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.

Save BBC 6 Music

I’ve been a regular listener to 6music since about six months after it launched. Below is the email I’ve sent to the public consultation on the future of the station, as it has been proposed that the station be closed to save money which can be spent on making other programs.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been a regular listener to BBC 6 Music since about six months after it launched. Apart from the Today Program and a few comedy shows on Radio 4 it quickly became the only radio station I listened to. It provided the sound track to much of my University life and and introduced me to a wide range of new music that I would have never found otherwise. It has been tremendously influential and substantially shaped my taste in music.

I believe that closing 6 Music will prove to be a huge mistake and a massive step backwards for the BBC. If the BBC is to stand for excellence then closing a radio station that is staffed by people at the forefront of music seems to go against that. 6 Music’s track record of finding a promoting new bands is something that BBC should be extremely proud of.

I believe that neither the BBC nor commercial stations offer a suitable replacement for 6 Music. Although 6 Music is associated with Radio 2 in style they are widely different. Although some assurances have been given that the best of 6 Music will be relocated to other stations I cannot see how this can be done during the peak listening hours without alienating the listeners of Radio 1 and 2. 6 Music is by it’s very nature targets a niche audience, but its influence stretches far beyond its reach.

The fact that 6 Music is only available on DAB rather than FM radio is a key factor in its limited audience reach. It is probably the most well known of all the digital-only stations and key driver in transitioning people away from the antiquated analogue radio infrastructure. I own three digital radios which enable me to listen to 6 Music throughout my house. DAB certainly has its critics and loosing such a jewel in DAB radio’s content reduces rather than increases the incentive to go digital.

I strongly believe that 6 Music is excellent value for money and I urge the BBC Trust to reject the recommendation to close it.

Yours Sincerely,
Andrew Wilkinson

Feel free to use my letter for inspiration, but please don’t copy it wholesale. That will not help to save the station that we love. Find details on how to response here.