Critical kit: the Sonos wireless music system

As part of a regular new content series, we aim to cover some of the essential tech and seriously cool items that you can easily buy in the UK.

For the first article, we’ll take a brief look at a product that enables music lovers to stream high quality audio around the house, all controlled by a smartphone or tablet.

Sonos makes smartphone-powered music a reality

Sonos Audio System

In the past, it wasn’t easy to listen to your music collection wirelessly anywhere around the house. You would need to either move your hi-fi kit from room to room, or suffer a tangled web of wires and cables across floors, stairs and up the walls (or spend a huge sum on a dedicated wired-in home setup).

With the rise in digital and cloud-based music and services such as iTunes, Spotify, and Rdio, it’s possible to make your entire audio collection portable.

However, until the last few years, it still wasn’t easy to create a system that didn’t involve cables trailed all over the place. That’s where the benefits of wireless audio become apparent, while also taking advantage of the popularity of tablets and smartphones to make controlling the whole shebang that much simpler.

Nowadays it is possible to stream high quality audio from a multitude of devices to speakers all over your home, wirelessly, and without compromising the sound quality (or at least, not noticeably). There are a couple of different ways to achieve this, but one of the most notable companies offering suitable product is Sonos.

What and who is Sonos?

Sonos is a US-based company, established in 2002, that aims to make it easy to fill your home with digital music. The main draw is the flexibility their systems afford and the features on offer. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll already have a vast array of digital music, stored across multiple computers and online services.

Sonos’ system works by connecting wireless speakers to your home network in order to play music (which can be kept locally on network attached storage, or online). You can add lots of Sonos devices (up to 32) that deliver music securely using their own dedicated network called Sonosnet.

Sonos offers two types of players – all in one players such as the PLAY:1, and additional CONNECT-branded devices that can turn your current audio gear into a Sonos zone. For example, the CONNECT allows you to stream music into an existing amp and speakers, and the CONNECT:AMP enables you to stream music directly to existing speakers by acting as an amp and receiver for music. The company also offers a powerful subwoofer and a sound bar to hook up your television.

Sonos Play Speaker Range

Sonos currently offers three speaker models, each increasing in size and quality – the PLAY:1, the PLAY:3 and the PLAY:5 (prices on Amazon today are approximately £169, £249 and £349 respectively).

Each speaker will form part of a dedicated Sonos wireless network when it’s connected to your router via Wi-Fi (or an Ethernet cable), with a little interaction from the Sonos app needed to setup each device – which only takes a few minutes.

Sonos can be used to stream most of the online music services – including Spotify, Napster, Deezer and (you will, however, need subscriptions for those services). Unfortunately, it won’t let you stream your iTunes content.

Sound quality

Friends of mine recently purchased a complete Sonos system for use with Napster, and demonstrated the system’s flexibility at a party – playlists were created in Napster using an iPad, and a couple of PLAY:1 speakers were used in different rooms.

Sonos App

As something of an audio aficionado (I used to have a collection of expensive hi-fi separates and good speakers), I must admit that under the somewhat uncontrolled listening conditions, the sound quality was exceptionally clear and compelling.

Sonos is one of those systems that really takes advantage of wireless technology, smartphones, and digital music. Anyone that appreciates listening to great music and loves the flexibility of wireless, will surely agree that such systems are critical tech for the gadget lover…

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

2 replies on “Critical kit: the Sonos wireless music system”

Good review. I have used Sonos for about 5 years and it has exceeded my expectations.
One thing to note is that I have had no issues playing my iTunes content. I use the Windows iTunes app and just point Sonos to the same directory where iTunes stores the files.

I won a sonos system last year and while I really do enjoy it, there are a lot of small improvements to be made. I suppose not all of it is on Sonos’ side. ie: Spotify only works if you have premium. I believe the same goes for most services you can tie in to Sonos. You can’t just “send audio to Sonos”. Routing it would be nice. Instead, you must control all audio through their app. That means totally separate alarms, playlists, starred tracks, etc.

Nothing from your music accounts gets synced (other than your logon). Podcasts are especially odd. It will only read podcasts from a specific directory on your iOS/Android device. So, no synced subscriptions. You must have podcast clients download their files to this folder or manually move/copy over the audio in order for Sonos to “read” and play it. And even then, I haven’t had much success. Maybe it’s finicky with the format or something. So Overall, I’d give Sonos a 7/10. It’s a nice little luxury to have. But for as much as they charge for bars, docks, routers, etc. You should probably know what to expect 🙂

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