZonePlayer you install must connect to your home network using a standard Ethernet cable.
Superior audio qualityBuilt-in 50W/channel amplifier powers large or small speakers, with componentquality
sound.
Easy set upAutomatic wired or wireless set up. Add new ZonePlayers with one button-press.
Analog Audio Input with digital encodingMusic from an external audio source (such as a CD player or portable MP3 player)
connected to one ZonePlayer can be played by all other ZonePlayers in the system.

Technical Specifications
Amplifier50W minimum RMS per channel (8 ohms, 20-20 kHz, THD+N < 0.02%)
Analog audio connectionsRCA-type Line In (auto-detecting), Line Out, Subwoofer Out (auto-detecting)
Ethernet connection4-port switch, 10/100Mbps, auto MDI/MDIX
Wireless connectivitySonosnet™, a secure, peer-to-peer wireless mesh network
Music formats supported (44.1 kHz)Native support for compressed MP3, WMA, AAC (MPEG4), Ogg Vorbis, and Flac
(lossless) music files as well as uncompressed WAV and AIFF files. DRM-encrypted and
Apple or WMA Lossless formats not currently supported.
Music Services SupportedRhapsody 3.0
Operating systems (for stored files)Windows 2000, XP; Mac OS X; Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices supporting CIFS
System Setup software (included)PC or Mac (see website for supported operating system versions)
Power SupplyAC 120/240, 50-60 Hz, user-switchable
Dimensions10.2 x 8.2 x 4.4 in. (260 x 209.5 x 113 mm), 10.0 lb. (4.5 kg)


Sonos Controller (CR100)

Features
Wireless, handheld controlControl everything from volume to music selection in any room from anywhere. No more running back and forth to your PC.
Full-color LCD screenProvides bright, clear display of choices and information, including album art, if available.
Scroll wheel selectorMakes it easy to scroll through large music collections and make selections.

Technical Specifications
Screen3.5" (diagonal) color LCD with LED backlight, 240 x 320 (QVGA)
Scroll wheelTouch-sensitive scroll wheel with center-mounted selector button
Function buttons9 backlit buttons, 3 soft-selector buttons below screen
BatteryRechargeable Li-ION Polymer, factory-replaceable
Wireless connectivitySonosnet™, a secure, peer-to-peer wireless mesh network
DC chargerInput 100-240VAC, 50-60Hz Output 6VDC, 3.8A
Dimensions6.5 x 3.8 x 0.95 in.(165 x 97 x 24.5 mm), 12.5 oz. (360 g)


Company Information
Sonos, Inc.(Headquarters)
223 E. De La Guerra
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Phone: 805-965-3001
Fax: 805-965-3010

Source: Manufacture Supplied
MSRP: $1199 (Special package includes two ZonePlayers and one Controller)

URL: www.sonos.com

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