By Nate Adcock on Fri, 03/12/2010
Well, my review time is almost up on the Sonos S5 ZonePlayer. I had a mixed experience with the setup, but I am impressed with the S5. Nothing I have seen does everything this player does. In this final piece (see part 1 and 2 here and here), I will look at the iPhone/iPod touch control app features, and include an audio comparison video with the Sonos going up against my JVC stereo. The S5 actually squeaks ahead in overall clarity, but it was a pretty close comparison until you consider my JVC doesn’t stream anything.
I feel like I spent so much time in the early review period trying to get the S5 to simply work properly, I did not spend enough time making clear what the Sonos player can do for your music collection. Simply put, it frees your music from constraints. In my case, I used it to share out the music collection on my PC in the basement. I can use the S5 in any room of my house, browse, search and playback music from my PC. I can use my iPod touch to control the playlist, search music, play from line-in sources (like my iPod Nano or my old stereo). I can integrate services like Pandora and play internet streams. I can search music services, my library, etc. seamlessly from the Sonos control app. Once I got the S5 working, it worked extremely well.
The control app presents your zone/s in the main display when it starts up, and if you are really into filling separate spaces (a store, restaurant or large house) with your music, another great thing about the ZonePlayer product--You can network them together into a streaming mesh, and control them all simultaneously. In my test setup, I only have a single player (connected wirelessly to a ZB) and a single zone, but once the ZonePlayer and ZoneBridge are linked and fully configured, I can move the S5 anywhere within range of the ZB. I don’t have the max range specs in front of me, but in my testing, I moved the player to the top floor of my house, while the ZB was in the basement, and had no problem with it connecting or playing music. I have my own WiFi and just about all my neighbors have their own. I had no reception issues, no stuttering playback or pauses.
If you subscribe to Pandora, the Sonos controller app has pretty much full integration with the Internet service. Meaning you can edit and create stations, vote up/down on playback selections, etc. Many other services are also similarly supported. I was able to add a new station to my Pandora list easily.
Once you have your PC music library fully shared and indexed (WMP and iTunes both supported), you can queue up and edit playlists from inside the control app. You can easily search for artists, tracks in your library and some internet services will also return hits. The main music window can take you to an impressive range of services, including Sirius, Rhapsody, and of course free streaming stations as well.
The most basic thing that the player control app does is allow you to control the player, meaning start/pause playback, fast forward and reverse, adjust the volume, mute, etc. The interface is simple and easy to navigate. A prominent Now Playing selection in the upper right of the UI will take you back quickly to what is currently playing, and the Zones button will quickly take you to the Zone master control.
If you read many of my hardware reviews, you’ll note that I like to compare stuff. The S5 is no exception, but the closest thing I had was my old JVC stereo. To be more fair, I probably should have one of the fanciest latest Bose players, but the JVC is a good compact 2-speaker stereo system that held it’s own against the S5. It was pretty close to a tie in pure audio experience, but the S5 certainly produced purer, cleaner tones.
To wrap up my overall impression of the S5 in a phrase would be something like, “get one”. That is, if you want or need to stream music wirelessly on a network. However, I warn that the setup could be a bit dicey if your experience is anything like mine, so be patient, read the manual, and don’t go changing anything until you absolutely need to. I am not really sure that Sonos could do anything to improve this. Their steps are pretty simple. I think it’s just hit or miss whether you have any problems or not. The device is impressive, the features are flexible (works on Windows, Mac, iPhone, touch, etc.), and the the quality is there. If you need to stream music, this is about the best way I know to do it. If you still don’t know why/how you need to stream your music, stay tuned to our next print issue, as we will include a full article about it. Basically streaming unlocks access to your tunes from nearly anywhere.
The S5 is $399 retail, and I’ve seen it for $375 in internet searches. My only complaint is the requirement for a ZoneBridge device. This accessory-like unit needs to be less than an additional 100 bucks…