I can remember, on at least two occasions, my father greeting me with a foot-long drill bit and a wild look in his eye. This would have been in the mid-1980s or so, and we were running speaker cable through walls, around beams, inside attics, from the laundry room across the house to the living room, and a couple points in between. Or maybe we were going through wallboard, insullation and the brick facade to put a couple speakers outside on the desk. Either way, it was dirty work, and very much not fun.
That was before the age of wireless. And that brings us to Sonos.
There are a million ways to run a music system in a house, and I've tried a good number of them. And Sonos has just about been the easiest, most enjoyable of them all. Android makes it even better, having recently released a controller application, turning any Android smartphone into a whole-house music remote control. Let's do the full review thing after the break, shall we?
What is Sonos?
Let's just get this out of the way: Sonos ain't cheap. You're going to spend, at minimum, several hundred dollars to get the most basic Sonos system up and running. That's the hard part. The question we've kept asking ourselves is "What, exactly, are we paying for?"
The review system Sonos sent us comprised a pair of $399 Sonos S5s and the $99 ZoneBridge. The S5 is a self-contained five-speaker unit. It touts itself as "a high-performance, all-in-one wireless music system that delivers crystal-clear, room-filling sound. Simply plug it in wherever you want music and enjoy." And that's pretty much spot on. It comes with just two cables -- an AC adapter for power, and an ethernet cable. The former goes into the wall, natch, and the latter into your router to connect to your home network. That's all you need to get going. And it's an ethernet passthrough, too, with two ports, so you can run CAT5 through the S5 and continue on to a laptop or any other device. Nice.
Sound quality is pretty darn good. It gets nice and loud without distorting, bass is pretty full (though not as good as if you have a real subwoofer), and it really can fill a relatively normal-sized room.
The ZoneBridge really opens things up, though. Plug it into your router, and it becomes a Wifi hotspot so you can put the S5 -- or up to 32 Sonos devices, actually -- anywhere else within range. The S5 is light enough that you can easily move it from room to room, or head outdoors -- anywhere you have a Wifi connection to your network.
For our testing, we had one S5 in the bedroom, and one about 45 feet away in the living room, both connected wirelessly.
There is a desktop component to all this. You'll need to register with Sonos and download the Sonos Desktop Controller. It does a good job running you through making sure you're properly connected, and setting up your music library. And it can pull your local music either from an actual computer, or network-attached storage, which is how we roll. Best part -- you don't need any real networking skills. It's plug-and-play.
And, finally, the crux of this whole little endeavor -- the controllers. You can run the system with the Desktop Controller, or purchase a $349 hardware remote from Sonos, and that's fine. But the Android (and iPhone and iPad) controller, for our money, is the way to go -- because it's free. Check it out.
Once you're all set up, you have direct control over your music library, and a healthy dose of Internet radio, including local radio stations, Pandora, iheartradio, Last.fm, Napster, Rdio, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, and others. You will not run out of things to listen to.
So there you have it. We really have no complaints about the Sonos system. Setup was easy enough, you just plug in the CAT5, and the Desktop Controller walked us through things nicely. The Android app is simple to use, though you'll need a little time to explore all of the settings and options. For now, the Android app is for phones only -- let's hope a tablet version is in the works. But if you're looking for an easy way to spread music through your home or office, and don't mind spending several hundred dollars, you're going to get some serious quality and ease of use out of Sonos.