Sonos: The Music Flows Like Electricity

If you're in the market for the simplest, most flexible, most extendable, and most beautiful networked music system, Sonos is what you're looking for.

Glenn Fleishman, Contributor

February 18, 2005

5 Min Read

The same assistant that helps you configure the hardware can also be set to offer up your music from the same computer. You can share libraries of music from up to 16 machines on a network.

The setup to share a library under Windows is fairly simple because Sonos is relying on the SMB or Samba file sharing protocol which is native to Windows and widely supported under Mac OS X, Linux, and other operating systems.

The Mac OS X assistant properly notes that Samba must be turned on from the System Preferences > Sharing > Services pane, and can even open that particular location for a Sonos user to turn on the appropriate service.

Additional shares can be added manually by entering their path; this is a piece of cake through the software controller and a way to drive oneself mad on the hardware unit. The hardware Controller displays all letters and numbers in a few rows requiring the use of a scroll wheel to cycle through them spatially. There are far better ways to enter characters with a limited interface.

The updating process is quite lovely: if you've added music to any of your libraries, you can choose through the controller to rescan all libraries. It's so quick that I thought several times the action hadn't happened.

While Samba is not a bad choice, it means that the subnet problem rears its head again: all computers must either be on the same subnet or routed through local hardware so that the Samba shares can be browsed from the same network segment.

For most home users with simple networks, this shouldn't be a problem. Mac OS X users should update to Mac OS X 10.3.8 which improves Samba file sharing and fixed what I thought was a recurring problem in my testing until upgrading to that version.

The controller scans and can be asked to re-scan all music libraries connected to the system. It consolidates these into a single library listing by artist, album, genre, composer, and individual tracks. It's relying on embedded information in the uncompressed MP3, WMA, AAC (MPEG4), and uncompressed WAV music files that it supports.

Files that require digital rights management for limiting playback are not supported; neither are streaming music services yet, but you can imagine the possibilities for both.

The ZonePlayer can also play streaming Internet radio stations and has a small list that it drops into popular categories already installed. This list is automatically updated by default, and you can add additional stations by providing their streaming MP3 URL, if they have one. (Radio stations can only be added through the software controller.)

Finally, any devices added to the input jacks on a ZonePlayer can be accessed as well and played through any ZonePlayer.

Working with Sonos

The system is robust and straightforward. After solving my network problems, I've encountered no other hang-ups. I placed the two ZonePlayers several walls and dozens of feet apart in a crowded Wi-Fi zone among lots of other hardware, metal, and sheetrock. And had no difficulties with communications. (High-quality audio doesn't need that much bandwidth, which is why this works so simply.)

The hardware Controller has the best embedded graphical interface of any product I have ever worked with. A few points are slightly obscure in the more elaborate features, but I've had to consult the manual just once in twice in my hours of testing. Apple could actually pick up a tip or two from Sonos.

Of particular interest are the Zones and Music buttons at the upper right of the Controller which allow access to what music or sound you're playing through which devices. It's trivial using the iPod-like scroll wheel to select ZonePlayers, group them together, split them apart, play Internet radio on one and music on another, and then mute all the devices on the network.

The integration of the devices, the Controller, and the desktop software means that carrying out any function from any point is instantly reflected in locations. For instance, pressing the Mute button on any ZonePlayer mutes it and the status changes in all available Controllers. Holding down the Mute button for three seconds on a ZonePlayer mutes the entire network. Return to any Controller, press Mute, and turn the sound back on for all devices, zones, or the whole network.

The one awkward point in playing back music is that you have to assemble selections, such as albums, into queues. The queues are then displayed as a list of tracks. Different ZonePlayers can be playing different queues, but after you've created a queue you can't collapse them back into albums. This management of songs that are in the process of playing could use some work mostly by offering the same kind of consolidation found in the overall music library.

Finally, you might ask: how does it sound? The answer is just fine. I'm not a high-end audiophile, so I can't speak to its performance as an amplifier. I can say that the sound is just fine, as good as I can hear through headphones or existing speakers and output devices. I don't hear clipping or artifacts.

If you're in the market for the simplest, most flexible, most extendable, and most beautiful networked music system, there's not a moment of hesitation in my choice: Sonos is number one. There is no number two in this category.

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights