Sonos Rocks

As part of the advertising deal with Sonos to sponsor the "In Heavy Rotation" list on the left sidebar of this blog, I asked for a Sonos system to setup, test, and review.  I got the system a couple days ago and spent a couple hours yesterday afternoon setting it up.  Now I am done and happily sitting in my kitchen listening to my favorite radio station, WEHM, over the Sonos system.

The way to think of Sonos is an iPod for your home stereo system.  The handheld wireless controller (shown in the first picture on this post) works a lot like an iPod, it has a scroll wheel, a very nice display that shows album art work, and a bunch of other useful buttons.

The controller allows you to access the digital music files and services that are on a computer in your home and play them through the equivalent of a home stereo.  The Sonos Zone Player (seen in the picture on the left) is the heart of the system.  It connects to your computer (via an ethernet connection) finds the music and the music services and build links to them.

You can connect the Sonos Zone Player to an existing set of speakers or to a multi-room audio system, or you can order speakers directly from Sonos.

If you have more than one place you want to play music in your house and you don’t have a multi-room system, then you can get a second, third, fourth, Zone Player and they all synch with each other. You only have to setup the first one.  The setup Sonos sent me was two zone players, one controller, one controller cradle, and two sets of speakers.  They came in a bunch of boxes.

The setup was pretty straightforward.  I picked a windows machine that has the Rhapsody music service on it, and put the first Zone Player next to it.  It happens to be in a rack I have in my basement near my router and other equipment, but you could put it anywhere in the house. The Zone Players are a little bit bigger than a Mac Mini.

You connect the first Zone Player to your network with ethernet.  They don’t want you to use wifi.  I think there’s a way to work with an all wifi home, but that wasn’t a problem for me.

Then you install the Desktop Controller software on the machine that has your music library and/or your music service on it.  The only music service I know for sure that Sonos works with is Rhapsody.  The installation was about as simple as it could be.  The software finds the first Zone Player and then you tell it where to look for your music library.  My configuration was particularly tricky because my music library is not on my computer, its on a set of audio request music servers.  But I was able to browse easily through my network from within the Desktop Controller software to find the music server and Sonos indexed the files.

If you want Sonos to work with Rhapsody, you need Rhapsody 3.0 which can act as a server and you need to make sure its configured properly.  I had to upgrade from Rhapsody 2.0 to 3.0 and after I did that, it was preconfigured to be a server, but changing the configuration isn’t very hard if you need to do that.  It is a matter of checking a single box.

If you only have one Zone Player, you are done at this point.  if you have a second Zone Player, as I do in my kitchen, then you need to find an out of the way place for it and plug it in.  The second and any additional Zone Players can connect to the first Zone Player via wifi so it matters a lot less where you put them.  They just need power.

Then you connect the cradle to power and put the Wireless Controller in the cradle.  I selected a section of the shelves in our kitchen for the cradle and that worked pretty nicely.  The Wireless Controller is about the size of a 4×6 picture frame.

So that’s all there is to setting it up.  My process went pretty much without a hitch. The one small issue was that I have a personal firewall on the computer I put the Desktop Controller software on.  The controller software identified the potential problem and I called support and they gave me some ports that I needed to open up on my firewall.  Other than that, I’d say it was a pretty simple and painless process.  It took me about an hour to do the software, two Zone Players, and the Wireless Controller.

I don’t really need the main feature of the Sonos which is to give you an easy and convenient way to play your music library on your computer over a home stereo system with a wireless controller.  I have the music servers in my house connected to a crestron system so I have had that ability for a while now.  But the Sonos does basically the same thing for about a third of the price of the servers and you don’t need a crestron system at all.  Had Sonos been around five years ago, I may well have gone with it instead.

The two things I love the Sonos for are the ability to play Rhapsody through a home stereo system and the ability to play Internet radio the same way.  I use Rhapsody all the time on my computer but we have had a hard time finding an easy way to get it onto our multi-room audio system.  Sonos solved that problem for me.  That’s what I was hoping it would do when I asked them to send me one to try out.

The big surprise was Internet radio. I didn’t know Sonos had a good solution for that.  Sonos comes preconfigured with many of the most popular Internet radio stations like KEXP and KCRW.  But you can input any audio stream URL into the controller software and its automatically added to your favorites. I did that this afternoon with WEHM and have been listening every since to my favorite radio station just like I listen to it on Long Island.  Awesome!

Now I know some of you are going to think, "Fred’s shilling for Sonos now". It’s true that Sonos is advertising on this blog, but I am giving the money to charity and I certainly wouldn’t promote a product or service to all of you that really sucks.

There are two things I wish were different about Sonos. The first is that you can’t search for new artists on Rhapsody from the Sonos controller.  You can only play artists, albums, tracks, and playlists that you have saved.  That means you have to use the Rhapsody client to find new artists and save them before you can play them on Sonos. If there were one thing I’d urge Sonos to fix, that would be it.

The other issue is not a problem for me, but is something that could affect many potential Sonos users.  If you have a music library consisting of songs bought from iTunes or another online store that uses DRM (like Microsoft’s Play For Sure), you won’t be able to play them with Sonos.  This is not Sonos’ fault, it’s one of the many reasons DRM sucks.  The bottom line is if you buy songs from iTunes, you are getting locked into iTunes, iPod, and the apple ecosystem.  Not enough people understand this issue and they should.

My biggest concern is the cost.  The system I got, the Introductory Bundle, costs $1200 from Sonos.  You may be able to get it for less somewhere else. And if you need more than two zones, each Zone Player is $500 and each Wireless Controller is $400. So this is a premium product. But it delivered a premium experience for me and if you are looking for a simple, elegant solution for integrating digital music and music services like Rhapsody and Internet radio into your home audio system, you should give Sonos a really good look.

It rocks.

#VC & Technology