Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sonos Redefines Possible For Wireless

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." — Aldous Huxley

We are living in the most exciting era in the history of music. We have the largest, most diverse playlists, from obscure independents to big label bands. We can fit an entire record store full of music inside a device no bigger than the palm of our hands. And our options to enjoy it all are nearly inexhaustible.

One of my favorite options is Sonos. In recent years, Sonos has done everything possible to earn its position as the hands down best wireless multi-room audio solution on the market. And while overall sound quality might see Polk, Paradigm, or KEF carry the day, Sonos allows you to play those too.

Sonos Systems put wireless portable HiFi within reach for anyone.

Chances are you already own a controller. If you have an iPhone, iPad, Android, Apple computer, or PC with Windows, you do. The software and apps are free to download. All you need is hardware.

There are two ways to enjoy wireless music. You can either hardwire one Sonos speaker system to a wireless router or purchase a speaker system along with the Sonos Bridge. The Bridge amps up its own secure wireless signal, connecting every Sonos speaker system in your home. (Get it, unless you want one speaker tied to the router.)

There are two speaker systems, the Play:5 and smaller Play:3, which was released this summer. Both have exceptional sound quality (with exception to audiophiles), but the Play:5 speakers are better given they have two tweeters, two mid-range drivers, and a bass driver (all with their own dedicated amps).

The Play:5 speakers are also bigger: 8.5 inches by 14 inches (4.8 inches deep). The Play:3 speakers have a considerably smaller footprint at 5.2 inches by 10.6 inches (6.3 inches deep). But there are some trade offs with the smaller size. Specifically, the Play:3 speaker system includes one tweeter, two mid-range drivers, and one bass radiator (with three amps). The radiator is good enough, but it's not a driver.

Selecting the right system really depends on you and your needs. Most of my friends who have Sonos systems in their places have two Play:5 speaker systems per room, creating right and left channels for limited stereo sound. However, since Sonos launched the Play:3, some of them have added one or two Play:3 speakers to smaller rooms too. And therein lies the magic.

Sonos plays entire audio libraries or streaming music anywhere.

The magic of Sonos is the ability to customize and control music anywhere you want it in your home. You can set different music to different rooms or the same music to every room. You can use the same controller or different controllers. Do whatever you want, including a few things I haven't mentioned.

What sold me on Sonos is how it continues to integrate different sound systems into one. For example, if you already like your big room speakers (like I do), Sonos Connect allows you to add Sonos to your analog stereo, giving you a means to listen to your audio library without burning CDs, docking your player, or plugging in an iPhone. Keep your KEFs front and center. They work.

And that's what I did. I bought the Bridge, Connect (living room), and one Play:3 speaker (bedroom). I'm already thinking of adding two more speakers: a second Play:3 speaker for better stereo sound in my bedroom and another for the kitchen. That's three rooms, all controllable by my iPhone or iPad.

If you want some other ideas, Sonos also makes the Connect AMP, which connects directly to non-Sonos speakers. The amp powers the sound with 55W per channel. I don't really have the need, but I know people who do. The idea goes a long way in demonstrating how CEO John McFarlane and his team outdo themselves in building a straightforward but exceptionally customizable wireless sound system.

Sonos Wireless HiFi Systems Stack Up At 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

I love Sonos. It represents the future of home audio. There is hardly anything to improve, except maybe adding a reliable battery instead of keeping things tied to a power cord. It would also be nice to see Sonos in the car audio department or creating a solution to rival the X-Mini II.

In terms of sound quality, it has an edge over Bose. But in terms of functionality, Sonos might as well be a light year ahead. You can order Sonos Wireless Music System direct from Sonos. The Play:5 is about $400, Play:3 about $300, Connect: Amp about $500, and Bridge about $50. Sonos sometimes adds in the Bridge for free. Sonos also makes every streaming service available in one convenient place.

If you want, compare Sonos Play:5 at Amazon. Other retailers carry some systems too, but almost always at a higher price. And, although not part of this review, Sonos does carry its own controller if you don't have a compatible smart phone or tablet. Check out the controller if you visit Sonos direct.
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