|Sonos ZonePlayer ZP100/ Controller CR100/ Loudspeaker SP100|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Thomas Garcia|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2005|
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After more than 30 years of configuring and disassembling a wide assortment of audio and video systems, I seldom look at any manuals prior to installing and wiring components. Times have changed, though, and with the dawn of the personal computer, there are certain procedural requirements that must be followed in order to make the installations work correctly (and even then, they sometimes don’t!).
Fortunately, Sonos engineered the user interface and connectivity in such a simple format that within 20 minutes and one effortless act of synchronization, I had music playing from my PC to two different zones, one in my main living room and one in my upstairs bedroom, without one single set-up glitch or operational malfunction. It was truly a breath of fresh air to have a product like this work directly out-of-the-box as advertised.
I initially installed the Sonos software on my personal computer and followed the directions for connecting the master ZonePlayer by plugging it into my router using an Ethernet cable, and proceeded with basic instructions to initialize this first unit. After selecting the new room option and simultaneously pressing the volume and mute buttons, the initial ZonePlayer was recognized. Moving downstairs, I set up the second ZonePlayer in my living room, utilizing the wireless link to the system. Again, after choosing to connect a new player in the software and briefly holding the two buttons on the living room ZonePlayer, it worked perfectly.
All my evaluation was done with a Sony Vaio laptop computer running Windows XP Professional as the music storage device. I have attempted to create my own media server via personal computers since the late 1990s with varying degrees of success, but have never come close to having this kind of ease of use and functionality. To summarize my initial assessment of the Sonos system, I was very impressed.
One of the most significant features of the Sonos Digital Music System is the Sonosnet mesh network. A ZonePlayer need not be in wireless range of the main unit, as long as it is in range of any of the other ZonePlayers in the system. In this manner, a very large wireless system is easily achieved by creating a large mesh that radiates out from the primary ZonePlayer and computer.
One great convenience of the Sonos ZonePlayer is that the rear of each unit contains four Ethernet ports for RJ45 connectors, which is useful for expanded connectivity. One noted advantage is that, as when any main computer is linked to the master ZonePlayer and connected to an Internet provider, any room that contains a ZonePlayer now has Internet connections, a very nice feature that will undoubtedly be beneficial for many installations.
Using the System
Functionally, the Sonos Digital Music System is versatile and straightforward. I found the layout and usage of the remote intuitive and easy. Up to 32 zones can play independent songs or the same song simultaneously. Each zone has its own bass, treble, balance and loudness control, and volume is adjustable by individual zone or groups of zones. Music from up to 16 personal computers, Macs or Network Attached Storage devices may be accessed. A variety of file types are supported, including compressed MP3, WMA, AAC (MPEG4), Ogg Vorbis, and Flac (lossless) music files, as well as uncompressed WAV and AIFF files. Support for new audio formats is possible with future firmware upgrades. DRM-encrypted and Apple or WMA Lossless formats are not currently supported.
You can also play Internet radio stations using streaming MP3 and WMA formats, with 100 radio stations preprogrammed into the ZonePlayer. Any external audio source connected to a ZonePlayer can be played by all zones within the system. Rhapsody 3.0 music services are supported, as well as Rhapsody®, Itunes®, WinAmp®, Windows Media Player® and MusicMatchTM playlists.
Throughout my listening evaluations, I used a wide variety of small, two-way monitors and floor-standing loudspeakers. The amplifier section was very compatible with all loudspeaker loads, and commendable results were achieved universally. Along with Sonos own SP100 bookshelf loudspeakers, some additional excellent options that should be considered are offerings from companies such as Paradigm and Axiom. Of course, these are just a few of the alternatives, as the choices of quality matches are relatively endless. Although not discussed in great detail in this review, there is the additional option of installing in-wall loudspeakers and remotely locating the ZonePlayers to create a hidden custom installation. I believe this may be the installation of choice for many purchasers.
Listening to music through the Sonos system provided some challenges. Unlike conventional reviews that incorporate a single piece of equipment into your system for evaluation of its individual performance, the Sonos system introduces a multitude of different parameters. That being said, I achieved excellent symmetry connecting a ZonePlayer to my two-channel living room system, which consists of the JBL Ti10K four-way loudspeakers ($7,000) and a single Paradigm Seismic 12 subwoofer ($1700), using Sonos’s built-in 50-watt amplifier to feed the JBLs. This combination is definitely not the configuration that the Sonos system would normally be pared to, yet it performed very admirably.
Listening to a variety of melodic vocals such as Patricia Barber, Elton John and Chrissie Hynde, contrasted with the harder-hitting rock of Porcupine Tree, David Bowie and Stevie Ray Vaughn, gave me a great global impression of the Sonos system's ability to accurately transmit full uncompressed wave files. In my uncontrolled listening tests, I was not able to discern any compromises in the delivery of these musical cuts via the Sonos Digital Music System. I also achieved remarkably good results with MP3 files that were recorded at a minimum 320 kbps, though sonic compromises could be detected with significantly lower-resolution files. Though these lower-resolution files may be acceptable to many individuals or for background music, the true performance capabilities of the Sonos system may not be realized at the lower bit rates.