Sonos Digital Sound System review

This is probably the last you’ll hear from me. You see, I’m changing my name and skedaddling. Making a break for it, skipping the country, doing a Lord Lucan, call it what you will. And all I’m taking with me is a suitcase big enough for the Sonos Digital Sound System.

“A Fluffy? Best Home Entertainment Gadget 2005?” I snorted, ready to pour scorn on such bold claims. But oh, how wrong I was.

Sonos is a wireless music streaming system that can play digital music from your home computer on any one of up to 32 ZonePlayers dotted around your house. It can all be controlled by the optional wireless remote, or straight from your desktop via a software interface. Sounds simple doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that this system is anything less than state of the art technology, but the way they put it together for you is simplicity itself.

The various components come beautifully packaged in separate boxes, adding something of a frisson to the whole setting-up procedure, and meticulously unwrapping each bit, I was suddenly aware that I might be in for something of an anti-climax. But again, I was wrong.

Sonos claim that this system can be set up “in minutes” - which provoked another derisory snort from me. Whenever I’ve tried to set anything up on on my network, be it a Wi-Fi security camera or a wireless print server, there’s always been more than an occasional swear words uttered. My router, for instance has, all by itself, decided that the password I chose was nowhere near good enough, and has created its own. And not told me what it is.

So it was with some trepidation that I surveyed the Sonos system: unpacked, plugged in and laid out in all its glory. I had visions of madly resetting routers and fishing out manuals and Ethernet cables from wherever it is that the “Hide Anything Of Any Use In Bizarre And Forgettable Places Fairy” puts them when I’m not looking.

But, no - with the supplied cable plugged into my router it was just a case of installing the software and following the on-screen prompts. It took seconds. I sat there staring expectantly at my screen, waiting for the inevitable failure or error message, but all I got was a very polite invitation to tell the ZonePlayer where my music was. Once pointed to the correct folder, the desktop controller indexed the music, and it was done.

I had the complete set-up in the living room with another ZonePlayer wired up to a set of my own speakers in the kitchen.

Next came the wireless remote, where I fully expected to hit my first snag. Sure enough, as soon as it powered up, a warning appeared. But it was just telling me that the software needed to be updated and it promptly got on with it. The controller looks and behaves a bit like an oversized iPod, with a large colour screen and a click wheel. Buttons are limited to just a few essentials and the whole thing is really quite neat.

The moment of truth. I was ready to rock and roll. Or drum and bass, or hip and hop for that matter. I added a suitable selection of tracks to the playing queue and hit the button.

The sound was instantaneous and quite lovely. The speakers produced a warm and crisp sound without any immediate tweaking of the system’s equalizer settings and I actually laughed out loud at the marvel of it all. I set about linking the two separate ZonePlayers together and within seconds the whole flat was filled with sound. I instantly wanted another one for the bedroom but in such a bijou residence perhaps that would’ve been overkill.

The novelty of having music wherever you are, without having the stereo in one room set to an ASBO-inducing level, was just fabulous - even my wife (an unrepentant technophobe) liked it. She loved the idea of us being able to listen to separate playlists in different rooms at the same time, although was slightly less enthusiastic when she realised that as “Master of the Remote” I would be in charge of what she would be listening too. And perhaps the optional wall-mountable charging cradle could be supplemented with a tasteful range of remote holsters? (If Sonos take up this suggestion, I want 20%.)

Some cynics have suggested that you can set up similar systems yourself using, for example, the Apple Airport system, with remote speakers in every room of the house. I agree, you could do that, but it would be nowhere near as elegant as the Sonos system. You also couldn’t control it remotely from wherever you were.

And that really is the word for it - elegant.

The desktop software is straightforward to use and easy on the eye and I was glad to see that they hadn’t tried to ape the iTunes style in any way - despite the obvious aiming of the overall design at the iPod generation. I must mention that this brought on at least one detractor. A house-guest pointed out that in a few years all these white and brushed metal housings might look a little dated and with such an expensive bit of kit this might be a consideration for some buyers. Perhaps a more classically-styled product would appeal to a wider audience. But in real terms, the only bits of this system you need to have on display are the speakers and the remote control. Everything else can be neatly tucked away.

You can link up to 32 Zone Players to the system, if your house and bank balance can accommodate it, and you can run more than one remote too (only don’t tell the wife that bit). There’s no delays, no distortion and you can adjust the individual zones’ volumes levels as well as the entire group’s. It plays, MP3s, Windows Media, AAC and Flac (lossless) files. You can even connect analogue sound sources to the ZonePlayers. Oh, and did I mention instant access to internet radio? It really is a joy to use.

Verdict

The only minor grumble I had was that after a system shutdown (I tend to turn my laptop off when I’m not at home) the controller took a bit of time to re-establish connections between the PC and the Zone Players, and sometimes got a bit confused, but given a few minutes to sort itself out it always got back on track.

The remote froze once too, but a simple reset procedure cured that and there were no further troubles. Apart from the squabbling about who got the remote…

Yes, it’s expensive - the set-up supplied for review would set you back a hefty £1,200.

Yes, it’s extravagant - do you really need music piped all over your dwelling?

Yes, it might look a bit “Noughties” in a few years time - what won’t?
But, yes - you will still want one.

So if those nice people from Sonos come looking for me, you ain’t seen me, right?