Sonos Review

Sonos S5Recently I purchased a basic Sonos system, and after just a couple of weeks I’m already in love with it and have more music playing in my house than ever before.

For those of you who haven’t come across Sonos before, Sonos produce a multi-room wireless music system. The system consists of a number of devices that connect to each other using a proprietary mesh network. You can buy Sonos devices that contain built in speakers, or ones that connect to your own as well as a device to link your iPhone and to join your existing network to the Sonos wireless network.

I purchased a Sonos Play:3, a Wireless Dock and ZoneBridge (all three links contain an affiliate id) so that’s what I’m reviewing here.

The Sonos Play:3 is as fairly small, unassuming, single speaker block. It contains three individual speakers while it’s larger brother, the Play:5 (affiliate link) contains five. The back has a power socket and a network port. The top has a mute button, as well as a volumn up and down rocker. The other devices are similarly spartan, yet stylish, in their design with minimal on device buttons.

First you need to plug the bridge into your network using the supplied ethernet cable. Then, after installing the PC software, or their iPhone app, you can create a Sonos network. Just follow the on screen prompts and press the ‘join’ button on the device. For each of your other Sonos devices plug them in, select “Add new device” in the software on on the app, press the ‘Join’ button (or Mute + Volumn Up on the Play:3) and the new device will be found and added the network.

The setup is supposed to be quick and straightforward, and for the first two devices it was. When I tried to add my Play:3 to the network it would repeatedly not be found. The white light on the top of the device stopped flashing, indicating that it had connected but the PC software did not find it. It’s not clear what happened, but I may have plugged it in before the previous device had finished configuring. Doing a factory reset solved the issue.

The simplest thing to play on the Sonos system is internet radio. The controller comes preloaded with a huge range of radio stations. Just select the one you want and after a short pause it’ll come out of your speaker, on the other side of the room. Not only is process of listening to the radio incredibly simple, but the sound from such a small box is amazing. I’m not an audiophile, but it was loud, clear and had plenty of bass.

To play your own music collection you need to have it available on a Windows share. I already had this set up so I just had to tell Sonos where to find it. After short while it had crawled my complete collection and I could select by artist, album, track or genre right from my iPhone. As with the radio it’s quick to start playing and the sound quality is excellent.

It was at this point that I came across the first of the few bugs I’ve found with the Sonos system. Originally I had ripped my music into Ogg Vorbis format. Then, when I got my iPhone I had to rerip it as MP3. Some of my albums have both Ogg and MP3 files of the same music, in the same directory. The Sonos player does not appear to like this, and although it can play both formats neither would appear in the controller. Where only one copy exists the files were found with no problems.

I also had some difficulties when my network was heavily loaded. While upgrading one of my pcs to the latest Ubuntu and listening to some music it skipped heavily and eventually the Play:3 crashed. Another issue is that my music is stored on my MythTV box which turns itself on and off to record tv. I forgot to lock the box so it switched itself off mid-track. Somewhat annoyingly the Play:3 stopped playing mid-track as well. I would have thought that the Sonos would have enough memory to have cached at least the whole track, if not the whole playlist.

The iPhone dock is a very useful addition to my house, if only because I just have to slip my phone in and it starts charging. It is certainly much easier to connect than a cable, and much tidier too. Unfortunately you cannot stream music from your iPhone/iPod Touch unless it is placed in the dock. This is a limitation imposed by Apple rather than Sonos, so I have to forgive them. When it’s placed in the dock any sound your device makes will be played through your speaker. This works great when you’re playing some music or a podcast through your phone, but I had a timer set on my phone which was charging while I listened some internet radio. While surprising this is just it working as expected, and you can turn off the autoplay feature.

I have my old iPhone 3G as well as much newer iPhone 4S, and if I want to keep my MythTV box off I can dock the old phone and browse its music selection and select what to listen to from the 4S. This is the real power of the Sonos concept – all your music, everywhere in your house.

The criticisms I’ve made are small points, and despite only having my system for just two weeks I already can’t imagine life without it. I’m willing to forgive the somewhat high price and am saving my pennies to buy another couple of either Play:5 or Play:3s to spread around the house.

Photo of Sonos S5 by Robert Wetzlmayr.
Photo of Play:3 and iPhone courtesy of Sonos.


Author: Andrew Wilkinson

I'm a computer programmer and team leader working at the UK grocer and tech company, Ocado Technology. I mostly write multithreaded real time systems in Java, but in the past I've worked with C#, C++ and Python.

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