Sonos ZonePlayer S5 Multi-Room Music System Review
By Sandy Berger on June 30, 2010
When the Sonos music system came out a few years ago, it was by far the best whole-house digital music system on the marketplace, allowing you to stream your computer’s stored music as well as music from other digital sources. Its biggest drawback was that it was expensive. So now Sonos has set out to make their product more affordable while at the same time adding new capabilities. We were excited to take a look.
The newest Sonos music system is based on a device called the Sonos ZonePlayer S5. As shown in Figure 1, it comes in a nicely labeled box.
Inside the box (shown in Figure 2), you will find the ZonePlayer, a small product guide, a quick setup guide, a software disk, power cable, Ethernet network cable, and a 3.5 mm audio cable.
At first glance, the ZonePlayer seems fairly large and heavy. It measures 8.50 x 14.40 x 4.80 in. (21.7 x 36.5 x 12.3 cm) and weighs in at 9.15 lbs (4.15 kg). Yet when you consider that it includes wireless and Ethernet connections and contains 5 speakers, each with a dedicated digital amplifier, it is quite compact… also quite affordable. Each ZonePlayer S5 retails for USD 399.
The ZonePlayer comes in white with light metallic gray grill or in a matte black finish with a graphite grill. As you can see in Figures 2 and 3, our review unit came in black. You can also see that the grill covers the entire front of the unit.
Our unboxing was not complete until we also unpacked the ZoneBridge (BR100) that came with our review sample. This device is sold separatedly for USD 99 and allows the ZonePlayer S5 to have wireless conectivity. As shown in Figure 4, the ZoneBridge box was plain cardboard. Figure 5 shows the contents of that box, which include the ZoneBridge, a product guide, setup instructions, a software disk, power cable, and Ethernet cable.
The ZoneBridge comes only in white.
Sonos did a great job in making this music system easy to set up. If you want to attach the S5 directly to your wireless router, you don’t need the ZoneBridge. For most of us though, our wireless router is not in the room that we want to enjoy entertaining and listening to music. That is where the ZoneBridge comes in. If you purchase the USD 99 ZoneBridge and attach that to your wireless router, you can place the S5 anywhere in the house and it will catch the music over your wireless network. As a matter of fact, if you can afford it, you can easily put a Sonos player in every room of your house. All will hook up wirelessly.
Although the instructions are very good and the setup process is easy, if you purchase both the S5 and the ZoneBridge, you may be stymied as to which to install first. Sonos should put this in their instructions. The answer is, install the ZoneBridge first and the S5 will go on automatically.
To set up the ZoneBridge or the S5 you simply run the Sonos software, touch a button or two on the unit and it automatically connects to the network.
After you attach one S5 or one ZoneBridge to your wireless router, you can add more Sonos players by pressing a button or two on the devices. An indicator light on both the S5 and ZoneBridge changes from blinking to solid to signify the connection.
Although the Sonos worked brilliantly with both of the wireless networks we connected it to, because Sonos uses a proprietary version of 802.11n, there are a few incompatibilities with some routers and switches. So you might want to contact Sonos or check out the Sonos FAQ on router compatibility before you purchase.
Once you have the software installed, you will have to show the Sonos where your music is located. This is fairly easily done using the Sonos Desktop Controller on your computer, which is shown in Figure 6. The only caveat is that because of the file-sharing implications of the Sonos, if you are using a software firewall, it may need to be adjusted before the Sonos can connect with the music on your computer. Unfortunately, if this happens you will just get a cryptic error like “upnp=1002.” This will give you no real indication that it is a firewall problem, but that will be the first thing to look at.
We tried the Sonos with Norton Internet Security 2010 and AVG 9.0. When the firewall portions of these programs were running, both needed adjustments to work. Fortunately, Sonos offers specific instructions on their website for making necessary firewall adjustments for many different security programs.
As you can see in Figure 6, there is also a tab in the Sonos Desktop Controller software where you can set up Music Services like Sirius Internet Radio, Napster and Rhapsody. Thirty-day trials of these programs come with the ZonePlayer S5. Set up is automatic. Sonos also works with Internet radio sites like Pandora and Last.fm. You can either use the account that you already have or you can set up a free account online. Just be sure to register your Sonos to make all the music services available to you.
Both the S5 and the ZoneBridge are simple in their external interface design, with a minimal number of buttons and ports. As shown in Figure 7, the S5 has a headphone port on the left that lets you listen via wired or wireless headphones. Next to that port are the analog audio ports that allow you to connect an iPod, CD player, TV, and/or other devices. This lets you play that music or audio from additional sources and also lets you play that audio on all other ZonePlayers in the house. On the right is a two-port Ethernet switch. One can be used for a connection to the router and the other can be used to add Network Attached Storage, a PC, or game console.
Under these ports is the power cable connection. Above the ports is a recessed area which can be used as a handle for easy transport.
As you have already seen, the front of the S5 is entirely covered by a grill. It, however, contains a lot of speaker power. There are two tweeters for high frequencies, two mid-range drivers, and a dedicated subwoofer for the bass.
The top of the S5 has only two buttons, as shown in Figure 8: one to mute the sound and one to lower or raise the volume.
The top of the ZoneBridge 100 has only one button, which is pressed for connectivity. This is shown in Figure 9.
The back of the ZoneBridge 100, shown in Figure 10, has only a 2-port Ethernet switch, which has the same functionalities as the switch on the S5 and a power supply port.
The 5-speaker system in the Sonos S5 Player is well implemented. Sound quality is excellent. The sound can be cranked up to a very loud level. A manual EQ can be adjusted through the software. This allows you to adjust treble, bass, and balance.
Music played from our music library and Internet services was smooth and stutter-free. The only breakage or stuttering we found was on a few Internet radio stations, which didn’t have perfect feeds.
You can control the Sonos Player in several different ways. You can use the Sonos Desktop Controller software on your computer. You can purchase a Sonos CR200 controller (shown in Figure 11) which comes with a cradle for USD 349. Or you can use an iPod Touch or an iPhone by installing a free Sonos app. All of these work seamlessly.
Sonos did not send a CR200 Controller with our review system, but previous experience with the Sonos controller proved it to be excellent. Having that would be the ultimate controller. However, the iPhone and iPod Touch apps also work quite well. If you use an iPhone to control your Sonos, you can still use it to make and place phone calls and perform other chores. Here’s the rub. If you only have one iPhone, the family member who owns it may have it out of the house when you want to control your Sonos System. Yes, you can still use the computer to control the Sonos, but that may be inconvenient.
The most economical answer fir easy access may be to purchase an iPod Touch to use as a dedicated home controller. Since the Sonos Controller is listed at $349, a $199 iPod touch will be a less costly alternative and will also give you an email and gaming device at the same time.
No matter which controller system you decide to use, you will get excellent control of your music. You can play the same music in all zones or different music in each. You can even control the volume in each room separately.
You can play your whole music collection on the Sonos. As mentioned earlier, you can also play music and audio from many different online music services. It also comes loaded with access to free Internet radio stations. The Internet radio section is especially well-implemented. It lets you easily search for different genres. It also lists local radio stations as well as those in other countries.
You can use the port on the back of the S5 to attach an iPod, CD player or other audio source. Although you may not think that you will use it, we found it to be immediately usable. You can also attach a NAS for even more music storage.
The Sonos supports a large variety of music format including MP3, compressed MP3, iTunes Plus, WMA, AAC, MPEG4, Ogg Vorbis, Audible (format 4), Apple Lossless, Flac (lossless) and uncompressed WAV and AIFF files. If you have older DRM protected iTunes music it will not play on the Sonos. You will have to have Apple upgrade it to the DRM-free version.
The Sonos S5 ZonePlayer lets you setup a queue of music and/or playlists. It also lets you set alarms and/or a sleep time for any zone or zone group. All-in-all, it’s a very capable player.
The only problem that we had with the Sonos was that when the power to our router failed, we had to completely reset the Sonos by going into the software and choosing "Help", the "Reset the Desktop Controller". This forced us to reset the music library and services again! Bummer! If not for this glitch, it would have gotten a Hardware Secrets gold award rather than a slightly lower silver.
Sonos also offers several other products including a ZonePlayer 90 (USD 349 MSRP) and a ZonePlayer 120 (USD 499 MSRP). These are players that can be added to your Sonos system just as you can add additional S5 ZonePlayers. However, these other ZonePlayers require the addition of amplified audio speakers and are pretty pricey. With the excellent sound quality of the S5, you may only want to consider them if you have an expensive speaker system that you want to use.
Sonos ZonePlayer S5 main specifications are:
The Sonos S5 is one of the best choices for a whole-house, high performance, wireless digital music system. Setup and implementation are easy. The S5 ZonePlayer has excellent sound quality. The USD 399 S5 ZonePlayer gives you a lot of sound and ease of use for your money. Although there are a few incompatible routers and you may have to adjust any software firewall that you may have, everything just plain “works.”
If you can afford one for every room of your home, your home will be brimming over with music. Yet, if you only want to purchase one, with the addition of a ZoneBridge, you can move the S5 Player to any location in your home at any time for music where and when you need it. You can use its alarm function to wake up to or use its sleep function to turn off automatically.
Being able to control the system from your iPhone or iPod Touch is a nice additional feature that can save you some money.