As mentioned in 28 Things, number 24, my geekiness is aged like a fine wine. It is only fitting that the first trace of me on the Internet was in regards to my first major geek purchase (paid with my own funds), my Apple Newton. I’ve since moved on…Newton 2000, Ecosphere, OfficeCam, BeetleCam, Libretto, Rio PMP300, Rio Receiver, Series 1 Tivo, iPod.
Tonight I saw the next thing on my geek horizon.
Sonos mixes up a few of the previous geekly gadgets (Rio Receiver, iPod) and adds in a dash of wireless to the mix.
It streams your music library from a central server to a remotely connected unit, which then powers speakers, much like the Rio Receiver. However, the Rio Receiver was plagued by a very small screen, controls attached to the remote unit and the inability to create “whole-house audio” by streaming to all of the Rio Receivers at the same time. Sonos splits up all of the components, which creates a far better experience in the end.
- You connect one Sonos ZonePlayer to your “server” computer, which has the Sonos server software loaded. Each Sonos ZonePlayer has a mute button and volume controls, along with the following ports on the back:
- Standard AC Power
- Speaker Outputs
- RCA In/Out w/Subwoofer
- 4-port Ethernet Switch
- You connect each ZonePlayer (including the one connected to the computer, if you desire) to speakers or an audio system of some sort. The stations can be connected via Ethernet, but you can just connect them wirelessly as well.
- You control Sonos through a handheld wireless remote. It’s about the size of a Gameboy Advance, a bit heavier, but still comfortable to hold in one hand. The remote has the iPod interface - a scroll wheel with limited, yet effective buttonage. A 3.5 inch color backlit screen makes it a breeze to read and control, and the queueing functionality is leagues ahead of the iPod.
I spent about 45 minutes tonight playing with Sonos. I was excited about the product before I got a chance to use it - now I can’t stop thinking about how exciting it will be once I get my hands on one for my own use! Everything works the way you expect it to in a well-designed audio system. The audio is excellent. Unless you’re a zealot, you’re sending audio generated from lossy files anyway; the lack of optical outputs isn’t a dealbreaker for me. The ZonePlayers take a minimalist approach from a control perspective, providing only volume controls, but the real power is in the remote.
The remote is a work of art, pure and simple. The screen is easily read; the control displays and menus intuitively laid out and a fine example of usability design. Within a minute I was manipulating the “live” queue, adding and removing songs with absolutely no thought. A few minutes more I had already started streaming a live Internet radio feed to the Sonos ZonePlayer in the other room while moving to a more upbeat song on the Sonos ZonePlayer which I was listening to right next to me. I could instruct the server to rescan the server’s music library, which was a nice touch for those of us who sometimes add music to the library without wanting to or having the ability to fire off a scan at the time. iTunes intergration was supurb - all of the iTunes tracks (minus protected AAC files from the iTunes Music Store - but we’ve all got hymn now anyways) and playlists showed up in the Sonos interface.
The price tag is a bit spendy - for two ZonePlayers and the controlling wireless remote you’re looking to be set back about $1200. But it sure beats the systems I use now - either a long cord running from the top of my iPod over to the my stereo across the room or a staticy iTrip-enabled FM modulated signal. Even more so, it whips the Rio Receiver’s bootay with its far superior usability and portability.
Sonos has an answer for everything I’ve always wished for from a audio delivery system. I can’t wait to get my hands on one for myself!