Price: £349 (plus Zonebridge 100 £79, optional CR200 controller £275) More info: Sonos Size: 217x365x123mm Weight: 4.15kg Amplifiers: 5x Class D Drivers: 2x 3in bass/mid, 2x tweeters, 1x 3.5in subwoofer Connections: 1x 3.5mm audio line-in, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack Features: Sonos wireless system, optional control app for iPhone/iPod Touch Codec support: MP3, iTunes Plus, WMA, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, Audible, Apple Lossless, Flac, WAV, AIFF Services supported: Internet radio, Napster, Last.fm, Deezer, Audible, Pandora, Twitter
Self-contained amp/speaker/wireless streamer, internet radio, online audio services, fit and forget, good sound
Initial set-up can be awkward, occasional dropouts, menus can be a little sluggish
Sonos launched its first wireless streaming system back in 2006 and it immediately made a good impression thanks to the ease of use of its iPod-themed user interface and the simplicity of its proprietary wireless system.
Since then it's been tweaked and upgraded, keeping the basic template, but improving on the controller (bearing a passing resemblance to the iPod Touch's touch screen) and its online offering.
With the S5 however, it marks a significant shift in concept. Previous ZonePlayers were effectively streaming receptors with amps built in and needed speakers, which Sonos preferred owners to choose for themselves (the company's initial attempt at a set of accompanying stereo speakers was quietly allowed to wither away, due in no small part to the fact that they were a bit rubbish).
The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 however is a combined amp and speakers in a neat, unobtrusive white cabinet. Inside the 217x365x123mm, 4.15kg box are five drivers: two tweeters, two 3.5in midrange cones and a single 3.5in subwoofer, each powered by its own Class D amplifier, with Sonos's DSP (Digital Signal Processing) system handling the crossovers.
It has most of the major audio formats covered, with MP3, iTunes Plus, WMA (including the DRM type), AAC, Ogg Vorbis, Audible (format 4), Apple Lossless and Flac as well as uncompressed WAV and AIFF files. There's native support for 44.1kHz sample rates as well as additional support for 48kHz, 32kHz, 24kHz, 22kHz, 16kHz, 11kHz, and 8kHz sample rates. There's no Apple “Fairplay”, AAC Enhanced or WMA Lossless yet, though Sonos says these may be added at a later date.
The S5 has five speakers and amps inside
Like the previous ZonePlayers, the Sonos system's main purpose is to stream music content from your PC, Mac or networked NAS server to any room in your home and you can add virtually as many players as you like. You can also import playlists from iTunes, Rhapsody, WinAmp, Windows Media Player and MusicMatch.
Online music services include thousands of internet radio stations as well as Napster, Last.fm and Deezer, plus there's audio books from Audbile and you can now use Twitter via Sonos to update your followers on what you're listening to. All this is very fine and good, but there's no Spotify yet.
We used the system in its most basic form - a ZoneBridge 100 (£79), that plugs directly into your computer or wireless router, and a single ZonePlayer S5 (£349). We eschewed the £275 Sonos CR200 controller in favour of downloading the free Sonos app to our iPhone. While the total price of £429 may not be completely bargain basement, it's about half of Sonos's BU250 bundle, making it much more attractive to people who just want to plug and play.
Round the back
Initial set-up wasn't quite as straightforward as we'd hoped, since our Firewall blocked Sonos from accessing the computer. Usefully Sonos has several walk-throughs on its site to help you get around this but we ended up having to call their customer services when none of these worked. Eventually, the problem was traced to a glitch on the set-up CD - not ideal, but the manners of the customer services team were impeccable.
Once the system was set up however, everything fell together easily. The downloaded iPhone app found the system and allowed us to choose our zone and music source easily.
The iPhone interface is identical to the dedicated controller and allows you to swap between music sources, search for music downloads and radio stations online and import your playlists from your computer.
We found occasional delays when browsing the menus, and the connection to our server dropped out occasionally. This never lasted for more than a few seconds but served as a reminder that wireless, for all its benefits, isn't quite as 100 per cent reliable as a wired installation.
You'll need a ZoneBridge connected by Ethernet cable to your PC or router
The sound from the compact speaker was surprisingly good. The focus is on the midrange, as it should be, and it's clear and eloquent, with a surprising amount of detail gleaned from the predominantly AAC and MP3 tracks stored on our server. The high end did sound a little curtailed on occasion, and not just as a result of the compressed formats used. Bass, while hardly approaching the level of a decent floorstander or subwoofer offered a decent amount of punch where required.
It won't generate party-fuelling levels of volume, but it's more than enough to fill a kitchen to singalong level and even when it was cranked up to full, it never seemed to lose its composure, delivering an even, distortion-free sound throughout.
This latest evolution of the Sonos system is very welcome since it provides a neat, all-in-one system for wireless multi-room music streaming. Both price and style put it in contention with the better class of iPod dock such as B&W's Zeppelin or Roth Audio's valve-powered docks and while it's not quite in their hi-fi audio league, it offers a surprisingly capable sound, as well as an enviable range of streaming and internet capabilities. It's still the one to beat.