Sonos sound system

Posted by in Hardware

Note: This is a really old post transferred from Laurii for historical and consolidation purposes.

We were sick and tired of having to switch on the TV (and the amp) to be able to listen to music from the Popcorn Hour. So I started to investigate what sort of streaming systems are available. The research included three consecutive phases. The idea was that I would go to the subsequent phase if I had multiple contenders…

  1. Internet lookup
  2. Ask experts
  3. Actual listening

After the internet lookup, I’ve narrowed it down to three options (of course, there are more options, but I wanted something fairly HI-FI and scalable):

  • Logitech squeezebox-based system
  • Sonos – based system
  • Philips Streamium – based system

I went to more digging, and the Streamium solution was sort of fading away, because their solution has no “just give me the box” solution. All the options I’ve seen come with built-in speakers. The problem is that I already have the speakers. And headphones. Too many. But I went to listen to the shop. I could hear the Philips and it was sounding very nice. The Logitech, not so much. The Sonos was pretty OK (there was a ZP 90 plugged in an amp), but not impressive. Of course, this was highly subjective, because all three were in different locations in the shop, with different noise levels… At some point, I’ve decided to drop the streamium, because it had the same extra screen, which was not really friendly (I have about 100 CDs digitised now). The contenders were now the Logitech (Touch) and a Sonos (ZP 120, because I have a bunch of speakers connected to a silly old system).

The Logitech Touch

Here are some remarks:

  • The HI-FI forums are lit up with praise on this, especially if you get to mod it a bit (add some better capacitors, change the OP-AMP…
  • It plays all non-DRM music, and
  • Has a server thing which works in Linux (my “server”).
  • It has a touch screen where one can choose the songs, stations… Nice.

Then, I’ve seen other bits, not so good.

  • However, the Logitech server software is written in PERL and it’s web-based.
  • Videos and blogs about it mentioned (albeit they were not emphasizing) that the UI is sluggish
  • The video I’ve seen looked that the UI is really cumbersome. The wife factor says that we needed a 1-button click thing to play music

Actually, the HIFI people were recommending the “Transporter”, but that thing is 1000-2000 Eur. No-no.

The Sonos

Here are some things I’ve found about the Sonos system:

  • There are no videos of setting up the thing. Everyone says it’s simple. My experience says that “simple” is extremely relative.
  • It’s expensive

However:

  • The sound quality is really good (that’s what everyone across the board says)
  • It’s one of those tools “do one thing and do it really well”
  • The videos on it look pretty, and I don’t mean the promo videos on sonos.com

Choosing

I went to a HI-FI shop where the dude is knowledgeable on these things. Of course, when I mentioned “streaming audio” he sneered a bit and he said the best thing he knows is Sonos. Logitech sucks a bit on quality. Of course, vinyl is best. Then I wen to look at the ecosystem. In fairness, every action seemed to deepen the Logitech solution while raising the Sonos one. At the end, what I want is something similar to the sonos BU 250, without the remote, so the Logitech equivalent is close by price-wise. And I hate configuring connections and menus, because it seems I need exactly the menu/option I haven’t set up properly. The good thing is that Sonos only has 3 buttons, dealing with setup thing and volume. The remote is software, via wifi. This is not so good, because I have an universal remote which does everything (it would do the Logitech thing), but it doesn’t do the Sonos control. However, the iPhone does. Even mine (which is a 1st generation one) is capable of that.. Of course, the iPad controller is a fabulously good looking piece of software.

Got the Sonos

I have to admit I’ve been lucky. I’ve got the ZP120 and a BR100 to make things wireless for a bit over 400 Euro, off ebay. Germany is great if you pay attention. When they arrived, I was actually worried, how can I set it up? What if I need another component… Then the good things started happening:

  • The phone software got installed flawlessly
  • My jaw sort of dropped when I’ve seen the setup instructions: Launch your software, press a button (or two) and wait
  • My jaw dropped a bit again when the ZP 120 set up itself without having to have it connected to the wired LAN

After updates (you got to love the LEDs during updates), everything went very nice. I’ve got the ZP 120 connected to a couple of Monitor Audio BX2 speakers. I’ll have to get a ZP 90 and connect it to my receiver (or my headphone amp) …maybe. My only quibble is that I can’t seem to figure out the album art thing. Two albums with seemingly the same structure have different behaviours… One is OK, one I can’t see the art at all. I’ve looked at mac software for song processing and clean up, but all I could find is a thing which embeds thumbnails in my songs. Not ideal, but I have pretty pictures now.

Conclusion

So, woo-hoo! I’ve got a new Sonos sound system.


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