Sonos Play:5 £349
7th Jan 2010 | 11:25
Wireless multi-room music system that just works
Sonos Play:5: Overview
The Sonos Play:5 is the wireless multi-room music system formerly known as the Zoneplayer S5.
The first Sonos music system, the ZonePlayer 100, launched in 2005 – the same year that Apple launched its first colour-screen iPod. So Sonos has been right there at the forefront of the MP3 revolution from the start.
The basic idea of the Sonos Play:5 is that you can put one in each room of your home and wirelessly stream music to all of them.
You can choose to sync up all your Play:5s in party mode so they all play in unison, or you can choose to play different selections on each player.
The Play:5 units themselves have no controls on them, other than volume and mute buttons, which you can also use to get each device in your house talking to each other.
You actually control the players in three different ways; through the desktop PC client (your PC will need to be switched on if you want to play your MP3 library over the system); by using the free iPhone and iPod touch app which works as a wireless remote; or by using a dedicated Sonos CR200 touchscreen remote which does the same thing but costs £279 (gulp) extra.
Which brings us on to a fairly significant point – if you want Sonos in your house, you're going to have to dig deep because it doesn't come cheap.
A setup with two Play:5 speakers, a ZoneBridge to wirelessly link them together and a CR200 remote will cost a bed-wetting £1,045.
So is it worth it? Or is the Sonos a waste of time and money? Read on to find out.
Sonos Play:5: Setting up
The boffins at Sonos HQ have clearly gone to a lot of effort to make the Play:5 system as easy to set up as possible.
It's not often we get to test a product as potentially complicated as this, but which is made so startlingly idiot proof. It's quite remarkable – especially when you consider what a hash many electronics companies make of this type of thing.
It really is a case of plugging it in, pushing a couple of buttons and it's done.
Connecting your system
If you want to use a player in a room other than where you keep your wireless router – which is fairly likely – you need to also purchase the ZoneBridge. It's a small wireless box which plugs into your router via Ethernet.
The ZoneBridge uses 'SonosNet' to wirelessly link your players. It's a proprietary peer-to-peer synchronous mesh network, which combines MIMO with 802.11n to create a robust wireless connection for your system, so that you don't have to use your own (probably flakey) wireless network.
Once you've done that, it's just a case of unpackaging the Play:5 (or Players if you've bought more than one), and plugging it/them into power sockets where you want to keep them.
You then install the desktop app on your PC and it'll ask you to press a button on each device in order to sync them all up together. For us, it worked first time without a hitch.
The Sonos asks you where each Play:5 unit is being kept, so you can easily tell them apart when you want to keep them separate.
And once you're there, you simply tell the app where you keep your digital music library (the Sonos literature talks about using your iTunes library, but really, there's no meaningful integration with iTunes at all – it's all about where you keep your MP3s on your computer or NAS drive) and away you go.
It's really that simple. You can just navigate your music collection and play anything you want.
And it doesn't stop at the end of your music collection, either. The Play:5 gives you access to a wealth of assorted content, including 25,000 internet radio stations, shows and podcasts – all free of charge and pre-loaded.
Take the Adam and Joe Show on BBC Radio 6 Music as an example.
If you want to listen to any of their Saturday morning shows, you need only search 'Adam' in the Radio section and you'll be given access to the last few months' worth of Adam & Joe Show podcasts.
Sonos Play:5: Controlling the music
As easy as the desktop client is to use, you really don't want to be returning to your computer every time you want to change the music. And that's where the controllers come in.
If you already have an Apple iPhone or an iPod touch, you're in luck – you can download a free Sonos Controller app from the App Store which can be used to sync your iPhone up to your Sonos system.
From here, you can do everything you can do on the PC version of the app, only the iPhone fits in your pocket and a laptop, er, doesn't.
The great thing about the iPhone app is that its control over the Sonos system is instantaneous. If you drag the volume dial down a few notches, the volume on your selected Play:5 will change completely in unison with your finger movements.
The other option is to purchase the Sonos CR200 which is a large, dedicated touchscreen controller, performing the same functions as the desktop and iPhone apps.
- Read:Sonos CR200 review
If you have an iPod touch or iPhone already, we can't see any reason to recommend the purchase of the CR200, even though it's a great bit of kit.
In fact, even if you don't have an iPhone, you can buy an iPod touch 8GB for £139 these days, so we'd absolutely advocate that as a better option than dropping £279 on the official Sonos hardware.
The fact that Sonos engineers built the iPhone app in the first place suggests that they feel the same.
Sonos Play:5: Sound quality
Despite the moderate size of the Sonos Play:5, the quality of the sound is fantastic.
Inside the unit sits a total of five drivers which include two tweeters for the high end, two mid-range drivers and a single, meaty subwoofer which pumps out bass with such clarity as to rival some compact hi-fi systems.
The five drivers deliver a felty smooth sound which is both creamy and vibrant in equal measure. Compared to a full hi-fi system with full-size speakers, it's no match. But we're talking about a system the size of a shoebox.
Depending on what kind of rooms you put the Play:5 units in, you will want to change the music equalisation settings.
For the Play:5 in the TechRadar kitchen, we had to turn the bass down a bit, as the hard surfaces were causing some distortion.
Luckily, changing these settings is very easy, and it made a big difference to the over all sound.
Playing Sonos music on your PC
Incidentally, each Play:5 unit has both a line-in and line-out plug on the back. This gives you the option of hooking up to a bigger speaker system for a bigger sound, or alternatively to plug in an MP3 player and play music from that over the Sonos system - if you plug it into one, it'll play on all the systems in the whole house if you want it to.
It's here that we get to one of the only slight flaws with the system. Let's say you've got your computer in your living room, and a Play:5 in the bedroom and in the kitchen. What we really wanted was to play music on both the players, but also through the speakers connected to our PC – effectively adding another room, or zone, to the system.
However, it's not possible to do this. The Sonos help forum (which is excellent, by the way) does address this issue, and suggests that the way to fix this would be to trail an audio cable from the line-out port in your Play:5 to the line-in port in your computer's soundcard.
This option, however, completely misses the point as it requires you to have a ZonePlayer in the same room as your computer.
We spoke to Sonos about this, and the reason it gave for the absence of this feature is that your PC cannot be hooked up to the SonosNet wireless network, therefore it can't sync with the system.
That's understandable, but if the music is being streamed from the PC in the first place, we can't see a big reason why the music couldn't be played there too.
Sonos Play:5: Verdict
The Sonos Play:5 is a dazzling bit of kit. When used in conjunction with a ZoneBridge and the iPhone app, it's impossible to not fall in love with it.
Normally, tech products like the Sonos would be out of reach of non-techy types, mainly because most products are so fiddly to use and tough to set up.
The Sonos is so straight forward in this regard, we can even see even the most staunch technophobes getting to grips with it fairly easily.
The system is just as easy to use as it is to set up, and rather a lot like a lot of equipment that Apple makes, it 'just works'. It does exactly what you want it to do, and all the options are exactly where you expect them to be.
We'd love to see Sonos adding the ability to playback music on your PC via the desktop app, but presumably it won't because it would prefer you spent money on an extra player.
This leads us to the main – possibly only – drawback, which is the price.
A Sonos Play:5 costs £343 and the ZoneBridge costs £79.99. So even if you use the free iPhone app instead of buying the CR200 controller, a setup of two players and one bridge will set you back a back-breaking £766.
It's a massively expensive option, and for this reason we simply can't give it the five stars it probably would otherwise deserve.
There are cheaper – albeit far less complete – options out there, so it's a real shame that most of us will be priced out of buying such a system.
A brilliant wireless option, which will instantly seduce anyone who craves an inter-home music system, it's just a shame it's so crazy expensive.