Sonos' original offering includes an iPodesque handheld controller that lets you wirelessly control up to 32 amplified ZonePlayers. One of the ZonePlayers must be connected to a wired Ethernet cable, but all other units can operate wirelessly through Sonos' proprietary mesh network. Each ZonePlayer can act as both a player and a sound interface. As a sound interface, the unit can be plugged into any audio source via analog RCA jacks, digital cable, or optical cable. As a player, the unit receives digital audio signals from any of the other ZonePlayers and route it through its attached speakers or through an attached audio device (amplifier, home theater, etc.)
The handheld control unit is large -- 4" x 6" x 1" -- but has a 3.5" color LCD, scroll wheel, and dedicated buttons for volume, music selection, and zone selection. It works like a dream and is intuitive and smooth. The controller allows you to direct sound from any connected source to any ZonePlayer on your network. That means you can have different music playing in each room, or segment music by area of your house, or set to "party mode" and have the same music throughout the house. I quickly got addicted to carrying the controller with me and being able to pick my music from my MP3 collection, Internet radio source, CD player, or iPod.
Sonos setup software, which must be installed on one computer, is an integral part of the system. It has two main functions: 1) to define and connect to your computer-based music collection (including Internet radio stations); and 2) to serve as a software version of the Sonos remote unit.
I installed the software on a PC and added several folders from my network containing music files. What's New?
The original Sonos starter kit includes one remote unit and two ZP100 ZonePlayers for $1,200. The new ZonePlayer 80 bundle includes one remote and two ZP80 units. What you give up for the $200 is the amplifier section of the ZP100. ZP80s rely on your existing amplified audio components, which most of us already have. That means you can attach a ZP80 to your home theater, Bose Wave radio, or even a simple set of powered computer speakers.
I attached one ZP80 to my computer speakers, and one to my home theater. Then I used the remote unit to select one of the ZP80s, select a music source, and select the music I wanted to hear. I selected the other ZP80, picked an Internet radio station and set the volume. As I walked between the rooms I was able to change sound sources, adjust volumes, and even mute the entire system using the remote. Back at the PC, I was able to perform the same functions using the on-screen version of the remote.
Worth The Money?
Sonos products are made for audio enthusiasts that want to hear what they want to hear when and where they want to hear it. If you're just looking for extension speakers on your patio or in your den, run the wires. But if you want convenience, great sound, and access to and control of your entire music collection everywhere in your domain nothing comes close to a full Sonos installation.
The good news is that it is simple to set up, highly expandable, and delivers great stereo sound. If spending somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 seems reasonable to achieve this vision, then you've found the right product. The new ZonePlayer 80 bundle at $999 is just enough to get started. I would recommend buying a ZonePlayer 100 bundle at the same time in order to get the discount offered by buying the package at $1,199. The combination of the packages will let you set up four locations with two handheld controllers (because one of them will always be somewhere else). You will quickly get used to having your music your way.