Sonos S5 ZonePlayer speaker system review

We'll cut to the chase, the Sonos music system is one of the best music systems we've experienced here at Pocket-lint, not just because it sounds good, but because it is so damn easy to setup and use. The trouble is, for most, it's an expensive system to get into with the standard bundle costing £800 in the UK and $999 in the US. All that has changed however with the introduction of the Sonos S5 ZonePlayer. But does it work? Will it offer you a cheap way into the world of Sonos?

If you haven't heard about Sonos in the past the best way to describe it is that it's a music system that allows you to connect up to 42 zones, allowing you to play music throughout your house from a central music collection - stored on a computer or a NAS drive connected to your network.

You can choose to play the same song by grouping all those zones or different music in every room, so, for example, you could listen to Def Leopard in the kitchen while the kids listen to Disney favourites in their room. If that wasn't enough to whet your appetite, the system also lets you stream around 25,000 internet radio stations from around the world, as well as letting you connect to music services like Pandora in the US and Deezer in the UK.

Back to the S5 ZonePlayer and although you only get the one zone, it is a considerably cheaper option to get you started (£349/$399).

Designed around the impression of a single speaker, the unit actually has a 5-driver speaker system, including two tweeters, two mid-range drivers and a built-in subwoofer.

Coming in white and silver, like other elements in the Sonos range, the silver speaker grill "is" the front of the unit and the only controls to be found are the volume up and down and mute button on the top.

Thin enough to easily sit on a kitchen window ledge or lounge sideboard, you will require a power socket and if you aren't opting for the optional ZoneBridge (£80/$99) to get you connected, you'll need an Ethernet port close by.

Around the back there is a line-in so you can connect an iPod or CD player to be shared on the system along with a headphone socket. In our tests we weren't too impressed with the performance of the headphone socket - we got plenty of static and hiss coming through even when we weren't playing songs, and judging by other comments on the Internet we aren't alone. Still you're unlikely to use it anyway.

If there are only volume and mute controls, how do you control it? It's all down to the accompanying software for Mac or PC and for iPod touch and iPhone owners - which comes in the form of a free app. The software is incredibly easy to use. For listening to your own music, throw that collection into a folder and then tell the Sonos to scan that folder. You can set automatic scans on a daily basis to keep up-to-date with new music additions, management of playlists, favourite radio stations and music services.

The system will support Last.fm, Napster, Pandora, Rhapsody and SIRIUS in the US and Last.fm, Napster, Classical.com and Deezer in the UK. Unfortunately due to the way that Spotify works, you can't get the service here. Other gems with the software is the ability to set an alarm so you can be woken with your favourite tracks or you even to tweet what you are listening to.

If you've already got a Sonos system, connecting the S5 requires you to press two buttons (it really is that simple) and because the system is setup and remembers the connection, you can drag this around the house (as long as there is a plug) quickly and easily (roll on the summer).

For newbies, and this is clearly where this speaker system is aimed at, set-up is slightly longer - you have to install some software on your computer, but the walkthrough is so basic that we would be surprised if you had trouble.

Back to the S5 and the sound quality is good. It's not Bowers and Wilkin's Zeppelin good, but then the Zeppelin doesn't come with all the connectivity options. That said, it's no slouch, producing a good, if not slightly bassy sound (it can be changed via an on-screen equaliser) that is sure to fill most rooms in your house - especially the kitchen, bedroom or bathroom.

 

Verdict

Where the Sonos S5 ZonePlayer appeals to us is not only in the price, but the ease in which it allows you to get into the system. If you've got a iPod touch or iPhone, the app doubles as the controller and the ability to add more zones throughout your house is so simple you'll want to do it within a couple of weeks.

If you are in the market for an iPod speaker this will likely be better than anything you can get on the market in terms of options. You'll also get to keep your iPod touch or iPhone in your pocket as it's not needed in the dock (there is no docking station).

The system also makes music more accessible. Sonos says that people who own a system listen to music at least twice as much as they did before. As an owner of a BU250 system with two zones already, I would have to agree. Since owning it, my family listens to a lot more music in different parts of the house, sometimes the same, sometimes different.

Where the Sonos S5 succeeds is in its simplicity. It takes all the faff out of listening to music. Combine that with the music services and you are on to a real winner.