Sonic tunes from Sonos

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4 May 2005 | 0

The Sonos Digital Music System roughly resembles other wireless streaming audio devices, such as the Apple AirPort Express or Slim Devices Squeezebox, that play music files stored on networked PCs or Macs. But this device goes far beyond other streamers in capabilities.

For starters, it can also grab music from network hard drives, such as the Buffalo LinkStation. The feature that really makes it unique, however, is the ZonePlayer station’s 50-watts-per-channel stereo amplifier. Just add speakers. Including the amp makes sense if you buy into how Sonos envisions your use of the system.

Via the product’s analogue outputs, you could just hook a single player up to a stereo (and a subwoofer) in your living room. But Sonos would like you to place multiple players all over your house. They connect to each other over Ethernet or over a proprietary 802.11 wireless-based “mesh” network: Each player acts as both a sender and a receiver, with no need for a central hub or router.

The system can play digital music from up to 16 sources – computers or network drives – and every player can have its own line-in source that is broadcast over the network. You can queue different music selections on each player, or put all of them into a “party zone” that plays the music in perfect synchronisation. Or you can create multiple such zones in your house.

The Sonos system plays .wav, MP3, WMA, and AAC music files (but not copy-protected files such as ones from the Apple iTunes store). The Sonos system plays Internet radio, as well. Each ZonePlayer also has stereo line-in jacks for receiving analogue input – say, from a CD player, a radio, an iPod, or a TV – and broadcasting it around the house.

Controlling all these options could be a nightmarish task, but Sonos makes it simple. The Sonos Controller wireless remote includes a 3.5-inch colour LCD; it also has a touch-sensitive jog wheel and hierarchical menus, both of which are quite similar to those on the Apple iPod (though the wheel on the iPod is more precise).

Anyone who has used the ubiquitous MP3 player will have no trouble getting accustomed to the Sonos approach. A few shortcuts make it even easier: You press the Zones button to select a single player or to link up several. Then you press the Music button to choose from digital files, Internet radio presets, or line-in sources.

 

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