I’ve been reading and hearing about Sonos for a long time. For much of this time, I have resisted taking the plunge, because I thought I could manage and listen to my music via my Mac, and because Sonos equipment is expensive. But the more I heard and read, the more my excuses and counter-arguments starting to sound like the stubborn rationalizations of Mac-resistant Windows users. But as we know, when it comes to good tech, resistance is futile. So the idea of a Sonos system found a place in my contemplation, and began to slowly grow.
The death of an inexpensive Woot-purchased soundbar I have been using had me thinking about a more robust replacement, and when Sonos announced this week that a separate wireless network (via a wired connection to your router) is no longer required (it is never a good idea to have two competing wireless networks in one location), I took the plunge. I bought a Sonos Playbar and two Sonos Play:1’s from Amazon. After 30 minutes with the Play:1, I knew I was onto something good, and purchased a Play:5 to serve as my primary audio system.
Yes, Sonos equipment is expensive. No argument in the world is going to make it sound like a bargain. When you consider how robust and elegant the hardware and associated software is, and when you realize that going all-in on Sonos equipment renders you free of some legacy audio equipment (receivers, amplifiers, CD players, speaker wire, MP3 players, etc.), the price seems a little less insane. A little.
So here’s a summary of my Sonos experience so far.
First, the hardware is powerful, well-built and beautiful. Very Apple-like. Setup is easy (basically, you turn on your first device, open the Sonos app on your iOS device, connect it to your existing wireless network, and follow the instructions). Adding additional devices is even easier. You can listen to devices individually in full-stereo pairs or in large groups (e.g., whole house), and you can easily manage devices throughout your house. You can play what you want, when and where you want.
And if you want, there are devices that will integrate your existing audio system into your Sonos setup (though I have not tried them).
While I am still in the infancy of my Sonos experience, the sound quality is very impressive. Wirecutter, maybe the most reliable online source for gadget testing and reviews, chose Sonos as the best whole-home audio system:
Sonos is flexible, easy to use, integrates into your current system and works with a huge array of services and content providers. It has been around since 2004, and that time has let the company build up its product to be better than anyone else’s. It also sounds fantastic.
Eventually, I intend to have a system of paired devices for a full-stereo set up. However, listening to a single Play:5 (as I am doing now for most of my music) sounds excellent. In fact, the single Play:1 I’m using in my downtown office sounds great.
Second, the associated software is intuitive and robust. Initially, I managed all of my Sonos activity via the Sonos app on my iPhone.
Eventually, I downloaded the Sonos controller for my Mac (there’s a Windows version too), and found it to be another great way to manage my Sonos system when sitting at my desk.
There are tons of integrated music choices. I immediately added Spotify (my primary music source; that link is to my curated Rancho Radio, try it), Amazon Cloud Player, Google Play Music and Pandora. There are numerous other choices as well. An added bonus is the integration of a virtually infinite number of terrestrial and online radio stations. I quickly added NPR, WNCW and, amazingly, WCRE, the local radio station in the small town where I grew up.
One of the questions I had when considering Sonos was the ability to have and manage systems at different locations. Happily, Sonos permits this, and switching between setups at various locations happens automatically, based on your location. I have a system at home, I will sometimes take my Play:5 to and from the farm, and, at least temporarily, I’m using a Play:1 in my downtown office. It’s pretty awesome.
One of the unexpected benefits of my Sonos experience is that I find myself listening to music a lot more than I did previously. Before, I had to stop what I was doing on my Mac or iOS device, open the Spotify app, charge, find and connect to a speaker (if listening via my iPhone) and start listening to music that would play in lieu of the audio component of whatever else I was doing on my computer or iPhone. Since I’ve begun using Sonos, I often have music playing wherever I am, with only the volume to change depending on where I am and what I’m doing.
No review would be complete without a wish list of additional features, but I had to dig pretty deep to come up with one for Sonos. I wish the Play:5 (which has a line input) would accept Bluetooth connections. It would be awesome if you could access and play your music from more places in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.). And I wish your Sonos playlists would sync across locations (e.g., I wish a Sonos playlist I create at home on my home system would be available via the Sonos app on my iPhone at the office or farm, at least for non-local music). There may be a way to do this, but I haven’t figured it out yet.
While Sonos has dispensed with a wired-connection requirement for most setups, you still have to attach a Sonos device (a player or an available Sonos bridge) directly to your router to set up surround sound for your television via the Playbar and a Sonos subwoofer and/or Play:1’s. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to do this, but it would be nice to have the choice to do so completely wirelessly. Finally, it would be nice to have better integration with some of the music services. For example, I would love to have the option to automatically share the songs I play to Facebook, much like I can with the native Spotify app. You can share what you’re playing to Twitter or Facebook, but the share is not embedded, like it is when you share to Facebook via the Spotify app.
If that’s the best I can come up with for wish list, you can tell that the Sonos system and apps are mature and well-designed. It’s early, but so far I am a very happy customer, and one that will have to constantly resist the desire to buy additional Sonos equipment to add to my setup.
Or not. Like I said, resistance is futile.