February 18, 2010

Quality Music by Cloud, Managed by iPhone, at Home

The new musical centerpiece in our home doesn't have an LCD display to tell me the music playing. It doesn't have preset stations, or an antenna. It doesn't have a slot for one or more CDs, and it doesn't even have a dock to hold my iPhone. It just looks like a fashionable speaker , and the only buttons it has are small and simple. Volume up and down or Mute. Why? Because this new device, the Sonos S5, pulls all of its music from the Web, and is fully controlled by my iPhone or desktop application, without suffering any of the tinny, lower quality audio I've come to accept through computer speakers and other devices. And if I had a bigger house, I could play the same music throughout the house simply by getting another unit. Someday...

The Sonos S5 Unit Has No Face, But Lots of Good Sound

On Saturday, the doorbell rang with a somewhat surprising delivery package. Sonos' PR team, which contacted me late last year, which I hadn't been thinking about, had sent me the stereo, and a hub to connect to my home network to try. Within 15 minutes, I had the hub connected to my Airport network, the stereo sitting in our living room, and was tapping in to my Last.fm account, Sirius Radio account and could even get local radio stations of all sorts.

The stereo's arrival couldn't have come at a better time for two reasons. The first reason is that the Bose soundsystem with iPhone dock I got a little over a year ago recently stopped working, for who knows what reason, and we have had to take it out of commission for repair. Second, the Sonos extends my continued efforts to be less reliant on local media, and more reliant on data stored elsewhere - best exemplified by my purchase of the MacBook Air and recent avoidance of iTunes, iPhoto, PhotoShop and other "heavy apps".

Sonos' iPhone App Controls the Stereo's Music
And Where It Is Played In the House

I am no audiophile, but I do listen to music a ton, and enjoy having good songs on when I am at home - especially as the twins both enjoy dancing to tunes with any kind of rhythm. With the Sonos, I've played with getting one of the kids to be dancing in front of the unit, only to pause it remotely with my iPhone, which stops them in mid-shake, only to look back at me with curiosity and disdain.

Managing the Sonos via iPhone has been a huge plus to a home already covered in a fine layer of remote controls. Instead of yet another remote to chase down when lost, or moved by a toddler, I just use the Sonos Desktop controller or the free iPhone app. From the iPhone app, I can navigate between different music sources, and see which song is currently playing. If I had multiple units, I could see what song is playing on each unit, and possibly even play different songs in different places. The absence of setup is also a solid benefit to the Sonos. The first step was to configure a small hub, to sit atop my Airport Extreme, looking like its younger brother, and the second step was to connect the Sonos to power. It pulls down the music wirelessly from the hub, and no other wires had to be configured - as it should be.

Sonos Shows Local Radio Stations
And Lets Me "Love" Last.fm Tracks

If there is anything to complain about with the Sonos, it's that it doesn't feature Spotify support right away. But considering that Spotify is not truly out in the US yet, I can't make too much of a fuss. If the music is available on a hard drive from your network, Sonos can find it, and Sonos also supports Pandora and Rhapsody in addition to Last.fm and Sirius, which I use.

Cranking Tunes from Sirius and Last.fm
Brings Paul van Dyk to the Home Stereo

If you were curious, and in the interest of full disclosure, as always, yes, the device was initially shipped to me free of cost, but in the interest of being fair, and not seeming biased, I have already contacted the Sonos PR rep to make sure I can purchase the unit. As for that old broken Bose, if we ever do get it fixed, maybe we can let it be handed off to someone else in the family who needs one, because it looks like we have a real replacement.

For another review of the Sonos S5, which is making its way around many tech blogs this month, see Rick Klau's extensive writeup. He has been a loyal customer for three years.